Obama Administration

EPA Can Regulate 83 Percent of Greenhouse Gases Instead of 86 Percent, Says U.S. Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a decision in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency in which it more or less affirmed the EPA's power to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide so long as they are emitted with other pollutants that the agency has the authority regulate under the Clean Air Act. The EPA claimed that since it had the authority to regulate any facility that emitted more 100 tons of other pollutants per year, it could similarly regulate any facility that emitted more than 100 tons of carbon dioxide annually. More than 6 million such facilities including schools, big apartment buildings, hospitals, dairy farms, and so forth emit that much carbon dioxide. The agency concluded that regulating that many facilities would be "absurd" so it decided to "tailor" its regulations so that they applied only to facilities that emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to more than 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the EPA can regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases from facilities that emit 100 tons of the other pollutants that it already has Clean Air Act authority to regulate. Since, for example, big power plants, refineries, and cement factories emit significant amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, particulates, ozone and so forth, the agency will have the power to limit to their greenhouse gas emissions as well.

As the Associated Press reported:

"EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case," [Justice Antonin] Scalia said. He said the agency wanted to regulate 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from plants nationwide, and it will it be able to regulate 83 percent of the emissions under the ruling.

Will the ruling have any effect on the Obama administration's proposals to force electric power generating plants to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent? Not really. From AP:

The EPA and many environmental advocates said the ruling would not affect the agency's proposals for first-time national standards for new and existing power plants. The most recent proposal aims at a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 2030, but won't take effect for at least another two years…

…David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ruling was a green light for the administration's proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. "There's no adverse effect on EPA's power plant proposal. In fact, it looks like the court is reaffirming EPA's authority to set those standards," Doniger said.

Given Republican obstructionism with regard to climate change policy, this is the sort of "second best" piecemeal regulation that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman feels forced to endorse today. 

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