WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether to block key aspects of the Obama administration's plan aimed at cutting power plant and factory emissions of gases blamed for global warming.
The justices said they will review a unanimous federal appeals court ruling that upheld the government's unprecedented regulation of carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases.
The question in the case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate automobile emissions of greenhouses gases as air pollutants, which stemmed from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, also applies to power plants and factories.
The court's decision essentially puts on trial a small but critical piece of President Barack Obama's toolbox to tackle global warming — a requirement that companies expanding existing industrial facilities or building new ones that would increase overall pollution must evaluate ways to reduce the carbon they release, as well. For many industrial facilities, this is the only way heat-trapping gases will be regulated, until the EPA sets national standards.
That's because the administration's plans hinge on the high court's 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA which said the EPA has the authority, under the Clean Air Act, to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from vehicles. Two years later, Obama's EPA concluded that the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases endangered human health and welfare, a finding the administration has used to extend its authority beyond automobiles to develop national standards for large stationary sources.
The administration currently is at work setting first-time national standards for new and existing power plants, and will move on to other large stationary sources. But in the meantime, the only way companies are addressing global warming pollution is through a permitting program that requires them to analyze the best available technologies to reduce carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas.
The president gave the EPA until next summer to propose regulations for existing power plants, the largest unregulated source of global warming pollution.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the court will take up "a very narrow legal question" and otherwise confirmed "that EPA has the authority to protect public health by reducing carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act."