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Supreme Court: EPA Can Regulate Greenhouse Gasses

The U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruling again establishes that the EPA’s actions are firmly grounded in authority granted by the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from harmful effects of air pollution.

Jason Speros / Shutterstock

For the third time since 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution that is contributing to climate change.

In announcing the court's opinion Monday, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “It bears mention that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.”

What EPA wanted was the authority to apply permitting provisions of the Clean Air Act (the “prevention of significant deterioration” program) to large, stationary sources of carbon pollution, such as power plants and other industrial sources, to ensure that the best available technologies are used to lower these emissions.

And the court confirmed EPA has that authority to rein in carbon pollution from the industrial facilities that contribute most to climate change. While some emitters will be exempt, the bottom line is that the largest sources (accounting for 83 percent of stationary source carbon emissions) will have to install the best available technology to control their carbon pollution.

(It’s important to note that this case was not about the recently announced proposal by the EPA to set nationwide standards limiting carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants, though the ruling does confirm that EPA has authority to set those important standards.)

Polluting industries and their allies in Washington like to criticize the Obama administration and the EPA for regulatory overreach, but this ruling again establishes that the EPA’s actions are firmly grounded in authority granted by the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from harmful effects of air pollution, including greenhouse gases.

As The Washington Post wrote in an editorial about the ruling, “Instead of trying to attack the EPA, it’s time for lawmakers to do something productive on global warming.”

Earthjustice helped brief the case before the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court, as co-counsel for Environmental Defense Fund. For over a decade, Earthjustice has worked to reach this moment in which EPA’s authority and obligation to regulate carbon polluters under the Clean Air Act is clear.

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