Because Congress has refused to pass meaningful climate-change legislation, President Barack Obama has worked to broaden the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb greenhouse-gas emissions through regulation. A case before the U.S. Supreme Court will determine the extent of that authority, and the high court should continue to allow the EPA to pursue reasonable, and necessary, regulation.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could declare carbon dioxide — the most common greenhouse gas — a pollutant covered by the federal Clean Air Act, and that the EPA thus could regulate carbon emissions under the law. Since then, the court has refused to hear a challenge to EPA rules issued in 2011 that restrict carbon emissions from the tailpipes of new cars and light trucks.
The EPA wants similarly to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, from stationary sources such as power plants and factories. Two years ago, a federal appeals court upheld the agency’s position; business groups appealed that ruling, claiming the EPA was exceeding its authority. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week.
The EPA has made clear it seeks to regulate only the largest stationary sources of carbon emissions. The Supreme Court already has ruled that the EPA needs “regulatory flexibility” to address “changing circumstances and scientific developments.”
If business lobbies and their political allies don’t like this sort of regulation, they can prevail on Congress to amend the Clean Air Act or to enact some form of climate-change legislation. In the meantime, the EPA’s effort to fill the vacuum Congress has created is not only proper but necessary.