Friday, June 28, 2013

Cross-state pollution rule to get scrutiny by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide next term whether a controversial Clean Air Act regulation can be implemented.

Requests for review of a lower court decision striking down the Cross-state Air Pollution Rule were filed by the Obama administration as well as a coalition of non-profit organizations including the American Lung Association and several environmental advocacy organizations.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held in August 2012 that CSAPR  exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act.

CSAPR would apply to 28 states, all in the eastern and southern regions of the country, requiring them to limit emissions of several pollutants that travel at high altitude across borders into surrounding states.

Environmentalists argue that the rule will save as many as tens of thousands of lives each year because smog and particulate pollution would be reduced. EPA has said that it believes the rule would generate at least $120 billion in annual health and environmental benefits, a sum that is well in excess of the costs of compliance expected to be incurred by regulated entities.

The Supreme Court issued the order granting petitions for certiorari in the case on Monday.

The cases are United States Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P., No. 12-1182, and American Lung Association v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P., No. 12-1183.

Oral arguments will be conducted after the Court's 2013-2014 term begins in October. A decision is expected before July 2014.

EPA finalized CSAPR in July 2011. The D.C. Circuit's order invalidating it also required the agency to reinstate a less expansive rule having the same objective that was instituted by the George W. Bush administration.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Supreme Court dismisses only environmental law case on 2013-2014 docket

The U.S. Supreme Court might not have to decide soon questions relating to environmental law.

The justices dismissed on Monday the only case raising such questions that had been on its docket for next year.

In an unsigned, one-line order the Court vacated the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in U.S. Forest Service v. Pacific Rivers Council and ordered the district court to dismiss the case on mootness grounds.

The Court's action has alarmed some commentators.

Richard M. Frank, a University of California at Davis law professor, wrote on the respected Legal Planet blog that the order might reflect a belief by environmental advocacy organizations that they cannot get a fair hearing at the Supreme Court.

Frank explained that the plaintiffs in the case, including Portland-based Pacific Rivers Council, entered into an agreement with the United States government not to further challenge USDA Forest Service's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act in a dispute over planning of management actions on national forests in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The Ninth Circuit rejected the 2004 planning effort on grounds that the Forest Service's efforts did not properly account for the impacts of planned extraction and other activities on fish populations within the national forests in that region.

Historically, NEPA has not faired well in the Court. One analysis demonstrated that environmental groups have never convinced the Court to rule in their favor in a case arising under the law in its entire 44-year history.

Other environmental laws have also not fared well before the Court lately. During this year's term the justices overturned two Ninth Circuit decisions that enforced the Clean Water Act.

NYT: Obama to move forward with CO2 limits on existing power plants

The Obama administration will proceed with regulations that limit emissions of carbon dioxide from existing electric power plants, according to an article in the June 19 edition of the New York Times.

The piece by veteran reporter John Broder says that the Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of drafting the complex rules this year.

Broder's article quotes unnamed "senior officials" of the administration.

The path to regulation of such greenhouse gas emissions has been open since 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EPA must regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Emissions from existing electric power plants account for at least one-third of America's greenhouse gas pollution of the atmosphere, according to EPA.

The question whether, and how, to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants is entirely separate from the issue of regulating emissions from new power plants. The administration proposed such rules in 2012 but missed an April 13 deadline to finalize them.

Obama himself has repeatedly signaled an intention to take executive action on measures aimed at mitigating climate change. In Germany on Wednesday he said the nation has a "moral imperative" to combat the phenomenon, calling it the "global threat of our time."