Maine environmental groups are taking a mixed view of a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down today on greenhouse gas emissions. In a unanimous ruling, the justices said states, cities and private entities can’t ask federal judges to put caps on how much toxic gas power plants can release.
The ruling puts an end to a case that began in 2004. A coalition of states, cities and private land trusts filed two lawsuits against five of the nation’s largest energy companies. It wanted a federal court to force the utilities to cut down the amount of carbon dioxide they release into the air. A judge threw the suits out, but a U.S. appeals court later ruled they could go forward. Seth Kaplan is Vice President for Policy and Climate Advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation.
“The big picture here is that the Supreme Court has, in a very dramatic way, reiterated that it is the responsibility of the federal EPA to take action on greenhouse gas emissions,” Kaplan said.
In the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to enforce the Clean Air Act and regulate harmful carbon dioxide emissions. That decision, wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Monday, made the current case unnecessary. Bill Fang, Deputy General Counsel at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, says the ruling is good news for the energy industry.
“Because it forecloses a possible multitute of duplicative and burdensome suits in federal court agains these utilities and other possible industry defendents,” Fang said.
According to Fang, industry lawyers are now sitting back and watching to see what the EPA will do. The agency faces a May 2012 deadline to come up with emissions limits for coal-fired power plants. But so far, there’s been little agreement in Congress on how tough those rules should be. Dylan Vorhees is Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
“And that’s something our congressional delegation has had to weigh in on,” said Vorhees. “And our senators in particular, Senator Snowe and Senator Collins have a very important influence on this kind of debate. We continue to hope and expect that they will not undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to help clean up power plants and other sources.”>/font>
Maine has a lot at stake in how the rules shape up. The state is often described by air quality experts as being at the end of a long tailpipe, funneling in carbon dioxide and other pollutants from aging, coal-fired power plants in the midwest.