Supreme Court EPA Ruling May Not Mean Much For Indiana's Coal Plants
While EPA lost one case, it retains the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
Jun. 24, 2014
While state officials called it a victory for "the basic principle of federalism", a Supreme Court ruling against the EPA will likely not mean a reduction in the regulation of coal power plants in Indiana.
The Court ruled 5-to-4 on Monday against the EPA's interpretation of the Clean Air Act that would have required further reductions in emissions from stationary businesses, such as factories and power plants. Indiana was one of eleven states challenging that interpretation. "An executive branch agency cannot exceed the authority the legislative branch granted it and impose requirements on states not contained in law approved by Congress," said Attorney General Greg Zoeller in a statement in lieu of an interview. "This is a reminder that when a federal agency overreaches, state governments serve a vital function as part of the constitutional checks and balances in questioning their actions and raising the question to the nation’s highest Court to decide.”
But in his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the EPA would still be able to regulate "83-percent of greenhouse gas emissions", and that if the Court had ruled in its favor, that would only have gone up to 86-percent. This is due to another Monday ruling from the Court, 7-to-2, that said the Agency had the right to regulate sources of greenhouse gases as long as those sources needed permits for emitting conventional pollutants. "The most greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by these large industrial sources that are covered (by the EPA) anyway," said Joanne Spalding, senior counsel for the Sierra Club.
The EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions that cause climate change grew out of a Supreme Court ruling in 2007, which said the Agency could regulate emissions from new vehicles if it found those to be a danger to public health. The EPA determined there was such a danger two years later. Separate from yesterday's ruling was the Agency's recent announcement of new limits on emissions from electricity plants powered by coal, limits that have been criticized by Governor Pence and other state officials - more than 80-percent of Indiana's electricity is generated by burning coal. "They will cost us in higher electricity rates, in lost jobs, and in lost business growth due to a lack of affordable, reliable electricity," Pence said in a statement earlier this month.
Yesterday's rulings, however, continued the trend of the EPA's right to regulate emissions being upheld by courts. In April, the Supreme Court upheld the Agency's right to regulate smog from coal plants that drifts across state lines. Spalding called yesterday's split decision a de facto win for environmental regulators. "Simply put, EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from large industrial sources. That authority stands." Justice Scalia did issue a warning about future regulatory overreach in his opinion. “We are not willing to stand on the dock and wave goodbye as EPA embarks on this multiyear voyage of discovery."
The Supreme Court's ruling on EPA regulation of greenhouse gases likely won't mean much for Indiana's electricity plants powered by coal. While the court ruled the EPA overreached, it also affirmed its right to regulate.