Court Backs EPA on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

Energy & Resources

By George Adams

On June 26th, a federal appeals court upheld a finding by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding greenhouse gas emissions limits. This ruling deals a decisive blow to companies and states that had sued to block these rules.

The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that greenhouse gases are harmful to people and the overall environment.

The judges unanimously dismissed arguments from industry that the science of global warming is based on opinion. They indicated that “the EPA is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.” In addition the court upheld greenhouse gas emission limits that the EPA has imposed on cars and stationary sources such as electric generation plants and industrial facilities.

Fourteen states, led by Virginia and Texas, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several companies sued to overturn the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Fifteen states, including California, Massachusetts and New York, went to the court to support the EPA’s ruling. The attorney general of Virginia indicated that he would appeal this ruling. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had authority to regulate greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane under the Clean Air Act if the agency declared them a public danger.

The EPA issued an endangerment finding in December 2009 that cleared the way for regulation of emissions from power plants, cars, factories and other sources linked to global climate change. Throughout the judges’ ruling on greenhouse gas emissions, they referred to the endangerment standard in the 2007 decision. Opponents of the ruling are considering whether to ask the full appeals court to hear the case or petition the Supreme Court.

Congress previously debated whether it should legislate greenhouse gas emissions standards and in 2010 the House passed a bill, but the legislation died in the Senate. Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that Congress’s refusal to adopt greenhouse gas limits “threatens to drive energy prices higher, destroy jobs and hamstring our economic recovery.” The Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to amend the Clean Air Act “to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview.”

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