A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on June 26 ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was "unambiguously correct" in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The federal agency’s endangerment finding that greenhouse gases (GHG), including carbon dioxide, are a threat to public health and welfare, and its decision to set limits for industrial and automotive emissions of GHGs, was "neither arbitrary nor capricious," the court ruled. The court, however, found that it lacked jurisdiction to review the timing and scope of the GHG rules that affect larger stationary sources, including new coal-fired power plants.
The federal court’s 82-page ruling stems from more than 90 legal challenges that were consolidated into four separate lawsuits, with arguments sectioned in three parts and heard over two days in late February. States like Texas and Virginia, backed by industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, alleged that the EPA’s rules were based on improper constructions of the Clean Air Act and were "arbitrary and capricious." They would also impose burdensome regulations that would deeply affect the economy, they claimed.
Sixteen other states, the City of New York, and a number of environmental groups intervened to support the EPA’s Endangerment Finding. "This decision helps clear the way for the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and deal with climate change,” said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell. “We have been fighting this battle for a number of years, and it is rewarding to see EPA’s standards upheld.” Other states included Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.
Experts said that challenges to the Obama administration’s GHG rules would likely now shift to Congress. "[The June 26] court ruling should be a wake-up call for the United States Senate to do its job and prevent what an author of the Clean Air Act amendments, [Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)], called a ‘glorious mess,’" urged Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "Last year 64 Senators went on record as wanting to stop these devastating greenhouse gas regulations from taking effect—it’s time they actually do so," he said.
In its decision for Massachusetts v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2007 ordered the EPA to determine, with the best available science, whether GHGs endangered public health and welfare. In December 2009, the EPA formally made the endangerment finding, declaring that six GHGs—including carbon dioxide—pose health and welfare threats. Later it issued the "Tailpipe Rule," which set emission standards for cars and light trucks, and finally, it determined that the Clean Air Act requires major stationary sources of GHGs to obtain construction and operating permits. The agency issued the Timing and Tailoring Rules to mitigate the overwhelming permitting burdens on permitting authorities, but in those rules, it determined that major stationary emitters of GHGs—such as power plants—would be subject to prevention of significant deterioration and Title V permitting regulations on January 2011.
On June 26, in a per curiam opinion, the D.C. Circuit rejected all petitions challenging those rules. "But for the reasons set forth below, we conclude: 1) the Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule are neither arbitrary nor capricious; 2) EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct; and 3) no petitioner has standing to challenge the Timing and Tailoring Rules,” the court ruled. “We thus dismiss for lack of jurisdiction all petitions for review of the Timing and Tailoring Rules, and deny the remainder of the petitions."
—Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer(@POWERmagazine). A version of this story first appeared in POWERnews.