In a 5-4 ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court struck down attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gasses. In the second of two big environmental cases this term, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA split the court along ideological lines and ruled that the EPA could not require permits based on greenhouse gas emissions alone.
The case was a challenge by industry groups of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission. The EPA wanted to make it a requirement that companies seeking to expand facilities that generate large emissions of greenhouse gases, like power plants, factories, or refineries, would have to get a permit first. The court ruled that the EPA could not set permit requirements based off greenhouse gas emissions alone. Still, the ruling left the EPA with other options in the war against air pollution, such as using another provision of the Clean Air Act, allowing the EPA to set emissions standards. MSNBC reports:
At issue is whether or not permits for facilities already sources of other pollutants would also have to address greenhouse gasses, and whether emitting greenhouse gasses alone would trigger the requirement to seek a permit.
The high court ruled Monday that the EPA could not require permits based on greenhouse gas emissions alone, but that the EPA could consider greenhouse gases as part of the permit process for facilities already emitting other pollutants. The decision narrows the EPA’s options for dealing with emissions that cause climate change, but the agency could still reduce such emissions through another provision of the Clean Air Act that allows the EPA to set emissions standards.
The impact on air pollution may also be limited. According to the EPA’s calculations, its plan would have addressed 86% of greenhouse gas emissions. The Supreme Court’s decision will still allow the agency to address 83% of those emissions.
The EPA issued a statement after the ruling that characterized it as a “win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution” since it allows the “EPA, states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources.”
Another reason it was a victory was that the industry groups had wanted the high court to reconsider the 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which gave the EPA the ability to regulate emission; the court, however, declined, and instead agreed to hear the narrower question of the permit authority. According to MSNBC, this means “the agency’s general authority to regulate carbon emissions was not in question.” The EPA also won a more sweeping victory when the SCOTUS upheld the interstate pollution laws.
More emission standards are visible in the immediate future. President Obama has promised new standards for power plants, which would cut emissions by 30% before 2030.