Supreme Court Rules EPA’s Clean Air Act Authorities Went Too Far

The Supreme Court ruled the EPA took its mandate from the Clean Air Act too far. The 5-4 decision came down from the SCOTUS on Monday and was quickly followed by praise from industry groups and states.

According to CNN, Bill Schuette, the attorney general for Michigan, was one of the first to cheer the Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for family budgets and job creation in Michigan. The court agreed that we can and must find a constructive balance in protecting the environment and continuing Michigan’s economic comeback.”

Michigan and 22 other states, along with some industry players, brought the case to the high court.

The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to regulate power plants emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants when “appropriate and necessary.” The Supreme Court case focused on the interpretation of the word “appropriate.”

The states’ lawyers argued that the EPA’s Clean Air Act interpretation was anything but appropriate, according to the Supreme Courts records.

“EPA’s decision that it is ‘appropriate’ to achieve $4 million to $6 million in health benefits at a cost of $9.6 billion is not reasonable, imposes great expenses on consumers, and threatens to put covered electric utilities out of business.”

Antonin Scalia and four other justices agreed, saying that the agency had to give more consideration to the economic cost of regulations before imposition.

Neil Gormley, senior associate attorney for EarthJustice, says the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t change the EPA’s role in regulating toxic power plant emissions, but just creates another “hoop to jump through.”

MSN reports that the Clean Air Act rules affect 1,600 power generating units at about 600 power plants, but many of them are already in compliance.

In a statement, the EPA explained it is “disappointed that the court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance.”

Does the ruling have any effect on climate change regulations?

The Supreme Court decision will not change the implementation of the Clean Air Plan, Obama’s current set of regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, according to some legal experts.

William Yeatman from the Competitive Enterprise Institute explained that because of the “narrowness and uniqueness” of the provision under scrutiny, the decision’s impact will be “circumscribed.”

Others say the SCOTUS just issued a warning shot for President Obama and the EPA as they prepare further actions to limit greenhouse gasses, which are expected this summer.

According to the New York Times, Scott Segal, from the oil-lobbying law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, insists “they’ll need to take a hard-nosed economic analysis that the Supreme Court calls for” when designing the new regulations.

Still, the Supreme Court has favored EPA climate change action in the past, including President Obama’s executive orders on the issue. Just a week ago, SCOTUS ruled that the EPA was still trying to rewrite the Clean Air Act, but it nevertheless had the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Washington Post.

The two recent decisions from the Supreme Court gives the EPA and President Obama a decent idea of what the justices will accept in terms of interpreting the Clean Air Act as they prepare for the next round in fighting climate change.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]