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June 27, 2012
Court Supports EPA Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases
    by Robert Kropp

An appeals court rules that the Environmental Protection Agency is authorized under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions from new fossil fuel-fired power plants.

In a unanimous decision issued yesterday, the US Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was "unambiguously correct" in interpreting the Clean Air Act as authorizing it to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants.

In 2009, EPA issued an endangerment finding determining that the six primary GHGs threaten the public's health and the environment. Its authority to regulate emissions is based on a 2007 decision by the US Supreme Court that cited the Clean Air Act.

Subsequent efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce and others that challenged the climate science used in the finding were rejected by the Agency.

Yesterday's court decision followed more than 60 lawsuits filed by corporations such as Massey Energy, trade associations such as the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers, and states such as Texas and Virginia. In response to the litigants, the court stated, "EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."

The ruling is expected to lead to regulations, first proposed by the Agency in April, requiring that new fossil fuel-fired power plants meet an output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour (MWh). In response to the proposed regulations, Mindy Lubber of Ceres stated that the new standard "will provide certainty to businesses and investors, clarify the risks and opportunities for the US electric power sector, and serve as a long-term market signal to drive greater investment in lower-carbon electric power generation."

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "More than 2 million Americans have raised their voices in public comments supporting carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants."

The court ruling also served to uphold the Obama administration's new fuel economy standards. By 2025, standards for cars, SUVs, and light trucks will be 54.5 mpg, almost double the current standard of 27.3 mpg. Ceres estimated that the new fuel standards will create approximately 484,000 jobs for the US economy, and will also increase the profits of US car manufacturers.

"This is a huge victory for our children's future," David Doniger of NRDC said. "These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources."


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