Depending on which story you read today about the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on how far the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can stretch its ambitious regulatory authority, you may have gotten the impression that the Court is the Obama Administration’s rubber stamp or the immovable object blocking the advance of the President’s global warming agenda.
The Court upheld the EPA’s legal power to enforce both current and future regulations on power plants and manufacturing facilities already under its regulatory purview. But the Court also ruled that the EPA does not have the legislative authority to arbitrarily revise regulatory standards already on its books, and cannot impose new restrictions on alleged polluters not currently included in the Obama Administration’s schedule of entities that are subject to the greenhouse gas emissions permitting process.
The ruling does not affect the Obama Administration’s fresh round of rules proposals, which purport to effectively trim carbon gas emissions emanating from existing facilities by up to 25 percent over the next two decades.
“We hold that EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it interpreted the Clean Air Act to require… permitting for stationary sources based on their greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority. “Specifically, the agency may not treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant for purposes of defining a ‘major emitting facility’ … in the context of a ‘major source.’ To the extent its regulations purport to do so, they are invalid.”
That means the EPA can’t justify new regulations on plant expansions or new construction of facilities on the simple basis of how much greenhouse gas they might emit – other “traditional” pollutants must factor into that mix of well-intentioned concern.
“Specifically, the court said the EPA may require a greenhouse gas permit on any entity that already requires a permit for traditional pollutants such as soot and nitrogen oxide,” reported The Hill, which viewed the ruling as a net win for the EPA and the Obama Administration.
Indeed, the EPA offered a chirpy spin on the decision, borrowing liberally from Obama’s straw man-toppling rhetorical playbook. “Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations,” the agency responded in a statement.
Sadly, there was no public rebuttal today from all the supporters of filthy air, pandemic illness, and the destruction of the environment to spite future generations.
Unlike The Hill, conservative news website The Daily Caller hailed the decision as a much-needed judicial check on the Obama Administration’s expansion of regulatory power, proclaiming in a headline the Court had essentially struck down the “first phase of EPA’s global warming agenda.”
“The decision was welcomed by power companies, as well as the oil and gas industry, because the rules also extended to refineries and other large manufacturing facilities,” the site reported. “…The Supreme Court’s decision, however, does not affect upcoming regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions on new and existing power plants.”
So which is it – an EPA seal of approval, or a major blow to Obama’s reach? Mostly, it’s the former. It’s a signal the EPA can move forward with just about everything the Obama Administration has planned for it in the short term, and an indication that the agency can continue to rely on the Clean Air Act as the basis for its ongoing broad regulatory powers over the emission of carbon gases – so long as it doesn’t attempt a rewrite of existing environmental law at the policy level.
Scalia said as much as he announced the decision.
“EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” said Scalia. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources nationwide. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”