FACTBOX-EPA action under Clean Air Act often decided in court

WASHINGTON, June 25 Wed Jun 26, 2013 2:26am IST

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WASHINGTON, June 25 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will rely on the federal Clean Air Act as he tries to make good on his latest vow to address the threat of global warming.

Obama will direct the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Act to finish a plan setting carbon pollution limits on new power plants by Sept. 20 this year and draft a plan for existing power plants by June 2014.

Legal challenges are almost guaranteed for federal rules written under the Clean Air Act. Industry groups and coal-reliant states have already signaled that they will challenge power plant regulations if they feel the EPA produces a plan that has overly strict timetables or emissions limits that "violate the spirit of the Clean Air Act," one industry representative said.

The following are major recent legal challenges to the Clean Air Act:


In a landmark 2007 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the George W. Bush administration in finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide.


In a sequel of sorts to Massachusetts vs. EPA, the court ruled 8-0 in 2011 that states cannot seek action to curb reductions in greenhouse gas emissions based on so-called "public nuisance" claims under federal common law.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is typically where EPA cases are heard. In this lawsuit, the D.C. Circuit decided unanimously to uphold the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The suit was filed by an umbrella organization of industry groups and coal-reliant states who challenged four EPA rules that address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The groups targeted the EPA's scientific finding that enabled the agency to regulate GHG emissions, along with greenhouse gas rules for new vehicles and rules outlining when greenhouse gas regulations will begin. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups, along with states such as Texas and Virginia, filed nine separate petitions with the Supreme Court to appeal the lower court's ruling. .


The D.C. Circuit court ruled 2-1 in August that the EPA had exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act when it required 28 states to curb downwind air pollution from power plants to a greater extent than the statute requires.

The suit pitted a group of power company representatives and states opposed to the regulation against the EPA and attorneys general of supportive states. The D.C. Circuit denied a rehearing but the Supreme Court on June 24 said it would accept a petition by the EPA to hear the appeal.


In December, the DC Circuit dismissed a preemptive move by the power industry to challenge the EPA's proposed New Source Performance Standard for carbon emissions from new power plants, which has still not yet been finalized. The rules were supposed to have been finished in April 2013 but the EPA missed that deadline. Obama's climate plan directs the EPA to finish the rule by September 20. The DC Circuit said the proposal was not final and not subject to agency review.


Several environmental groups filed a suit to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aircrafts, ships, and non-road engines. They argued these sources produce about a quarter of the GHG emissions from mobile sources in the United States but are unregulated. The court ruled in March 2012 that the EPA does not need to rush a scientific finding to determine whether it should regulate those sources. The agency plans to release findings on aircraft emissions in the future. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and Alden Bentley)

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