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Obama Keeps Right to Curb Climate Change in Court Victory

June 23, 2014
coal fired power plant

The Environmental Protection Agency retained the legal right to curb greenhouse gases from large power plants, refineries and chemical factories, adding to a string of environmental court wins for the Obama administration.

The U.S. Supreme Court today largely upheld the EPA’s requirement for emitters of gases tied to climate change -- backing the rules for large facilities, while barring them for smaller polluters such as apartment buildings, schools or restaurants. After the decision, facilities responsible for 83 percent of emissions still need a permit.

"EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case," Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote for the majority, said in announcing the decision today.

The high court’s ruling follows its rejection last year of a plea to reconsider whether the agency can regulate greenhouse gases, and a decision in April upholding the EPA’s rule cutting pollution from power plants tied to soot and smog that crosses state lines. A lower court upheld its far-reaching mercury rule.

In each of the earlier cases the court deferred to the agency in figuring out how to apply complex statutory language, something Scalia, a frequent critic of the EPA, did in part today.

"The Supreme Court largely upheld EPA’s approach to focusing Clean Air Act permits on only the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gases such as power plants, refineries and other types of industrial facilities," Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman, said in a statement.


Power Plants


The decision doesn’t touch President Barack Obama’s more comprehensive climate-change proposal released June 2 to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants. No precedent was set that could alter that plan, said Ricky Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University.

The court’s refusal in October to consider arguments over the EPA rules left business groups fighting the permit requirement, which they said could have ultimately affected millions of facilities.

"The real concern was the bringing in of much smaller manufacturing entities," said Leslie Hulse, a lawyer at the American Chemistry Council, which advocated the divided approach the court adopted.

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