The U.S. Supreme Court will revisit federal regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act but set strict limits on how it will do so.
The high court on Oct. 15 agreed to hear six consolidated cases during its current term to decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 rule governing emissions from new cars and light trucks also gave the agency the authority to set new permitting requirements for powerplants, refineries and other "stationary sources" that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
For the construction industry, a key issue in the cases is the ability of regulators and environmental groups to delay permits to build stationary facilities because of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Further, the Supreme Court declined to review three other related cases. The court refused to hear challenges to EPA’s “endangerment” determination, which concluded that six greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and welfare. The endangerment finding came out of the Supreme Court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision.
The court also rejected revisiting fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks.
Industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, contend that EPA exceeded its authority in issuing the permitting requirements for stationary sources.
Steve Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power companies, says that, by agreeing to hear the six cases, “the court indicates that there is real substance behind the notion that EPA may have stretched its legal authority to the breaking point in order to address carbon issues beyond what was intended under the Clean Air Act.”
Henry Ng, American Petroleum Institute vice president and general counsel, says, “The Clean Air Act clearly only requires preconstruction permits for six specific emissions that impact national air quality—not greenhouse gases.”
But environmental groups say the Supreme Court's decision to focus on just one narrow question confirms that the court believes the EPA has the legal authority to address climate change and the carbon pollution that causes it.
“We’re thrilled to see the Supreme Court has left standing the EPA’s historic endangerment finding and vehicles standards,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “The court’s action clears the way for EPA to move forward on carbon-pollution standards for powerplants, the centerpiece of the president’s climate plan.”