Supreme Court Will Hear Challenges to EPA Rule

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Supreme Court opted Tuesday to hear challenges raised by states and industry groups to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rules issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. Six of nine petitions were granted review. The specific issue in the case deals with the GHG permitting program that the EPA implemented in January 2011 (commonly referred to as the Tailoring Rule).

Since 2011, the Tailoring Rule has required new power plants and other large polluting facilities to apply for permits to emit greenhouse gases. According to the Oct. 15 order, the Supreme Court will consider whether regulating GHG emissions from vehicles necessarily triggers a requirement for stationary industrial sources such as power plants to obtain permits for their GHG emissions. The court will look at “whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

The court will not consider other issues such as whether greenhouse gases endanger public health when it hears arguments early next year. It is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June 2014.

A 2007 Supreme Court caseMassachusetts v. EPA—found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. That ruling prompted the EPA to promulgate the first-ever GHG regulations for motor vehicles.

The Supreme Court’s review of these regulations could slow the EPA’s work on a rule to account for carbon dioxide from burning wood for energy, according to ClimateWire (subscription).

“The EPA is dealing with two issues that related to our industry right now,” said Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves. “One is how to respond to the D.C. Circuit ruling in July that invalidated the Tailoring Rule deferral [of biogenic emissions], and secondly, how to measure carbon emission from biogenic sources. Our reading is that the court appears to be prepared to examine the statutory underpinnings of EPA’s authority to regulate power plants, including biomass, and we’ll continue to work with EPA on the underlying accounting rule for biomass to get the science right on the issue.”

Deal Reached to End Government Shutdown, Raise Debt Ceiling

A bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit through Feb. 7 and fund the government through Jan. 15—ending a 16-day partial government shutdown—was reached Wednesday. President Barack Obama signed the bill Thursday morning.

House Republicans had pushed to block new EPA regulations on greenhouse gas production and to roll back regulations on coal ash, among other things. The deal, however, is not rumored to include provisions related to energy policy or for repaying states for funding national parks during the shutdown (subscription).

The shutdown will have wide-reaching environmental impacts—reducing the nation’s ability to react to extreme weather events and carry out research. Antarctica field researchers who have spent decades collecting data on penguins and ice sheets to better study global warming now have documentation gaps. Further delays in a decision to approve or disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, are expected after the shutdown made it harder for the State Department to review the permitting process.

Airline Carbon Tax Proposal Revisited

The European Commission this week issued a proposal that would impose a tax on air-polluting emissions for all flights operating in Europe’s airspace. The proposal follows a controversial plan the European Union (EU) had to back down from last year. That plan would have required flights crossing EU airspace to buy pollution credits to cover 15 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions for the entire journey.

The proposal still has to be approved by the European Union’s government and parliament. If it passes, the legislation would apply from Jan. 1, 2014, until 2020, when an international airline carbon emissions tax scheme, agreed on by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s assembly of nations from the U.S. to Russia and the EU, takes effect.

“The European Union has reduced greenhouse gas emissions considerably, and all the economic sectors are contributing to these efforts,” said EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “The aviation sector also has to contribute, as aviation emissions are increasing fast—doubling since 1990. I am confident that the European Parliament and the Council will move swiftly and approve this proposal without delay. With this proposal, Europe is taking the responsibility to reduce emissions within its own airspace until the global measure begins.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.