Supreme Court gives EPA ‘amost everything it wanted’ in latest ruling on greenhouse gas pollution

June 23, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

Gina McCarthy

There’s another big decision out this morning from the U.S. Supreme Court on climate change, and you can expect to see some West Virginia officials touting it as more proof for their argument that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is out of control … but before you buy that, it’s worth actually paying attention to what the decision says and what some of the media coverage of it is explaining.

Sure, as some of the headlines are saying, the Supreme Court limited EPA’s authority in writing rules to restrict carbon pollution. But read on, for as this story from Bloomberg explains:

The U.S. Supreme Court partially upheld one of President Barack Obama’s early efforts against climate change, saying the Environmental Protection Agency had authority to impose new permitting requirements on some power plants and factories.

The permitting rules apply when facilities are built or expanded. They are separate from the administration’s more comprehensive climate-change regulations, including the plan released June 2 to cut carbon emissions from existing plants by as much as 25 percent over 15 years.

The Supreme Court gave the EPA a preliminary victory in October, refusing to consider arguments that would have barred the agency from addressing climate change at all. That left states and business groups fighting the permit rules, which they said may ultimately affect millions of facilities, including bakeries and apartment complexes.

Today’s ruling, which splintered the court, may head off that possibility, limiting the rules to a few hundred facilities that already have to get permits for other pollutants. The justices said greenhouse-gas emissions by themselves can’t serve as the trigger for a permit requirement.

Or, as The Washington Post pointed out:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” Scalia said the agency wanted to regulate 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from plants nationwide. The agency will be able to regulate 83 percent of the emissions under the ruling, Scalia said.

Some readers may recall that West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made quite a big deal about their filing of a “friend of the court” brief in the case.  But this ruling is hardly the kind of major defeat for EPA that those politicians are looking for. Here’s the New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Monday handed President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency a victory in its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants … States and industry groups challenged the regulations on many grounds, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calling them “the most burdensome, costly, far-reaching program ever adopted by a United States regulatory agency.” The Supreme Court limited the issue it would consider to 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.”

One Response to “Supreme Court gives EPA ‘amost everything it wanted’ in latest ruling on greenhouse gas pollution”

  1. Forrest Roles says:

    Ken,
    There is a significant holding in this case that has apparently been missed. Until this case, many, including you, have argued that once EPA determines that an emission of greenhouse gases is harmful, it has to regulate the emission. They have relied upon language in Massachusetts v. EPA for that conclusion. The majority here disagrees saying the case “did not hold that EPA must always regulate greenhouse gases as an “air pollutant”…. Hence, the EPA may, if it finds it appropriate, do what it did for most of its history and stay away from the climate change dispute.
    That is important. If the administration changes its mind , the EPA may withdraw their climate change motivated rules. While past statements and acts give little hope of the present administration changing its mind about the EPA regulation, I dare to believe events may cause it to do so.
    In 2015, the world will attempt to agree upon a treaty which , as opposed to EPA’s regulations, has a chance of doing some good. Indeed, the only rational justification for EPA’s actions to date is the argument that without US action there is no real chance of such an agreement.
    There will be an enforceable treaty or there won’t be . If such a treaty is reached, then the US will be bound to a known reduction in emissions and faced with that inevitability, Congress would likely come up with a economically sound way of achieving those reductions. The command and control method of EPA regulation is admittedly not economically sound. If the US’s sacrifice, which will devastate our region’s economy, does not lead to a treaty, then the sole justification for US unilateral action is gone. One hopes even this administration is not so prejudiced against coal that it would continue the devastation knowing it does no good.
    Forrest

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