A Split Supreme Court Limits Some of the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Regulations

With just a few days left until the end of June, the Supreme Court issued a split ruling on a much-anticipated ruling on a handful of challenges to the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations

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With just a few days left until the end of June, the Supreme Court issued a split ruling for a much-anticipated decision on a handful of challenges to the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations. The cases, led by Utility Air Regulatory Group v. the EPA, challenged the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gasses from stationary sources (like coal plants.) The 5-4 decision — split along several lines — will effectively limit the EPA's ability to regulate those gasses in some instances. However, it seems likely that the EPA will be able to find a way of maintaining those regulations even with today's decision.

The mixed, complicated opinion is producing split results from the media, too. The New York Times's quick take on the opinion proclaimed it a "victory" for "President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency," because it preserves most of the EPA's tools and programs for regulating greenhouse gasses in stationary sources. However, because the court's opinion rejects the way in which the EPA imposed those regulations in some instances, the decision produced a different lede over at Fox News: "the Supreme Court delivered a setback to the Environmental Protection Agency," it begins. As experts comb through the details of the opinion, its likely that the reality lies somewhere in the middle.

As the AP explains, the decision will not limit the new proposed national greenhouse gas standards from the EPA that could eventually lead to a 30 percent reduction in emissions. It does, however, pertain to the EPA's interpretation of a Clean Air Act rule to apply to the creation or expansion of greenhouse gas-emitting facilities. As part of that interpretation, the EPA "tailored" a regulation threshold for emissions, departing from what was written in the law. That decision has now become a problem for the EPA. Its opponents argued — and the majority of the court agreed — that only Congress has that authority. The majority opinion of the court was delivered by Justice Scalia. He concluded:

To sum up: We hold that EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it interpreted the Clean Air Act to require PSD and Title V permitting for stationary sources based on their greenhouse-gas emissions. Specifically, the Agency may not treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant for purposes of defining a “major emitting facility” (or a “modification” thereof) in the PSD context or a “major source” in the Title V context. To the extent its regulations purport to do so, they are invalid. EPA may, however, continue to treat greenhouse gases as a “pollutant subject to regulation under this chapter” for purposes of requiring BACT for “anyway” sources. 

That last line refers to the agency's regulations for facilities that emit EPA-regulated pollutants aside from greenhouse gasses. In those cases, the EPA's authority was preserved.

The Supreme Court also decided two other cases on Monday: Loughrin v. United States, and Halliburton v. Erica P. John. In Loughrin, the court wrote that a federal statute does not require that government prove that a defendant intended to defraud a bank in order to face bank fraud charges. The decision was unanimous — here's the full opinion. And on Halliburton, the court sided with the corporation in a decision pertaining to class action suits brought by shareholders. That decision is here.

For a full-round up the Supreme Court's remaining cases, go here. Below is the full decision for the EPA case:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.