U.S. court upholds EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate gas emissions from power plants and vehicles, dealing a setback to fossil fuel industries, states and lobbying groups that have fought for years to delay taking steps to address climate change.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday dismissed four sweeping lawsuits that asserted that the Clean Air Act did not give the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Such emissions have been identified as the major driver of climate change by a majority of scientists.

The plaintiffs, led by states such as Texas and Virginia, theU.S. Chamber of Commerceand fossil fuel interests, contended that the agency’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger human health was capricious and arbitrary.

Led by the conservative Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, the three-member appeals panel found that the EPA’s approach to regulating greenhouse gases has been “unambiguously correct.”

Continually facing litigation from environmentalists and industry alike on a multitude of issues, the EPA welcomed the court’s decision.

“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,” agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said.

Plaintiffs decried the decision and warned that the economy could be hurt if the EPA continued to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott said the ruling “failed to rein in the unelected bureaucrats at the agency who are holding our country’s energy independence and fragile economy hostage to a radical environmental agenda.”

The EPA introduced rules curtailing greenhouse gases after a landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts vs. EPA, that held that the gases could be regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. In the U.S., vehicles, power plants and industries such as oil refining account for the greatest emissions. After years of battling regulation, the auto industry reached a deal with the Obama administration to boost fuel economy standards and cut emissions sharply starting this year and extending to 2025.

Other industries, various states and lobbyists, however, continued the fight against regulation, launching the four lawsuits that the federal appeals court dismissed.

The court’s ruling also answered claims by the plaintiffs that the EPA relied on faulty science by determining that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.

In developing its “endangerment finding,” the EPA relied on scientific assessments by entities such as the National Academies of Science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change contrarians, including those who brought the challenges, dismiss the findings by those bodies as ideologically driven, alarmist and unreliable.

The court responded that the “EPA simply did here what it and other decision-makers often must do to make a science-based judgment: It sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted.... This is how science works.”

The fuel economy standard crafted with the auto industry, built on EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases, may have been the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration.

But the EPA’s greenhouse gas efforts may end up being curtailed down the line. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed, if elected, to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate the emissions.