Greenhouse Gas Wars ( Solar Thermal Magazine ) – The EPA has been the most embattled agency in the U.S. government since the Obama administration took office, and that’s saying something given the problems the IRS has faced lately. The EPA has seen its authority to police the nation’s air and water challenged all the way to the Supreme Court on several occasions now and has more or less prevailed each time.
The latest ruling came down on Monday of this week , in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA which was consolidated with the Chamber of Commerce et al. v. EPA and several other other cases. It is probably the added complexity that resulted from combining the cases together that led to both sides of the issues claiming victory. But it was Conservative Justice Antonin Scolia who wrote for the court’s majority, that declared the EPA victorious when he announced that the “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case”.
The Supreme Court decision upheld the EPA’s permitting requirement for emitters of gases tied to climate change as part of the EPA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration program under the Clean Air Act. Under that program, facilities must install the best available technology to control emissions from new or modified major sources of air pollution. This process can take a year or more.
The EPA had sought to include smaller polluters such as apartment buildings, schools, shopping centers, etc… in the permitting process along with a “tailoring” rule which would have exempted all but largest pollution sources. The Court backed the rules for large facilities, but barred them for the smaller polluters which basically results in exactly what the EPA would have implemented. After the decision, facilities responsible for 83 percent of emissions still need a permit as opposed to the 86% target the EPA had originally been shooting for – not much of a difference and hardly a win for other side.
According to the EPA, the industries primarily affected by the requirements are power plants, chemical facilities, oil and gas projects and cement plants- the ones that have historically been the largest polluters. These industries brought the permitting cases to the Supreme Court as a result of the court’s refusal in October to reconsider whether the agency can regulate greenhouse gases – a ruling that had been made in 2007 and gave the agency this fundamental authority.
This decision will not affect the EPA’s proposal earlier this month to implement national carbon standards for new and existing power plants under the Clean Power Plan. Once that plan is finalized, it will no doubt be the subject of lawsuits that will ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to decide.
The greenhouse gas war is not over yet.
Tracey is an accountant and entrepreneur with a passion for nature. This passion is what spurred her interest in renewable energy, and the rest is history as they say. Tracey is a principal in Energy Think Group, the publisher of Solar Thermal Magazine and Tek-Think. She is also the principal at Women's Financial Help Desk. She spends her free time in the outdoors with her horses and dogs. She loves to travel.