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Upholding the EPA’s Authority

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Rare but very welcome good news from the Supreme Court today:

In a major victory for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the smog from coal plants that drifts across state lines from 28 Midwestern and Appalachian states to the East Coast.

The 6-to-2 ruling bolsters the centerpiece of President Obama’s environmental agenda: a series of new regulations aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans and the coal industry have criticized the regulations, which use the Clean Air Act as their legal authority, as a “war on coal.” The industry has waged an aggressive legal battle to undo the rules.

Legal experts said the decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, signals that the Obama administration’s efforts to use the Clean Air Act to fight global warming could withstand legal challenges.

In June, the E.P.A. is expected to propose a sweeping new Clean Air Act regulation to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas that scientists say is the chief cause of climate change. Coal plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“It’s a big win for the E.P.A., and not just because it has to do with this rule,” said Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard. “It’s the fact that it’s setting the stage and creating momentum for what’s to come.”

If the Supreme Court had decided against the Obama administration in Tuesday’s decision, Ms. Freeman said, “it would have been a shot across the bow to the E.P.A. as it takes the next steps” toward putting out the climate change regulations.

This result obviously does not guarantee that the Court will properly defer to the EPA’s regulatory authority in future cases, but it’s both a major victory in itself and a good sign. For the foreseeable future, action against climate change is going to have to come from regulation authorized by the Clean Air Act.

I note as well that (see also the ad hoc constitutional arguments advanced against the ACA) support for free-riding seems to be becoming a core Republican principle:

The utilities and 15 states opposed to the regulations argued that the rules, as written by the Obama administration, gave the E.P.A. too much authority and placed an unfair economic burden on the polluting states.

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