The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to hear a landmark case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions from “stationary sources” such as power plants and factories. It’s the highest-profile environmental case to reach SCOTUS in years.
The EPA, frequently the target of belittlement by both polluting industry groups and conservative politicians, has since the Oct. 1 federal government shutdown been unable to monitor air pollution and pesticide use.
The new Supreme Court case is a sequel to Massachusetts v. EPA, a 2007 decision that required the agency to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles if it determined they endangered public health or welfare. Bureaucrats at the agency said heightened concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do in fact pose a danger to current and future generations, and it set out to regulate emissions from new vehicles – as well as from stationary sources such as power plants.
The rub for industry groups and a coalition of 12 Republican-led states is whether or not the agency should have the sweeping authority to regulate emissions from the so-called stationary sources. They claim the agency’s conclusions about the dangers to the public were not supported by adequate evidence, the impact of the regulations are extremely costly and are delaying projects that could revive the economy, and the motor vehicle regulations were flawed in the first place. The United States Court of Appeals uniformly rejected those challenges in 2012.
In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court narrowed its focus to the fundamental question of whether or not the agency was correct in making the leap from regulation of new motor vehicles to stationary sources. This has been a small but key piece in the Obama administration’s toolbox to address climate change.
“The regulations the court has agreed to review represent the Obama administration’s first major rule making to address the emissions of greenhouse gases from major stationary sources across the country,” Harvard University law professor Richard Lazarus told The New York Times.
Environmental groups labeled it a victory that Supreme Court justices declined to hear a variety of related attacks on the EPA’s authority to address climate change.
Groups challenging the regulations were led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Chemistry Council and the State of Texas. The court rejected a petition filed by the secretive Coalition for Responsible Regulation, which is closely linked to the largest private owner of coal reserves in the United States, according to Environmental Defense Fund.
Texas Attorney General Gregory Abbott, a recipient of campaign donations from individuals linked to the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, said in a statement he welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate the EPA “violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Clean Air Act when it concocted greenhouse gas regulations out of whole cloth.”
“As Texas has proven in other lawsuits against the EPA, this is a runaway federal agency, so we are pleased the Obama administration will have to defend its lawless regulations before the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Texas emitted 650 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Not only is that 75 percent higher than California, the No. 2 highest-polluting state, it's also greater than Canada's total emissions and 108 times Vermont's, according to The Motely Fool. The Lone Star state is home to two of the top five most-polluting power plants in the United States, according to the “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center, which determined cleaning up the nation’s heaviest CO2-emitting power plants could have a positive global impact on climate change trends.
Other states aligned with Texas in their opposition to the EPA regulations include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota.
Slideshow photo by Envios.