President Obama’s plan to fight global warming was on trial Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments over whether the administration had the authority to require that industrial facilities get permits when they emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Thirteen states, industrial groups and utility companies have petitioned the Supreme Court to rule that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from these facilities. Such a ruling would imperil Obama’s plan to fight global warming, the lynchpin of which is to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“This case marks an extremely critical point in clarifying just how far the Obama Administration can extend their regulatory overreach, including by rewriting the Clean Air Act to suit its needs,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter in a statement.
“This Administration has led a far-left agenda driven crusade to circumvent Congress at every opportunity, and this case could permit an unprecedented power grab by expanding how far it can go to regulate greenhouse gases,” Vitter said. “Legislative attempts like ‘cap and trade’ have failed because the American public knows these regulations could strangle our economy, and the implications of this case could cripple the democratic process.”
The EPA, environmentalists and public health groups argue that the agency’s requirement of permitting for facilities that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases is within the authority granted to it by the Clean Air Act.
“We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change — including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources,” said Vickie Patton, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund. “These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.”
Patton and others have also tried to downplay the importance of the case by arguing that while the case does have major policy implications, it is not challenging the EPA’s underlying authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
“What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride — endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations,” Patton added.
At the center of the case Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA is the question of whether the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases from motor vehicles allows them to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources.
The case follows the 2007 Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the court ruled that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gas emissions if it was determined that they were harmful to human health and that the agency needed to begin the process of making such a determination. In that case environmentalists, twelve states and several cities sued the EPA to compel them to begin the so-called “endangerment finding.”
It wasn’t until President Obama was in the White House that the EPA finally came out with its endangerment finding, saying that greenhouse gases from motor vehicles were harmful to human health and, therefore, could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA moved quickly to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions, first limiting emissions from motor vehicles with its “tailpipe rule.” This rule limited emissions from light-duty trucks and set new fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks. Soon after, the EPA argued that because the Clean Air Act applies to “any air pollution agent,” they had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.