That's what the U.S. Supreme Court decided Tuesday, when it unanimously ruled that the EPA must be free to set clean-air standards regardless of the potential expense to corporate polluters forced to clean up their factories. In other words: Enforce the standards, no matter what the cost.
The 1970 Clean Air Act, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the Court's strongly worded opinion, "unambiguously bars cost considerations" from the establishment of air standards, "and thus ends the matter for us as well as the EPA." The opinion, as it goes on, leaves little doubt as to the intensity of the Court's convictions. Justices Breyer, Stevens, Souter and Thomas each concurred with the opinion, adding their own sharp language.
Corporations have long railed against the Clean Air Act, complaining that its standards are amorphous and therefore impossible for companies to meet. This lawsuit was the first critical challenge to the 30-year-old statute, and attorneys for the industry groups that mounted the case said they were "disappointed" by the decision.
Their sentiments, of course, were not shared by health groups like the American Lung Association, which released a statement Tuesday calling the decision "a victory for the Clean Air Act and for the health of the American people."
One of the industry groups' key arguments was that the EPA undermined congressional authority by establishing federal air standards. The Justices dismissed that complaint, reversing a federal appeals court decision.
The decision, while largely favorable for the EPA, wasn't all daffodils and sunflowers for the agency. While the Court found for the EPA in almost every aspect of the case, the Justices did come back with a strongly worded suggestion that the agency clarify its ozone level requirements.
Call it job one for (brand-new EPA administrator) Christie Todd Whitman.