WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court blocked a federal lawsuit Monday by
states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas
emissions from power plants.
The court said that the authority to seek reductions in emissions rests with
the Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts. The ruling was 8-0.
EPA said in December that it will issue new regulations by next year
concerning power plants’ emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The
lawsuit targeted the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United
States, four private companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.
The Obama administration sided with the power companies in this case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act
gives the EPA authority to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power
The landmark environmental law leaves no room for what Ginsburg described as
a parallel track, “control of greenhouse gas emissions by federal judges.”
On the other hand, Ginsburg said, that the states and conservation groups
can go to federal court under the Clean Air Act if they object to EPA’s
David Doniger, the Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer who represented
the conservation groups, called on EPA to impose new regulations “without
delay.” The agency has said it will act by May 2012, although the
government’s brief said it is possible EPA ultimately could find “imposition
of such standards inappropriate.”
The decision reversed a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not take part because she sat on the appeals
court panel that heard the case.
The states’ lawsuit is the second climate change dispute at the court in
four years. In 2007, the court declared that carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. By a 5-4 vote,
the justices said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from
new cars and trucks under that landmark law. The same reasoning applies to
EPA’s consideration of regulating those emissions stems from the earlier
The private defendants in the suit are American Electric Power Co. of Ohio,
Cinergy Co., now part of Duke Energy Corp. of North Carolina; Southern Co.
Inc. of Georgia, and Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota.
Eight states initially banded together to sue. They were California,
Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and
Wisconsin. New Jersey and Wisconsin withdrew this year after Republicans
replaced Democrats in their governor’s offices.
The high court did not rule on some potential state-law claims. Ginsburg
said those are best addressed by lower courts.