Supreme Court agrees to hear greenhouse gas case

A flock of geese flies past the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant near Emmett, Kan.
(Charlie Riedel / AP)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a utility industry challenge to the Obama administration’s environmental regulations that would limit greenhouse gases coming from power plants and factories.

The justices agreed to rule on whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s restrictions involving motor vehicles give the agency the power to impose similar restrictions on “stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases,” which would include everything from power plants and refineries to apartment buildings and factories. The court, however, turned away the most aggressive challenges to the EPA’s authority to regulate heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

The Obama administration recently proposed rules to cut greenhouse gases from new power plants and it is expected to propose limits for existing plants in June 2014. Even if the court rules in industry’s favor, the EPA is expected to continue to develop the power plant rules under different provisions of the Clean Air Act. “The power plant standards will go forward,” said Thomas Lorenzen, a former Justice Department official on environmental issues.

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The high court’s mixed action was welcomed by both industry advocates and environmentalists.

Business groups and several Republican-led states joined in challenging the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases beyond cars and trucks.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the EPA was imposing “the costliest, farthest reaching and most intrusive regulatory apparatus in the history of the American administrative state.”

But Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, called the court’s decision to reject the broad challenge to the EPA a “historic victory” in the fight against global warming.

“Today’s orders by the U.S. Supreme Court make it abundantly clear, once and for all, that EPA has both legal authority and the responsibility to address climate change and the carbon pollution that causes it,” she said.

The Supreme Court in 2007 cleared the way for the EPA to take on global warming when it said that carbon pollution could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

But business groups have continued to contest how far EPA can go to restrict carbon emissions.

The justices will hear the latest round of regulatory challenges during the winter and hand down a decision by June.


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