The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dealt a blow to the Obama administration when it agreed to hear a challenge to part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's first wave of regulations aimed at tackling climate change, thus setting up one of its biggest environmental cases in years.
But judges left intact the agency's clean-car standards and its authority to regulate carbon emissions in agreeing to consider a single question of the many presented by nine different petitioners - a move hailed as a win by green groups.
The question the court will consider concerns whether the EPA correctly determined that its own decision to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles automatically gave it the authority to regulate emissions from stationary sources like power plants and oil refineries.
The Obama administration recently put out regulations which all but outlaw new coal burning power plants, based on the the previous ruling that allowed regulations on motor vehicles to stand. The regulation on coal (and potentially gas) fired power plants have much greater reach and impact on the economy of the US than regulations on vehicle mileage. Essentially, the EPA has asserted the right to regulate any action that results in the release of CO2 on the basis that, through it's actions in climate change, CO2 is a harmful pollutant. It is also both a required gas for plant growth, and a natural product of respiration.
The EPA regulations are among President Barack Obama's most significant measures to address climate change.
A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the rules, issued by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, in 2012. The regulations allowed for GHG emissions from a wide range of sources to be regulated for the first time.
By agreeing to hear various legal claims raised by states and business groups, the court could be getting set to limit the reach of its important 2007 ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which it held on a 5-4 vote that carbon was a pollutant that could potentially be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Alas, the ruling is not likely to address the issue of whether CO2 regulation is justified given the current 16+ year lapse in global warming
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