Should the EPA have Greenhouse Gas Regulations on Stationary Sources?

The Supreme Court will review whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, such as power plants and oil refineries.

The justices said in an order that they would review “whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

EPA justified these regulations by finding that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, endanger public health, and therefore can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The agency used this endangerment finding to justify issuing regulations that require companies to obtain permits to build or modify facilities that emit greenhouse gases.

To get these permits, which have been required since 2011, companies may have to use pollution controls or otherwise reduce greenhouse gases from their operations.

While the EPA started with automobiles it determined the Clean Air Act also required greenhouse gas permits when companies want to construct big new facilities. The statute requires permits for all facilities that are major polluters of “any air pollutant.” And the EPA has long interpreted this to mean any pollutant that is regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Industry groups argue the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases creates burdens for small businesses, not only from new permitting requirements, but also from higher fuel costs, restrictions on fuel choices and energy use, higher electricity cost and installation of new energy-efficient equipment.  Furthermore, industry groups argue that getting these permits causes delays in big projects that could help revive the economy.

But don’t expect the Supreme Court to gut all of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations. The court agreed to look only at a narrow issue: whether the EPA “permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

The Supreme Court is expected to take up the case on the greenhouse gas permits for large polluters early next year.