On June 26, a U.S. federal appeals court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2009 findings that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from industry and vehicles endanger public health. The decision constitutes a major victory for the Obama administration as well as environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia panel of three judges upheld the EPA’s “endangerment” finding, supporting its setting emissions standards for cars and light trucks and limiting emissions from stationary sources such as power plants to help curb harmful pollution. The court’s decision covered a variety of suits lumped together under a group called the Coalition of Responsible Regulation.
In a statement, David Doniger, senior attorney for the NRDC, said, “This is a huge victory for our children’s future. These findings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources.” He added, “The court upheld the agency’s careful determination, based on a mountain of scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants threaten our health and our planet.”
The court’s decision supported the 2009 set of clean vehicle and fuel economy standards issued jointly by the EPA and the Transportation Department. The agency expects to finalize new clean car standards later this summer, curbing new cars’ carbon output in half and doubling their fuel efficiency. The ruling also gives the EPA the go-ahead to make final its first set of national limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants. These new standards will make the construction of new coal plants highly unlikely; most power companies will use natural gas that release approximately half as much carbon dioxide as coal-burning plants.
Several states, oil, gas, coal, and utilities companies, including Southern Co., are opposed to the ruling, saying the greenhouse gas limits could drive energy prices higher while destroying jobs and that the EPA exceeded its powers under the Clean Air Act. But in a brusquely worded opinion, the judge’s panel said the EPA was “unambiguously correct” and that the Clean Air Act requires limits to be set once it can be shown that emissions cause harm. Opponents also challenged the EPA’s timetable for enforcement of new emissions standards and said that the rules that single out big polluters.