Appeals court rules for EPA in fight over greenhouse gas regs

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on June 26 upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in a combined ruling on four cases brought by a number of states and industry groups.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which clarified that greenhouse gases are an “air pollutant” subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA promulgated a series of greenhouse gas-related rules.

EPA first issued an Endangerment Finding, in which it determined that greenhouse gases may “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Next, it issued the Tailpipe Rule, which set emission standards for cars and light trucks. Finally, EPA determined that the CAA requires major stationary sources of greenhouse gases to obtain construction and operating permits.

But, because immediate regulation of all such sources would result in overwhelming permitting burdens on permitting authorities and sources, EPA issued the Timing and Tailoring Rules, in which it determined that only the largest stationary sources would initially be subject to permitting requirements, the court noted. The various states (including Virginia and Texas) and industry groups are challenging all of these rules, arguing that they are based on improper constructions of the CAA and are otherwise arbitrary and capricious. Other states, like Massachusetts and California, argued for EPA’s authority in this area.

The appeals court concluded that: the Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule are neither arbitrary nor capricious; EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct; and no petitioner has standing to challenge the Timing and Tailoring Rules. “We thus dismiss for lack of jurisdiction all petitions for review of the Timing and Tailoring Rules, and deny the remainder of the petitions,” the court ruled.

Environmental groups hail this reaffirmation of EPA power

The Natural Resources Defense Council hailed the ruling in a June 26 statement. “These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources,” said David Doniger, senior attorney for the Climate and Clean Air Program at the NRDC.

In its unanimous opinion covering the four cases, the court upheld EPA’s “endangerment” determination, its clean car standards, and its pollution permit requirements for big new industrial facilities. NRDC pointed out that it was among the environmental and state intervenors that filed briefs in support of the EPA.

The three-judge panel also upheld the Obama Administration’s first set of clean car and fuel economy standards, issued jointly by EPA and the Transportation Department in 2009. This ruling gives EPA the green light to finalize a the second round of clean car standards later this summer that will cut new cars’ carbon pollution in half and double their fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025, the NRDC noted.

The NRDC noted that this ruling lends some support to an EPA proposal issued in April to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants to the level achievable by a gas-fired combined cycle plant, effectively halting any new coal plants that don’t capture much of their CO2 emissions.

The Sierra Club said in a June 26 statement that major industrial polluters joined with states like Texas in these cases to challenge these safeguards, which will protect Americans’ health, improve vehicle efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said: “Today’s decision is a huge victory for American families and everyone concerned about protecting the air we breathe and the health of our children. The role of the Clean Air Act in protecting our families from dangerous carbon pollution and climate disruption should never have been in doubt, and this decision is a big step forward in putting the well-being of Americans before the boundless profits of big polluters.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.