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Supreme Court Limits, Slightly, EPA Program to Regulate GHGs

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday took away a small piece of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit program to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources such as power plants.

The justices said EPA lacked authority in some cases to force companies to evaluate ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a rule that is used in permitting expansions or new facilities that may increase carbon dioxide emissions.

"EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia. EPA, he said, wanted to regulate 86% of all GHG emitted from plants across the country. Under the ruling, EPA would be able to regulate 83% of the emissions.

Not affected by the high court's ruling are some EPA proposals for new and existing power plants that would require, among other things, a 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 (see Daily GPI, June 2). Those rules would not take effect for at least two years.

Also preserved is EPA's authority over facilities' emissions that already are regulated, other than GHG.

EPA was accused of overreach in 2010 when the final GHG rules were issued four years ago (see Daily GPIMarch 30, 2010). The rules required stationary sources to obtain Clean Air Act permits covering GHGs after January 2011. The agency said at the time it had pledged to take sensible steps to address the billions of tons of GHG pollution that it said threatened health and welfare. However, it wanted to provide time for large facilities and regulators to put in place cost-effective, innovative technologies to reduce CO2 pollution.

Since 2011 through the end of March, an estimated 166 permits have been issued by state and federal authorities to regulate GHG emissions, according to EPA. Power plants have received the most permits, as well as facilities that produce ethanol, fertilizer, chemicals, cement, ceramics, and iron and steel.

For instance, in the past two months EPA has issued a final GHG permit to Dow Chemical Co. to expand a midstream processor near Freeport, TX, and to FGE Power for a natural gas-fired power plant in West Texas (see Daily GPIMay 23April 29).

Late last year, EPA said methane accounted for an estimated 9% of U.S. GHG emissions (see Daily GPI, Dec. 16, 2013). The American Gas Association earlier this month issued voluntary guidelines designed to reduce emissions at natural gas utilities (see Daily GPIJune 11).

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