Supreme Court justices limit existing EPA global warming rules

By Mark Sherman, Associated Press

Published: Mon, June 23, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 This June 27, 2012, file photo shows an American flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

This June 27, 2012, file photo shows an American flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

(Alex Brandon, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday placed limits on the sole Obama administration program already in place to deal with power plant and factory emissions of gases blamed for global warming.

The justices said that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks authority in some cases to force companies to evaluate ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This rule applies when a company needs a permit to expand facilities or build new ones that would increase overall pollution. Carbon dioxide is the chief gas linked to global warming.

The decision does not affect EPA 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 by 2030, but won't take effect for at least another two years.

The outcome also preserves EPA's authority over facilities that already emit pollutants that the agency regulates other than greenhouse gases. EPA called the decision "a win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution because it allows EPA, states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources."

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said "EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case." Scalia said the agency wanted to regulate 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from plants nationwide. The agency will be able to regulate 83 percent of the emissions under the ruling, Scalia said. The court voted 7-2 in this portion of the decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas saying they would bar all regulation of greenhouse gases under the permitting program.

EPA said that, as of late March, 166 permits have been issued by state and federal regulators since 2011.

Permits have been issued to power plants, but also to plants that produce chemicals, cement, iron and steel, fertilizer, ceramics and ethanol. Oil refineries and municipal landfills also have obtained greenhouse gas permits since 2011, EPA said.

Under Monday's ruling, EPA can continue to require permits for greenhouse gas emissions for those facilities that already have to obtain permits because they emit other pollutants that EPA has long regulated.

But Scalia, writing for the court's conservatives in the part of the ruling in which the justices split 5-4, said EPA could not require a permit solely on the basis of greenhouse gas emissions.

The program at issue is the first piece of EPA's attempt to reduce carbon output from large sources of pollution.

The utility industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 13 states led by Texas asked the court to rule that the EPA overstepped its authority by trying to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the permitting program. The administration failed to get climate change legislation through Congress.

In 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the EPA was "unambiguously correct" in using existing federal law to address global warming.

The agency's authority came from the high court's 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which said the Clean Air Act gives EPA power to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from vehicles.

Two years later, with Obama in office, the EPA concluded that the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases endangered human health and welfare. The administration used that finding to extend its regulatory reach beyond automobiles and develop national standards for large stationary sources. Of those, electric plants are the largest source of emissions.

When the Supreme Court considered the appeals in October, the justices declined requests to consider overruling the court's 2007 decision, review the EPA's conclusion about the health effects of greenhouse gas emissions or question limits on vehicle emissions.

1. Copacetic
Logan, UT,
June 23, 2014

Sadly, anything the EPA does will have very little overall effect over world-wide pollution. China and India are much larger polluters than the USA. And if they don't do anything to reign in their existing pollution levels, a 30% reduction in the USA will have minimal overall effect... except to American consumers, who will then have to pay substantially more for home energy costs and many other items they buy, since energy costs are a big part of manufacturing processes.

This will also put American manufacturers at a disadvantage to manufacturers from other countries on the world market, since they won't have to deal with the same increased energy manufacturing costs that American manufacturers will.

On top of that, there will be massive lay-offs in the national coal market industry where many tens of thousands of workers are currently employed.

There may be some good intent with this latest unilateral action that Congress refused to go along with... other than just payback to environmentalist groups who supported Obama's campaign. But without world-wide implementation, the negatives for America will undoubtedly out-weigh any positives received.

2. NT
SomewhereIn, UT,
June 23, 2014

With all that we have on our plate domestically, its a shame that the global warming police force of the US' liberal left would even think of being the world's thermostat police.

I am in no way opposed to common sense and pragmatic approaches to keeping our air and water clean, but the EPA and other bloated government organizations have gone awry. We need MUCH MUCH MUCH smaller government (oversight). That goes for breadth, depth and out-of-touch salaries and bonuses.

3. ECR
Burke, VA,
June 23, 2014

Perception is an interesting thing. The Washington Post covered this story with the positive approach "Justices support EPA rules with some limits" while the DN takes the opposite approach, "Supreme Court justices limit existing EPA global warming rules."

What could cause such a difference in interpretation? Glass half empty/half full.

4. lket
Bluffdale, UT,
June 23, 2014

wow so you have jobs short term, but poison the planet long term. wow thats great for the future of our planet but at least we have jobs now. the mercury from coal power plants is getting in the ocean it is poison. iif itgets high enough to kill the plakton it will kill offf all life on earth.
planton maked 70% of oxygen.

5. Disport
Alpine, UT,
June 23, 2014

@ Iket:

Apparently, you did remember something from your freshman biology class. But that in itself doesn't make for a cogent argument. On the surface, you appear to be an environmental tutelary. Unfortunately, the learning curve needs to go much deeper to add constructively to the subject at hand.

In your environmental studies, did you come across the subject of clean-coal burning? Serous advancements in the processing and burning of coal have taken place in the past decade. Pollution has been cut significantly. Add in the fact that the USA has the largest coal deposits in the world, and you then begin to understand why coal as a resource needs to remain in consideration.

Please reference your specific data about coal plants adding significantly to mercury in fish and how it will eventually kill of ocean plankton. Without verification, that's just another environmentalist scare tactic you've perhaps fallen for.

It's not an if-or-only argument. There are other intermittent and disparate options. Jobs aren't the only consideration, but given the weakness of our present economy, they definitely need to be of at least some consideration.

And if no other major country conforms?