The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a major case challenging Environmental Protection Agency regulations concerning greenhouse gases.
The case is a sequel to Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, a 2007 decision that required the agency to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles if it found they endangered public health or welfare. Two years later, the agency made such a finding, saying that “elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere” pose a danger to “current and future generations.” It set limits on emissions from both new vehicles and stationary sources.
States and industry groups challenged the regulations on several grounds. They said the agency’s conclusions about the dangers posed by greenhouse gases were not supported by adequate evidence, that the so-called tailpipe regulations were flawed and that the agency was not authorized to regulate emissions from stationary sources, like power plants.
The Supreme Court accepted six petitions, but it limited the issue it would review to the question of whether the agency “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 greenhouses gases.” Among the cases accepted for review was Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 12-1146.
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year unanimously rejected the challenges, some on the merits and some on the ground that the parties before the court lacked standing to pursue them.
“The regulations the court has agreed to review represent the Obama administration’s first major rule making to address the emissions of greenhouse gases from major stationary sources across the country,” said Richard J. Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at Harvard. “At the same time, the court declined to review E.P.A.’s determination that greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare and therefore has left intact the government’s current regulation of motor vehicles emissions to address climate change.”
The court also issued its first decision in a case argued this term, dismissing as improvidently granted an appeal in an employment discrimination case, Madigan v. Levin, No. 12-872. The court’s one-sentence order offered no explanation for the move.
The case concerned whether and when an age discrimination case may be brought under an old, broad civil rights law known as Section 1983 notwithstanding the more recent and focused Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
At the argument last Monday, the justices asked pointed and frustrated questions about whether the lower court had had the authority to decide the issue and whether the plaintiff, a former assistant Illinois attorney general, was covered by the newer law. The justices apparently concluded that the case was a poor vehicle for deciding the question they had agreed to review.