America’s power plants are among the world’s leading sources of greenhouse gas pollution. And their owners secured a legal victory on Tuesday that could help them stay that way.
We’ve written at length about the Obama administration’s efforts to clamp down on power plant emissions. The EPA’s proposed rules would make it difficult to operate dirty coal-fired plants and would help slow down global warming. But the decades-overdue rules don’t delight everybody: They have pissed off some powerful and deep-pocketed polluters.
Conservative states, big business and fossil fuel groups have lined up to challenge the rules in court, arguing that they are far-reaching and intrusive. They say the court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling only directed the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act — and that it fell short of granting the EPA the authority to regulate “stationary” power plant emissions.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear some of those challenges.
The court accepted six separate petitions that sought to roll back EPA’s clout over carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. That could signal the court’s dissatisfaction with a 2012 ruling by the nation’s second most powerful court — the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit — affirming the agency’s authority.
The decision to accept cases brought by Texas, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, energy producers and others represented a potential victory for groups that customarily enjoy considerable sway at the conservative-leaning court.
It presents a risk for President Obama and his environmental regulators, who replaced the Bush administration’s aversion to regulating greenhouse gases with a major push in the other direction, under the belief that the emissions are responsible for climate change.
The New York Times explains the nitty gritty of the justices’ decision:
The Supreme Court accepted six petitions, but it limited the issue it would review to the question of whether the agency “permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouses gases.” …
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year unanimously rejected the challenges, some on the merits and some on the ground that the parties before the court lacked standing to pursue them.
“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,” said Richard J. Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at Harvard. “At the same time, the court declined to review E.P.A.’s determination that greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare and therefore has left intact the government’s current regulation of motor vehicles emissions to address climate change.”
It’s been clear for a while that second-term President Obama aims to use the executive branch’s regulatory power to try to do something about climate change, since first-term President Obama wasn’t able to pass legislation toward that end. Now it’s the judiciary’s turn to weigh in. What move will the nine justices decide to play in Washington’s big rock-paper-scissors game? You, and your atmosphere, must wait to find out.