Landmark Court Decision Promotes a Carbon-Smart Economy: Another Look at This Week’s Ruling on Climate Protections

By now, you’ve surely heard all about this week’s historic court decision upholding EPA’s efforts to reduce climate pollution.

I hope you also had a chance to read my colleague Steve Hamburg’s post about how the decision reaffirmed the value of science in public policy.

There is one aspect of the court’s ruling that we haven’t discussed much yet. That’s the Tailoring Rule, and its benefits for a carbon-smart economy.

The Tailoring Rule was one of the four measures that were challenged in court. (None of the four challenges prevailed. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the lawsuits against the Tailoring Rule).

The Tailoring Rule ensures smooth implementation of carbon regulations for large new (and modified) power plants and industrial sources, while excluding small emitters from regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (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.

Many of the petitioners in the cases that were decided this week (National Association of Manufacturers, the Utility Air Regulatory Group, and others) sought to stop EPA from using that approach.

Specifically, they tried to prevent EPA from applying the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program to greenhouse gases.

(Ironically, their efforts actually put at risk the very regulatory protections intended to ensure that small sources of pollution were not inappropriately covered by greenhouse gas regulations.)

 Since the 1970’s, the PSD program has required our biggest polluters to use the best technologies to ensure that air quality is maintained. And the PSD program has already brought a reduction of greenhouse gas pollution.

EPA has issued more than 30 permits to large sources of industrial pollution across the country since January 2, 2011. These permits cover a range of industries, from biomass refineries to cement manufacturing facilities to coal-fired electricity generating stations.

In the permits issued to date, industry and permitting authorities have focused on energy efficient design. As a result, these facilities are using cogeneration equipment, cleaner fuels, leak detection and maintenance programs, and distinct manufacturing processes that enable us to have new and expanded facilities with a lower carbon footprint.

These are precisely the actions we need to as we step forward towards a low carbon economy.

Fortunately for all of us, the court strongly reaffirmed the application of the PSD program to greenhouse gases. The court decision states that:

Congress made perfectly clear that the PSD program was meant to protect against precisely the types of harms caused by greenhouse gases.

The court decision continues:

 [I]t is crystal clear that PSD permittees must install BACT [best available control technology] for greenhouse gases.

This week's decision means that our country’s largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution will use the best available means for limiting their carbon emissions. At the same time, it means we can protect small sources of pollution from regulation, and ensure that state and local permitting authorities face a manageable work load.

EPA’s now-approved rules allow us to take action to protect our country from the harms caused by climate-disrupting pollution.

It’s one more way that this week’s court decision is a win for all of us.

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