A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, throwing out legal challenges by states and industry groups that argued the EPA had exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by declaring that carbon emissions endanger public health.
The decision is a huge victory for the administration’s efforts to address climate change in the face of congressional gridlock on the issue and increasing skepticism among Republicans that climate change is a problem the country needs to address.
The rule will undoubtedly trigger an intense backlash from industry and congressional Republicans who charge the EPA is trying to enact climate-change policy through backdoor administrative actions since Congress hasn’t acted.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld four major aspects of the rules that a large coalition of states, industry groups, and companies had challenged. In perhaps the most surprising part of the ruling, the court upheld the EPA's controversial “tailoring rule,” which the agency established so it could slowly phase in the greenhouse-gas rules under the Clean Air Act. Even the administration’s own lawyers privately worried about the legality of this provision because it stretched the definitions of the Clean Air Act.
The court also upheld the linchpin of the legal challenges—EPA’s “endangerment finding.” This is a scientific conclusion the agency reached in December 2009 that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are a threat to human health and welfare and must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. EPA reached that conclusion in response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the agency had the right to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions if it found, as it later did, that those emissions were a threat to public health and welfare.