Greenhouse gases

EPA Gets Supreme Court Thumbs-Up on Greenhouse Gas Regulation—and a Spanking


In a decision that reads as a major victory for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its supporters, the Supreme Court today largely signed off on the agency's push to regulate so-called "greenhouse gases," such as carbon dioxide. The one catch, a divided Supreme Court ruled in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, is that to regulate for greenhouse gases, the EPA must already have jurisdiction over a facility as an emitter of other regulated pollutants—carbon dioxide can't be the only excuse.

The court also slapped the EPA for regulatory overreach.

Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia calls out the EPA for claiming "newfound authority to regulate millions of small sources—including retail stores, offices, apartment buildings, shopping centers, schools, and churches—and to decide, on an ongoing basis and without regard for the thresholds prescribed by Congress, how many of those sources to regulate."

That broad mandate would have been gained by the success of an assertion of authority to regulate based on emission of greenhouse gases alone.

The final court decision limits EPA authority to facilities that already come under the agency's jurisdiction because they emit at least 100 tons per year of pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act. But, as Scalia notes, that still gives federal environmental regulators power over 83 percent of of American stationary-source greenhouse gas emissions. Only 3 percent of greenhouse gases come from the smaller sources over which the EPA claimed, but did not receive, jurisdiction.

As a result, as noted by Reason's Ron Bailey, the ruling will have litte impact on the Obama administration's plans to force 30 percent reductions in carbon emissions from electric power generating plants.

The case decided today was a follow-on to 2007's Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which opened the door to greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA. A coalition of power utilities brought today's case, and suffered a major setback with the decision.

Still, the court's scolding that "it would be patently unreasonable—not to say outrageous—for EPA to insist on seizing expansive power that it admits the statute is not designed to grant" may be taken as a warning to federal regulators that they don't have carte blanche to assert jurisdiction. Also, it potentially provides a shield for smaller businesses and organizations that don't produce large quantities of greenhouse gases, but could still have come under regulatory authority had the EPA won everything it wanted.


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  1. We must regulate everyone’s carbon dioxide output! Can’t have those pesky trees and plants choking out our civilization!

  2. As with all federal government agencies, most of which exist simply to increase the government’s control over our lives and give people well paid government jobs, perks, and pensions for living off the work of those who actually produce, the EPA will continue to vie for ever and ever greater authority and control over our lifeblood-water, air, gas, oil, and electricity.

    When the makeup of the Supreme Court becomes a liberal/Progressive/Socialist/Communist majority, as it will be, (and we know that even Roberts is a big government control supporter now), all federal agencies will simply be the slavemasters they are working to become at an ever faster pace.

  3. The court also slapped the EPA for regulatory overreach.

    How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?

    The EPA, like every other Executive Branch agency, is working furiously to outfit their own division of tactical enforcement agents – complete with DoD surplus Bearcats and Hellfire missile-equipped drones and jack-booted, ‘roided up, Steven Segal wanna-be LAPD rejects – before January 20, 2017. Then you’ll see some regulatory overreach, you old pompous silk bathrobe-wearing legal philosophy-spouting pearl-clutching finger-wagging ninnies.

  4. It is unfortunate that this article has yielded so few comments. This issue literally will break the backs of venerable industries (coal, anyone?) and significantly impact both individual and national economies. Time for the Reason readers to behave like adults rather than children interested only in legal marijuana and access to raw milk rather than REAL issues!

    1. Using RAH’s name, hmmmm.

      In any event, this could have repercussions in other cases of EPA overreach. They are currently claiming that they can regulate nitrogen going into coastal estuarine waters (authority granted by Congress, I believe) from point sources such as septic tanks (not explicitly granted, being the point of local arguments to date). If the logic of this case is applied, then it seems our beloved EPA is SOL when it comes to telling people to either stop peeing, or build and hook up to a (currently non-existing) community sewage facility for costs estimated 20 to 50 k$ per household (which of course will turn out to be low once the work is done).

      Will the ruling be consistently applied? Place your bets!

      1. Points to YOU for recognizing RAH…

      2. p.s. Pot and raw milk are good litmus tests of one’s understanding of libertarian principals; don’t undervalue them too much.

        What would Lazarus Long have said? “It’s your body, I don’t care what you put in it”

        1. I agree, but far too much emphasis on those issues rather than the bigger picture from the Reason staff, and makes them appear (or is it reality) as self-indulgent children.

          1. True, but I would have to say that before I started identifying as a libertarian, it was a bumpersticker about “ending the war on drugs – vote Libertarian” that I recall caused me to take a wider view of the full range of topics that the Feds (and states) have stuck their noses into; wider than just the obvious foolishness of minimum wage laws and socialist security, but drugs and compulsory education to thusandsuch an age for those obviously headed for a career in the building trades (no disparagement meant, but a PhD is not needed to swing a hammer or do a neat job with plumbing).

            Drugs and raw milk may be the gateway issues that cause others to open their minds to how out of control government has gotten.

  5. “?is that to regulate for greenhouse gases, the EPA must already have jurisdiction over a facility as an emitter of other regulated pollutants?carbon dioxide can’t be the only excuse.”
    Well OK duh, I already fart methane and traces of sulfur out of my butthole? PLEASE don’t tell ANYONE!!!… So it is a VERY short step from there, for the EPA to shut my body down as an emitter of C-O-2!!!

    1. THIS outrageous abuse of Mine Own Noble Self is on its ugly way to Me, despite the FACT that I obviously LOVE the Gaia Mama-Earth, as can be clearly seen by my Own Sacred Efforts to Serve as a Human Carbon Sink? Did y’all know that Yers Truly is doing his / her VERY best, and serving as a “human carbon sink”? Whenever anyone brings free food to work, or there is a pot-luck of ANY sort, I make DARN sure to follow “fair is fair”? Half for me, half for everyone else! And so I have put MANY carbon atoms WAY into the deep freeze, OUT of them that thar atmosphere, and stored into Mine Own Beloved Body, AKA, the Human Carbon Sink? I do it ALL fer U, and The Earth Goddess Gaia, and The Children! And, Yer Welcome!!!

  6. CO2 can’t be a pollutant because it’s plant food. In the future, it will be Branwdo the thirst mutilator, but for now, it’s CO2.

    1. Tony you are such a tool that even plants refuse to use your C02 for respiration.

  7. I could go on all day posting links to privately owned companies who make money cleaning up, and make use of waste streams. The point is that people, and technology solve problems, not regulations.

    1. Those are the companies that the Government should be throwing money at. of course I’d prefer to just keep my money

      1. The great thing about them Otisjay is that companies like LanzaTech turn such a good profit that they don’t need government money, or subsidies.

  8. So, now we transition to distributed generation based on natural gas. Wonder how they will react to mini-generation on the community level?

  9. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out

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