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Environmental groups and the Bush administration defended a Clinton-era clean air program Wednesday in the Supreme Court, arguing that a power company must install costly pollution controls on its aging coal-fired plants.

A lawyer representing Duke Energy Corp. said government regulators suddenly switched their interpretation of 26-year-old federal rules and sued the company six years ago. Lawyers for the environmental groups and the government said Duke and other utilities long ago understood federal requirements and chose not to comply with them.

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