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EPA Claims Victory In SCOTUS For Obama's Climate Change Plan

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AP Photo / Evan Vucci

The court handed down a complicated decision, divided along ideological lines, to place some limits on scope of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions. Left unscathed was EPA's power to regulate climate-warming carbon emissions by declaring them a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which is the legal premise for the rules on coal.

"Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations," EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement. "We are pleased that the Court's decision is consistent with our approach to focus on other Clean Air Act tools like the Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution as part of the President's Climate Action Plan."

In other words, the EPA claims the ruling, although not specifically about President Barack Obama's new rules on coal, is consistent with the legal principle behind the executive action which was unveiled earlier this month and will be finalized in June 2015. The goal of the effort, which faces staunch opposition from national Republicans, is to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels).

The split decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that simply emitting greenhouse gases is not a sufficient basis to force industry groups to get a permit to expand or build new facilities. The EPA said the Court's ruling will allow it to regulate 83 percent of carbon emissions, as opposed to the 86 percent coverage it has claimed.

The Supreme Court decision doesn't necessarily mean legal challenges to the new EPA rules, which are widely expected, cannot succeed. But it appears to complicate one legal avenue for its opponents.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution because it allows EPA, states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources," Purchia said.

Environmental groups also interpreted the ruling favorably.

"The decision builds on the Court’s prior decisions upholding most important Clean Air Act authority in the fight against global warming – EPA’s responsibility to set national standards to curb the carbon pollution emitted by automobiles and power plants," said David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Two months ago, the Supreme Court upheld the EPA's authority to regulate coal pollution that wafts across state lines.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.