(CN) – The D.C. Circuit upheld new emissions limits on cars and industry, despite their allegedly “absurd” consequences, since greenhouse gases may endanger public health.
Looking for more environmental law news? Click here to check out Courthouse News’ Environmental Law Review.
Environmental regulators promulgated the new rules after the Supreme Court defined greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act in 2007 with its resolution of Massachusetts v. EPA.
That decision said: “Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.”
The EPA later determined that greenhouse gases “may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare,” and instituted new greenhouse gas-related rules.
In addition to a tailpipe rule that set higher standards for car and light-truck emissions, the EPA passed a number of other rules for greenhouse-gas emitters. In August 2010, for example, the EPA exempted “small-sources,” or emitters of less than 250 pounds of greenhouse gases per year, from regulation.
Texas and six other states, as well as the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups, challenged the EPA’s new rules, but the D.C. Circuit rejected each claim in an unsigned decision last week.
“We conclude … EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct,” the 82-page decision states, abbreviating Clean Air Act.
“State and industry petitioners insist that because statutes should be interpreted to avoid absurd results, EPA should have considered at least the ‘absurd’ consequences that would follow from an endangerment finding for greenhouse gases,” the judges added. “Specifically: having made an endangerment finding, EPA will proceed to promulgate emission standards …of stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases at levels above longstanding statutory thresholds. Because greenhouse gases are emitted in much higher volumes than other air pollutants, hundreds of thousands of small stationary sources would exceed those thresholds. … However ‘absurd’ petitioners consider this consequence, though, it is still irrelevant to the endangerment inquiry.”
The judges also defended the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases may endanger public health against claims that the agency had improperly delegated its judgment to other entities.
“This argument is little more than a semantic trick,” the judges wrote. “EPA did not delegate, explicitly or otherwise, any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decisionmakers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. … This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”
The petitioners did not fault specific parts of the scientific record that the EPA used to support its decision, but they argued that the record “showed too much uncertainty to support the judgment,” according to the court.
But the judges found this argument irrelevant. “The existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding,” the decision states.
“As we have stated before, ‘Awaiting certainty will often allow for only reactive, not preventive, regulation,'” the judges added.