Air Pollution

ClimateWire's Massey previews Supreme Court emissions regulation ruling

With the Supreme Court expected to hand down a decision as early as Monday on U.S. EPA's use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gasses, what could the outcome mean for future carbon emissions cases? On today's The Cutting Edge, ClimateWire reporter Nathanael Massey discusses the possible outcomes and their implications for stakeholders.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. The Supreme Court is expected to rule as early as Monday on EPA's PSD permitting case. ClimateWire's Nathanael Massey joins me with a preview on what we can expect. Nathanael, the case at hand is a utility air regulatory group versus U.S. EPA, and again, here, we see the court taking up carbon dioxide emissions. What's at issue in this case?

Nathanael Massey: The current case is actually fairly narrow in scope and concerns the EPA's permitting authority under the Clean Air Act. To be clear, this is not a case about the EPA's basic authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant that's been established. Rather, the court will be deciding whether the EPA correctly determined that its regulation for mobile sources of greenhouse gas vehicles triggers certain permitting requirements for stationary sources, such as power plants.

Monica Trauzzi: So you've identified three potential outcomes here. Walk us through them and the impacts that they could have on the various stakeholders -- on EPA, on the states and on industry.

Nathanael Massey: Well, the court could come down solidly on the side of EPA and say that, yes, EPA correctly determined carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Like other pollutants under the act, it triggers these permitting requirements. In that case, things go on much as before.

The court could come down against EPA and say that carbon dioxide is different from other pollutants and doesn't require permitting in these cases. That's a little bit -- might be difficult to reconcile because it would require different definitions of pollutants in different parts of the act, but it's not impossible.

The third would be something of a compromise. The court could say that carbon emissions themselves don't trigger these permitting requirements, but other pollutants, such as NOx and SOx, in sufficient quantities, do, and this would largely come out in the EPA's favor because any emitter that emits large quantities of carbon dioxide probably also emits other pollutants as well.

Monica Trauzzi: And the Supreme Court really seems to have taken an interest in greenhouse gas cases and the Clean Air Act. We have the Obama administration that's established an aggressive regulatory agenda, so what could the outcome of this case mean in the broader context of the recently proposed existing source standards?

Nathanael Massey: Right, and it's a very interesting question. To be clear, these two cases would not be legally connected. What happens in this case doesn't really have any direct bearing on the recently issued proposed rule for power plant carbon. What's interesting, though, is the court's added towards the EPA with regards to this question of deference, because that is certainly something that will come up in the inevitable challenges that face the proposed power plant rule in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: So what will you be watching most closely when this decision comes down?

Nathanael Massey: Well, obviously, the court's decision, whether they rule for, or against, or somewhere in the middle, makes a big difference, but since the interesting thing about this case is sort of the court's attitude, I think we'll have to pay close attention to the language of the rulings. Does the court find that, unequivocally, EPA has the authority to interpret this admittedly complicated statute broadly? The court has done that in the past, but if they take a more circumspect view, that might signal some kinds of changing of the winds.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, an interesting decision to watch. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nathanael Massey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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