Supreme Court Upholds EPA’s Power to Regulate Emissions

A federal United States court stood with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a ruling issued this week, upholding the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases and gases from vehicle exhaust and factories present a risk to public health – a conclusion referred to as an endangerment finding. The court’s decision not only upheld this endangerment finding, but allowed the EPA to impose limits on carbon emissions from vehicles, factories, and power plants.

Three judges from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously issued the decision that the EPA is right to enforce rules under the Clean Air Act that decrease harmful greenhouse gas emissions. With the ruling, the court rejected arguments from polluters that claimed that scientific research in climate change is unfounded and unreliable. In this week’s case, fourteen states, including Virginia and Texas, filed a lawsuit to strike down the EPA’s claims and regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the New York Times, the energy industry is “divided on regulating climate-changing gases, with the oil, gas, coal and most of the electricity sectors opposing emissions limits and automakers supporting them. In a statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers noted that car companies had made huge investments to improve fuel economy and thus reduce carbon dioxide emissions and that a unified emissions standard was among its ‘top national priorities.’”

However, predictable dissent from large industrial polluters has arisen following the decision. EPA opponents argue that regulating carbon hurts job growth and economic recovery and leads to higher energy prices.

Despite debating carbon emissions limits in 2009 and 2010, Congress has yet to agree on whether to issue laws enforcing emissions regulations. This week’s court ruling, though, will ensure that the EPA’s emissions regulations, as outlined in the Clean Air Act, are enforced regardless of whether Congress reaches a decision on the matter.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release, “Now that the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the reality of the climate crisis and EPA’s duty and ability to address the problem, it’s time for the agency to aggressively combat the most serious social and environmental threat of our age. All parties need to put politics aside right away and work toward the solutions that are so readily available — because the moral case for action could not be stronger.” The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a Clean Air Cities campaign and has rallied support for the Clean Air Act from 28 cities across the nation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is among a large group of supporters for the Clean Air Act and the EPA, including fifteen states and environmental organizations such as Clean Air Watch and the National Wildlife Federation. The states, which included California, New York, and Massachusetts, defended the EPA in court and fought to uphold emissions reduction laws. In 2007, twelve states (including California and Massachusetts, whose governor at the time was current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney) won a Supreme Court case that confirmed that the EPA has the authority to regulate vehicle emissions. This decision, declared one of the most important environmental actions in recent history, led to EPA research that found that vehicle emissions are a danger to public health.

The Clean Air Act, which was passed by President Nixon in 1970, has prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to air pollution-related illnesses and has decreased the incidence of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma. Besides endangering public health, particle pollution damages the environment, sickens wildlife, and is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. 

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