Gubernatorial hopeful and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott probably won't get a chance this time around to roll back every meaningful regulation that curbs carbon-dioxide emissions -- the gas driving climate change -- but he will take a shot at a significant one.
The high court announced Tuesday that it would not hear appeals from Texas and other states and industry organizations challenging EPA rules that regulate carbon emissions from vehicles. Nor would it hear arguments challenging the agency's characterization of carbon dioxide as a threat to public health. It did, however, agree to consider a much narrower issue: Whether federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants, considered the most prolific emitters of carbon dioxide, are permitted under the Clean Air Act. The implications for an industry that used coal to generated 42 percent of the country's electricity in 2011 are huge.
The issue is a complicated one. In a 5-4 decision in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could set fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. The high court concluded that the Clean Air Act should be flexible enough to allow the agency to take into account developments in our understanding of how human activity impacts the natural world. In that case, was the EPA correct in determining that the decision also triggered regulation of sources of carbon pollution that don't move?
EPA has already proposed regulation that would set strict new emissions standards for new power plants.
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As is usually the case, both sides are already framing the court's announcement in their own ways. "The EPA violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Clean Air Act when it concocted greenhouse gas regulations out of whole cloth," Abbott said in a statement. "The EPA's illegal regulations threaten Texas jobs and Texas employers. As Texas has proven in other lawsuits against the EPA, this is a runaway federal agency, so we are pleased the Obama Administration will have to defend its lawless regulations before the U.S. Supreme Court."
The Natural Resources Defense Council says the high court "struck a forceful blow against climate change" when it declined to re-litigate the question of whether carbon dioxide presents a threat to the planet and, thus, to humans.
Either way, it's another feather in Abbott's cap, earned during his long-standing war with the EPA.