Supreme Court weighs EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases

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The Supreme Court on Monday will hear challenges to an Obama administration greenhouse gas regulation.

The program in question is the Environmental Protection Agency’s permitting process for industry sources, which includes coal-fired power plants, chemical facilities and oil refineries.

{mosads}In 2010, the EPA said its emissions standards for passenger cars “triggered” a need to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants under permits for new facilities because the gases were deemed an endangerment to “public health or welfare.”

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is allowed to review permits to determine if necessary technologies that would help limit pollution are being used in the construction and powering of plants.

The question before the court on Monday is, if the EPA extended its authority by including greenhouse gases to the list of pollutants it may regulate under the permits.

Green groups like the Environmental Defense Fund say this regulation is one piece in the administration’s much larger climate plan, and the challenge before the court seeks to push construction of industry sources in the “wrong direction.”

Sean Donahue of the Defense Fund said, if the court rules against the EPA, it would be a substantial mistake.

“It would take away legal pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the biggest polluters,” Donahue said.

Although the case doesn’t directly impact President Obama’s controversial proposal to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants, it might hurt the president’s ability to finalize regulations before time runs out.

If the Supreme Court were to rule against the EPA, it would reinforce Republicans’ battle cry that the administration’s climate policies are an abuse of power and, as Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said, “reflect an unprecedented expansion of regulatory control over the U.S. economy.”

A brief filed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and other House Republicans say the regulations in question are “an intolerable invasion of Congress’s domain that threatens to obliterate the line dividing executive from legislative power.”

“The agency has been expansively construing its legal authorities under the Clean Air Act, and this ever-growing web of regulations has the potential to be the most complex, far-reaching and expensive in the agency’s history,” said Whitfield, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Energy and Power. 
But the EPA contends the regulation was a “necessary step under the Clean Air Act to set sensible emissions thresholds that would focus only on the largest emitting facilities and shield small industrial facilities and businesses from needed greenhouse gas permits.”

Green groups worry a reversal of the rule would kill innovation and development of new technologies aimed at curbing pollution.

The case comes amid a renewed push by the administration on climate change. Last week, Obama revealed a $1 billion resilience fund meant to help communities prepare for extreme weather and the next phase of fuel efficiency standards.

Secretary of State John Kerry added to the shift in strategy by sending a signal overseas that climate change “is a weapon of mass destruction” that the administration will not ignore. He vowed to make the issue a central talking point in all diplomatic efforts moving forward.

Tags Ed Whitfield Emission standards Michele Bachmann Supreme Court United States Environmental Protection Agency

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