The Supreme Court on Monday mostly validated the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate power plant and factory emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming while imposing some limits on the agency’s reach.
The justices said the EPA could not rewrite specific standards written into the law, but they still handed the Obama administration and environmentalists a big victory by agreeing there was another way for the EPA to carry out its program.
“EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Justice Antonin Scalia said from the bench, in announcing the decision. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources nationwide. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”
The legal battle in part results from the failure of the administration and Congress to find common ground on the issue of global warming.
The court ruled in the 2007 case, Massachusetts v. EPA , that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. That case, which was brought by states that said the EPA under President George W. Bush was not doing enough to fight global warming, concerned regulating motor vehicles.
The Obama administration later reasoned that “stationary sources” — factories, power plants and other structures — were also subject to the permitting requirements in certain parts of the act.
A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with that view. It said that court precedents made the agency’s readings of its powers “unambiguously correct.”
But the EPA has acknowledged that the permitting thresholds set by the Clean Air Act do not fit well with something like carbon dioxide, which is ubiquitous in the environment. While the law said pollution limits of 100 to 250 tons per year triggered permitting requirements, the EPA had to raise those to 75,000 to 100,000 tons per year for greenhouse gases to identify the facilities most in need of regulation.
The Trib and Vox have pretty good explainers of the case and the ruling, so go check them out. It’s not a complete win for the EPA, but it’s still a solid ruling for them. Texas was of course one of the lead plaintiffs in this action, but as has been the case before, they lost. There’s no other litigation pending currently, but I’m sure there will be more in the future. TPM, dKos, and the EDF have more.