A federal appeals court has put climate change front-and-center in the Presidential election.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit June 26 strongly upheld a series of Environmental Protection Agency decisions over the last three years on regulating greenhouse gases.
EPA in March proposed GHG limits for new generating plants and other large emitters, but top EPA officials said limits for existing plants won’t be proposed till after the rules for new plants are final.
That means the most politically sensitive rules won’t be issued till after the November election, leaving the controversy smack in the middle of the ongoing campaigns.
Industry analysts say the GHG rules proposed so far effectively bar any new coal plants in the US, at the same time that other EPA rules, especially the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, may be the last straw forcing many older coal plants to shut.
GHG regulation opponents including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, and coal-dependent utilities and states have argued that global warming is not scientifically proven and GHG regulation isn’t justified.
House Republicans have tried to legislate away EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs, but the Senate hasn’t agreed.
In court, opponents attacked EPA’s entire chain of decisions – and got no support at all from the judges. In an 82-page decision, the judges rejected every argument brought by the petitioners, including states.
“EPA’s interpretation of the governing (Clean Air Act) provisions is unambiguously correct,” the three-judge panel wrote.
A Drawn Out Battle
The US Supreme Court in 2008 ruled the Clean Air Act required EPA to consider whether GHGs endangered public health and, if they did, to propose regulations. Massachusetts had charged global warming was already harming the state, and the Bush administration EPA had resisted making any finding.
In late 2009, the Obama EPA formally found GHGs were a public health danger, citing scientific evidence about global warming. Subsequently, EPA issued a Tailpipe rule, in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation’s fuel efficiency standards, limiting auto emissions. It then turned to stationary sources like power plants and refineries, and issued the Timing and Tailoring rules to focus on the largest emitters first.
Most recently, EPA proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that require any new generating plants to emit no more carbon per megawatt-hour than an advanced natural gas plant.
The appeals court rejected challenges to every one of those decisions.
It cited extensive precedent in refusing to second-guess EPA on the scientific finding, and ruled opponents had no standing to challenge EPA’s decisions on phasing in enforcement and focusing on large emitters first.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the GHG rules are following the market, not leading it, as generators switch from coal to using more cheap natural gas. EPA officials have said technology for carbon capture and storage will develop over the coming decade so that coal can continue to be used in the future. All currently permitted coal plants can be completed and operate, under EPA’s proposal.
Republicans charge the EPA has declared war on coal, and are expected to scale back any GHG regulation should they take the White House in November. But economist Kevin Book of ClearView Energy said today’s ruling makes it legally difficult for any administration to back off GHG regulation altogether.