US appeals court backs EPA greenhouse gas rules
By BRENT KENDALL and TENNILLE TRACY
WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday backed the Environmental Protection Agency's first rules limiting carbon-dioxide emissions, a major victory for the Obama administration.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in an 82-page ruling, unanimously upheld the EPA's central finding that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide endanger public health and welfare.
The court also upheld subsequent EPA rules that imposed greenhouse-gas-emissions standards on cars beginning with the 2012 model year.
In another major portion of the ruling, the appeals court rejected industry-backed challenges to the agency's initial greenhouse-gas permitting requirements for power plants and other stationary sources of pollution.
The EPA regulations followed a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that authorized the agency to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Tuesday's opinion, issued jointly by three judges who considered the case, said the EPA's findings about the dangers of greenhouse gases were consistent with the Supreme Court ruling and the Clean Air Act.
The court said the EPA marshaled a "substantial" body of evidence to support its findings, and it rejected arguments that there was too much uncertainty about global warming for the agency to take the actions it did.
"The existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding," the court wrote.
Chief Judge David Sentelle, a Reagan appointee, and Judges Judith Rogers and David Tatel, both Clinton appointees, issued the decision.
The ruling is likely to echo in this year's elections, where Republicans including presidential candidate Mitt Romney are charging the Obama administration with stifling job growth through tighter environmental rules.
The decision was a blow to an array of industry groups, including those representing chemical, energy, farming and mining interests, that brought several challenges to the EPA's regulations.
The challengers had argued the regulations were burdensome, costly and not grounded in hard data.
Groups on both sides were quick to respond.
"The court upheld the agency's careful determination, based on a mountain of scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants threaten our health and our planet," said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"We're still reviewing the decision but obviously we're disappointed. It is likely to impose significant costs on the economy and confer few benefits - an outcome consistent for the regulations from this EPA," said National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich.
The association represents coal-mining companies.
The EPA said in its findings that greenhouse gases likely were responsible for global warming over the last half-century. That finding was the basis for the agency's new auto-emissions standards and industrial permitting rules.
The EPA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tuesday's ruling comes as the EPA works to finalize its first set of national limits on carbon dioxide from new coal-fired power plants.
The new standards, first proposed in March, are expected to make the construction of new coal plants increasingly unlikely as power generators opt for natural gas as a generation source.
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