Courthouse News Service.   by , August 27, 2020.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — An obvious loophole should have doomed Environmental Protection Agency approval of Pennsylvania’s plan to limit air pollutants, the Third Circuit ruled Thursday.

“To receive such deference, the agency cannot reach whatever conclusion it likes and then defend it with vague allusions to its own expertise; instead, the agency must support its conclusion with demonstrable reasoning based on the facts in the record,” U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore McKee wrote for a three-judge panel. “When it fails to do so, an agency action is arbitrary and capricious.”

Pennsylvania presented its plan to the EPA in 2016, saying coal-fired power plants that operate at 600 degrees or higher would have to emit less than 0.12 pounds of nitrogen per million British Thermal Units.

In a petition with the EPA, the Sierra Club made its objections known. It said such plants are capable of producing emissions at 50% of the proposed limit, and that the plan did not require plants to report their temperature records.

Despite the pushback, the EPA approved the plan in 2019 and denied the Sierra Club’s petition.

The environmental group took to the Third Circuit, telling the federal appeals court in May oral arguments that the EPA had approved the plan arbitrarily.

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