Court freezes bids to return 'endangerment' to EPA

A panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., has set aside 17 challenges that seek to force U.S. EPA to review its scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.

The motions from industry groups, state attorneys general and members of Congress ask the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to remand the finding to EPA in light of recent controversies involving the climate science that provided much of the basis for the agency's decision. The 17 motions were combined into a single case, Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. v. EPA.

At stake are the agency's plans to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from automobiles and stationary sources, which hinge on the "endangerment" determination. That finding was developed in response to the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which held that the agency was required to decide whether the gases qualify as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Three judges issued an order Wednesday that the motions for remand be placed on hold as EPA considers numerous petitions asking it to reconsider the finding.

The order freezes the motions for remand until two weeks after the agency makes a decision, or until Aug. 16, whichever comes first. That was the action sought by EPA, which has said it expects to decide on the petitions for reconsideration in late July.


The order was issued per curiam -- "by the court" -- making it unknown whether there was any disagreement among the three judges.

Virginia had argued that "there can be no realistic expectation that EPA will actually grant reconsideration," since the agency went on to issue a final rule that would limit greenhouse gas emissions for cars and light-duty trucks. The endangerment finding provided the basis for the tailpipe rule, which itself triggered regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources.

Public statements by agency administrators have made it seem unlikely that the agency would voluntarily reconsider its finding.

"We have heard nothing yet that significantly undermines the decision that we have made," said EPA air chief Gina McCarthy during an April event hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Still, she added, "we're going to keep looking at it, and we will have an open mind until those legal decisions are finalized" (Greenwire, April 16).

Click here to read the court's order.

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