June 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm

High Court upholds EPA's right to regulate most greenhouse gas emissions

Washington— The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate nearly all greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and other big emitters of emissions linked to climate change, but threw out part of the regulations.

“EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, in summarizing his opinion from the bench.

The EPA will be able to regulate 83 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, but it would have been allowed to regulate 86 percent under the EPA regulation struck down by the court. Had the court allowed it, Scalia wrote, “we would have to recognize a power in EPA and other government agencies to revise clear statutory terms.”

The ruling means most sources that need to obtain a permit with carbon pollution limits would likely still need such a permit. This is because most of the big carbon pollution emitters (like power plants, refineries and other industrial sources) are also big emitters of non-carbon pollution, which EPA can regulate under a separate program, the court ruled.

But the big issue is still outstanding: Will the Supreme Court uphold the Obama administration’s proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent over 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA says the regulation will cut electricity bills 8 percent by increasing efficiency, while some owners of power plants and others say the reduction in coal-fired power plants will cost jobs and hike electricity prices.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the EPA could regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks under the Clean Air Act if it found the emissions posed a danger to public health. The EPA argued that once it found that car and truck emissions posed a danger to health — which it did in 2009 — it had a duty to regulate stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Supreme Court largely upheld EPA’s approach to focusing Clean Air Act permits on only the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gases such as power plants, refineries and other types of industrial facilities. The Supreme Court’s decision is a win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution because it allows EPA, states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources,” the EPA said in a statement.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette joined Texas and other states, industry groups and some congressional members in filing legal briefs opposing the greenhouse gas rules. He praised the part of the ruling that struck down part of the regulation.

“To achieve real economic recovery, we must cut burdensome regulations, not pile them on without regard to consequence,” said Schuette.

Environmental Defense Fund general counsel Vickie Patton praised part of the ruling that affirmed that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Recognizing EPA’s authority to protect public health from climate pollution, the High Court today clarified that the best pollution controls for greenhouse gases apply to new and rebuilt industrial sources that are large emitters of other major air pollutants,” she said.

Scalia wrote that EPA could not rewrite statutory rules to create a temporary exclusion from the permitting program for smaller sources of carbon pollution, focusing on large emitters. Among those exempted were office buildings, stores, hotels, schools, prisons and private hospitals. Instead it can regulate larger polluters through a separate program.

Scalia said if EPA hadn’t limited the rules, the number of entities affected would have jumped from about 800 to nearly 82,000; annual administrative costs would have gone from $12 million to more than $1.5 billion.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for four dissenting justices, said “to apply the programs at issue here to all those sources would be extremely expensive and burdensome, counterproductive, and perhaps impossible; it would also contravene Congress’s intent that the programs’ coverage be limited to those large sources whose emissions are substantial enough to justify the regulatory burdens.”