Could the Supreme Court derail Obama’s climate agenda?

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

The U.S. Supreme Court will meet later this week to consider whether it will review the Obama administration’s regulations aimed at fighting global warming.

States and industry groups have petitioned the the high court to begin a legal review of the Obama administration’s first round of regulations aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The most contentious of which was the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon emissions caps for new power plants.

Reuters reports: “For the second week running on Monday, the nine justices took no action on the cases, but the court later in the day listed them on its online docket for its next private meeting on Friday. That is when they will decide what new cases to take.”

“The significance of the term will increase if the greenhouse gas case is taken,” John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council told E&E News. “It’s very rare to have two Clean Air Act cases on the Supreme Court’s calendar in the same term.”

The court is expected to reveal on October 15 whether or not it will take up a broad review of Obama’s effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The first major move the administration made on the issue came last month when the EPA issued emissions standards that effectively banned the building of new coal plants.

The coal industry vowed to challenge the emissions limits and 17 states made ready to challenge the next salvo of EPA rules that would target emissions from already built and running power plants.

“EPA, if unchecked, will continue to implement regulations which far exceed its statutory authority to the detriment of the States, in whom Congress has vested authority under the Clean Air Act, and whose citizenry and industries will ultimately pay the price of these costly and ineffective regulations,” wrote 17 state attorneys general and one top state environmental regulator in a white paper.

The Obama administration is already finding itself on the defensive, being embroiled in legal battles over past EPA clean air rules.

In one high profile case, the Supreme Court will look at the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) program, which required 28 states to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants, including coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants. One estimate put the rule’s cost at costing $853 million annually.

CSAPR was thrown out by a federal appellate court last year after judges ruled that the program was outside the EPA’s authority as it required states to reduce hazardous emissions by more than what they contributed to other states’ pollution. The EPA was also hit by judges for vetoing state implementation plans in favor of federal ones.

The air rule has been attacked by Obama’s critics for contributing to the decline of coal-fired power in the country.

A study done last year by the Institute for Energy Research found that CSAPR and another costly EPA rule — Mercury Air Toxics Standards — would shutter more than 10 percent of the country’s coal-fired power generation.

However, the EPA argues the CSAPR would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths a year as well as generate up to $280 billion in economic benefits.

The court will hear oral arguments surrounding the CSAPR in December.

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