The U.S. Supreme Court has given the Environmental Protection Agency — and Americans — a crucial victory when it comes to curtailing dangerous greenhouse gases.
The court on Monday reiterated prior decisions that the federal government has the right to require reduced emissions when power plants, refineries and other facilities are built or expanded.
We can thank the Clean Air Act, most recently updated in 1990, for that kind of broad power. It’s very much needed to protect the health of the country.
Critics in the coal, fossil fuel and chemical industries contend that the EPA has gone overboard in writing rules that restrict emissions. These opponents claim that the regulations increase their costs astronomically.
Proponents reasonably counter that those expenses often are overstated and also omit the new jobs created by companies that make modern equipment needed to reduce pollution. Supporters also point out that cleaner air has clear benefits that lead to lower health care costs, especially for children and the elderly, who are most affected by dirty air.
Monday’s ruling placed slight limits on the reach of the EPA when it comes to much smaller air pollution sources, such as some landfills. But as Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion, said from the bench, “It bears mention that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” The EPA will have the power to regulate plants that produce 83 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, Scalia said, down from the 86 percent the EPA had sought.
The decision does not affect a newly proposed EPA rule, supported by President Barack Obama, to slash carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel plants. However, that regulation likely will have its own journey through the U.S. court system.
Congress could make many of these lengthy legal battles go away by passing a stronger Clean Air Act.
That would give the EPA clearer marching orders on how it should act to reduce emissions. Given the dysfunction in Washington, though, that’s a pipe dream.
As a result, U.S. Supreme Court decisions will remain critical to protecting America’s air.