Supreme Court: Only EPA Can Regulate 'Greenhouse Gas' Emissions

But efforts in Congress to stop the EPA from killing jobs mean the debate is not over yet.

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In a near unanimous ruling Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the power to regulate so-called greenhouse gas emissions rests solely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The court ruled 8-0 in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut that the federal Clean Air Act gives the EPA the lone authority to regulate the emission of so-called greenhouse gasses that, some suggest, lead to global warming. Obama-appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate because she had been part of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, whose ruling was being appealed.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Writing for the court, Clinton-appointed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg opined that that the Clean Air Act makes no provision for “control of greenhouse gas emissions by federal judges,” short-circuiting an effort by several states and so-called environmental groups to have federal judges issue rulings that, the court found, were reserved exclusively to the EPA.

The court’s decision comes in the middle of an effort by congressional Republicans—joined by some Democrats—to stop the EPA from issuing new regulations regarding so-called “greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The good news is that this decision will stop efforts by green groups to distort common law nuisance claims to conspire with judges to create global warming policies in circumvention of the election branches of government,” Americans for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen said.

In December, the EPA said new regulations would be issued next year that would force a reduction in the output of carbon dioxide, which supporters of the idea of global warming cite as the “principle greenhouse gas.” In response, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation taking from federal regulators the authority to do just that. [Read Rep. Darrell Issa: Obama's Bad Policy, Harmful Regulations Add to Gas Prices.]

The Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate failed to second the legislation but, say those who follow the issue closely, a majority of the Senate supports doing something to take from EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions without the explicit consent of the Congress or some other mechanism to put the brakes to what federal regulators and the Obama White House might like to do.

The reason is that, by most any objective measure, such regulations—whatever their environmental benefits might be—would certainly be a job killer. [Read more coverage about energy and the environment.]

The court’s decision does not put an end to the debate.

“The bad news,” Kerpen said, “is that the rationale used by the court leaves open the possibility that such lawsuits could move forward if Congress stops the EPA's job-killing regulatory agenda, which the court found pre-empts nuisance claims.” Kerpen continued, “Clearly, Congress must now act not just to stop the EPA but to further explicitly pre-empt any judicially- or bureaucratically-created energy policy.” 

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on energy policy.
  • Read Rep. Darrell Issa: Obama's Bad Policy, Harmful Regulations Add to Gas Prices.
  • Read more: coverage about energy and the environment.