Our opinion: Guess who is the winner


In an attempt to polish the rotten apple the Supreme Court handed the fossil fuel, chemical and utility power industries on Monday, Harry Ng, the general counsel of American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based group that represents companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp., said the decision "is a stark reminder that EPA's power is not unlimited. Today's decision will help to ensure that permitting requirements fall within the authority granted by Congress."

The National Federation of Independent Business also welcomed the ruling.

"If this rule had been allowed to stand, small business owners such as ranchers, farmers, manufacturers, restaurant owners and others would have seen more paperwork, more oversight and fines," the group said in a statement.

However, even that bastion of Ayn Rand libertarianism and patriarchal Catholicism, Justice Antonin Scalia, admitted the decision gives the Environmental Protection Agency "almost everything it wanted in this case. It sought to regulate sources it said were responsible for 86 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources nationwide. Under our holdings, E.P.A. will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions."

"The Supreme Court's decision is a win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution because it allows E.P.A., states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources," the agency said in a statement.

But whether you believe this was a win for the EPA or the fossil fuel industry, either way you'd be wrong. This was a win for children, the elderly and the environment. After all, they are affected most by air pollution and global climate change.

The EPA was dragged to the Supreme Court by the fossil fuel, chemical, cement and utility industries, which claimed the government agency was overstepping its authority in trying to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants.

David G. Savage, writing for the Los Angeles Times, noted "When the EPA added carbon dioxide to the pollutants they regulate, the agency also decided to raise the established limits without congressional approval. That's because carbon dioxide is so plentiful that a literal interpretation of the Clean Air Act could have extended the new rules to thousands of houses, office buildings and shopping malls."

Writing for Bloomberg News, Greg Stohr and Mark Drajem noted the permitting rules apply when facilities are built or expanded, and the court today said the EPA can't apply that requirement to smaller facilities such as apartment buildings or restaurants.

"The vast bulk of the carbon pollution is still subject to the permitting requirements," David Doniger, chief climate lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg.

Stohr and Drajem noted the Supreme Court's ruling is separate from the administration's more comprehensive climate-change proposal released June 2 to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, and doesn't set any precedent that could alter that plan.

"The Supreme Court gave the EPA a preliminary victory in October, refusing to consider arguments that would have barred the agency from combating climate change at all."

In Monday's ruling, noted Bloomberg News, the justices said greenhouse-gas emissions by themselves can't serve as the trigger for a permit requirement. But all the EPA has to do now is increase its oversight of certain common non-greenhouse gas emissions, so that more sources of pollution fall under the EPA's regulatory authority.

Scalia said the agency was free to do so as long as the sources in question "would need permits based on their emissions of more conventional pollutants."

As you might recall, in 2007, the Supreme Court found that the EPA could regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles if it found that they endangered public health or welfare, stating "elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere" pose a danger to "current and future generations." As a result, the EPA has established updated efficiency standards that calls for all cars and light-duty trucks to get a minimum of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (by 2016, the average fuel efficiency will need to be 35.5 mpg).

While we commend the Supreme Court for this ruling and its recognition that Congress has given the EPA the authority to regulate pollutants that are contributing to the slow destruction of the habitat that supports human life, the fossil fuel industry and power utilities complain that the regulations are just too financially burdensome.

You would think that even those industry titans have grandchildren who might one day have to "forage through the ruins of civilization" if we continue down the path we are now on.

And many defenders of the status quo complain that America can do all it wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the rest of the world continues to churn out pollutants. But let's not forget that the Unites States is still the highest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Even the commissars who run China -- where people literally drop dead every day from air pollution -- understand their situation is not sustainable. And in third world countries, there is a burgeoning awareness that the Western mode of power production and energy consumption is not something worth emulating if it means the destruction of what little they have achieved.

The United States could show true leadership, not be exerting its military might around the world, but by limiting its own effect on the climate. Too many decision-makers in Washington, D.C., refuse to change the way we do business and too many voters buy -- hook, line and sinker -- the propaganda coming from the climate change deniers and those that bankroll them. We are lucky that we have a group of regulators in the EPA who are willing to step where the politicians fear to tread. One day, our children and grandchildren, if they can take a breath full of fresh air, might be able to thank them.


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