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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Greenhouse Gas Limits Face High Court Review

WASHINGTON (CN) - A challenge to new vehicle emissions limits will face Supreme Court scrutiny, the justices said Tuesday, consolidating complaints from several states and industry groups.

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 2012 decision.

"We conclude ... EPA's interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct," the 82-page decision stated, abbreviating Clean Air Act.

The state and industry petitioners had claimed that EPA erred in failing to consider "the 'absurd' consequences that would follow from an endangerment finding for greenhouse gases," according to the ruling.

An endangerment finding requires the EPA "to promulgate emission standards ... of stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases at levels above longstanding statutory thresholds," the judges noted.

Though this implicates "hundreds of thousands of small stationary sources," this allegedly "absurd" consequence "is still irrelevant to the endangerment inquiry," the judges found.

The opponents also failed to challenge how the EPA concluded that greenhouse gases may endanger public health.

"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," the judges wrote.

"This is how science works," they added. "EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."

Rather than faulting specific parts of the scientific record that the EPA used to support its decision, the petitioners argued that the record "showed too much uncertainty to support the judgment," the court explained.

As is its custom, the Supreme Court issued no statement Monday in granting certiorari to the petition filed by the state and industry challengers.

The one-hour hearing will address only "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," according to the order.

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