Federal court upholds Obama EPA’s climate change regulations

A federal appeals court has upheld Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations, a victory for the Obama administration that’s also sure to inflame election-year political battles over the White House green agenda.

Environmentalists heralded the three-judge panel’s unanimous 82-page ruling that leaves intact EPA’s first-time regulations and authority to craft future rules to help combat global warming.

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“Today’s ruling by the court confirms that EPA’s common sense solutions to address climate pollution are firmly anchored in science and law,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “This landmark decision will help secure a healthier and more prosperous future for all Americans.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld EPA’s “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare — a finding that provides the underpinning for regulation of emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources.

The court left intact EPA’s rules on carbon emissions from automobiles, and the “tailoring rule” that shields smaller stationary sources from greenhouse gas permitting that the EPA is using to target emissions from big sources like power plants.

Knocking down the tailoring rule might have created a chaotic, uncertain path ahead for emissions regulations by opening up massive numbers of businesses and other facilities to regulation. 

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson applauded the ruling, calling it a “strong validation” of the agency’s work on greenhouse gases

“I am pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that EPA followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources,” Jackson said.

Republicans who have battled EPA over the rules vowed to press forward with their efforts to reverse them through legislation. 

"This 'big win' for the Obama EPA is a huge loss for every American, especially those in the heartland states which rely on fossil fuel development and the affordable energy that comes with it," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

"EPA's massive and complicated regulatory barrage will continue to punish job creators and further undermine our economy.”

The decision is a defeat for a suite of industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and others that challenged various aspects of EPA’s climate rules. States including Texas and Virginia also filed legal challenges against the rules.

“Today’s ruling is a setback for businesses facing damaging regulations from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons in a statement on behalf of a number of groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and others.

He said the groups will be “considering all of our legal options when it comes to halting these devastating regulations.”

"The debate to address climate change should take place in the U.S. Congress and should foster economic growth and job creation, not impose additional burdens on businesses,” the groups said.

EPA and the Transportation Department have set joint carbon emissions and mileage standards for model years 2012-2016 and are crafting rules for future years.

EPA has also begun Clean Air Act permitting for some large new and modified stationary emissions sources on a case-by-case basis, and recently proposed first-time national standards for new power plants.

The court ruled that the endangerment finding and the tailpipe rules are “neither arbitrary nor capricious,” and that EPA’s interpretation of the governing Clean Air Act provisions is “unambiguously correct.” 

The judges also found that none of the petitioners had standing to challenge the tailoring rule or EPA’s policy on the timing of emissions regulations.

David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the ruling a “huge victory for our children's future.”

“The court upheld the agency's careful determination, based on a mountain of scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants threaten our health and our planet,” said Doniger, a senior attorney with the group.

But the decision is likely not the end of the fight over EPA’s climate rules.

In addition to potential appeals, Capitol Hill Republicans are seeking to overturn or limit EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases, measures that have stalled in the Senate but could gain more traction if Republicans see gains in the fall elections.

In addition, Mitt Romney supports nullifying EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

— This story was updated at 3:05 p.m.