D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Its Decision to Uphold Historic EPA Actions to Reduce Climate Pollution, Protect Public Health

December 20, 2012
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, DC – December 20, 2012) Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused petitions to rehear a landmark carbon pollution case — once again affirming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean air measures to protect Americans’ health and well-being from climate-disrupting pollution.

The three-judge panel of the court heard the cases in June. Today, the court refused petitions requesting that the entire court rehear the challenges sitting en banc.

The panel opinion that was the subject of the rehearing petition dismissed challenges to the Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding and the Clean Car Standards as well as the Timing and Tailoring Rules (see below for details on the cases).

In the original panel opinion by Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Reagan,and Circuit Judges Judith Rogers and David Tatel, the court held EPA’s interpretation of the nation’s clean air laws was “unambiguously correct.”

The panel opinion also stated that, “[F]or the reasons set forth below, we conclude: 1) the Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule are neither arbitrary nor capricious; 2) EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct; and 3) no petitioner has standing to challenge the Timing and Tailoring Rules. We thus dismiss for lack of jurisdiction all petitions for review of the Timing and Tailoring Rules, and deny the remainder of the petitions.”

Today, Judges Sentelle, Rogers, and Tatel issued a statement concurring in the Court’s decision not to rehear the case en banc. That statement points to the clear law and binding precedent of the United States Supreme Court, and says, “Here, Congress spoke clearly, EPA fulfilled its statutory responsibilities, and the panel, playing its limited role, gave effect to the statute’s plain meaning …To be sure, the stakes here are high. The underlying policy questions and the outcome of this case are undoubtedly matters of exceptional importance. The legal issues presented, however, are straightforward, requiring no more than the application of clear statutes and binding Supreme Court precedent. There is no cause for en banc review.”

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), together with a large coalition of states and environmental organizations, intervened in defense of the vital clean air protections at stake in this litigation.

“America’s clean air laws are clear; EPA has the authority and the responsibility to address the carbon pollution that has profound consequences for our nation’s health, safety and prosperity,” said Vickie Patton, General Counsel of Environmental Defense Fund. “It is now time for EPA to address the dangerous carbon pollution that comes from power plants by working with the dozens of states that have forged common sense clean energy solutions, as well as the numerous businesses that asked the President to carry out cost-saving energy efficiency solutions in reducing carbon pollution, and the communities across our nation afflicted by the clear and present danger of extreme weather that’s linked to climate change.”

The lawsuits and petitions for rehearing were brought by major industrial polluters and states such as Texas.

The cases in question include:

  • The Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding — in which EPA, following the Supreme Court’s order in Massachusetts v. EPA, determined that climate pollution endangers human health and welfare on the basis of a rigorous review of the extensive body of climate science.
  • The Clean Car Standards — which establish cost-saving fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The standards are supported by U.S. auto makers and the United Auto Workers union, among others. They will save Americans thousands of dollars at the gas pump by enabling families to get more mileage out of each gallon of gas. They will also help break our nation’s addiction to imported oil and will cut the amount of dangerous pollution from vehicles.
  • Carbon Pollution Limits for Big New Power Plants and Industrial Sources (the Timing and Tailoring Rules) — in which EPA is phasing-in requirements for use of the best available cost-effective pollution controls, starting with new, large industrial emitters (like power plants) while shielding smaller emitters.

The U.S. auto makers and a dozen states (California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) intervened in defense of EPA’s clean car standards (the second case listed above).

“EPA’s reasonable steps to reduce climate pollution will help secure a safe and prosperous future for our country.” said EDF’s outside legal counsel Sean Donahue, who presented oral arguments to the three judge panel in defense of these protections. “Today’s court ruling will help our country move forward toward the clean energy economy of the future.”

You can read more about the cases and the parties involved, find the court briefs, and get more information on our website.

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