Businesses say a win for the EPA could pave the way for the agency to dictate the design and operation of a wide range of industrial facilities, imposing billions of dollars in new costs. A loss could threaten the EPA's immediate ability to require greenhouse-gas controls and complicate its broader carbon-emissions agenda.
The EPA is also attempting to limit carbon emissions more broadly through new regulations—an approach that has been criticized by business groups and Republican lawmakers as regulatory overreach. The agency has proposed rules to limit emissions from new power plants and also plans to propose limits for existing power plants, which now account for about a third of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.
The EPA concluded in 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health, a finding that provided the foundation for the agency's 2010 regulations, including automobile-emissions standards that are now in effect. Opponents challenged the EPA's core findings and its auto rules, but lost handily in a Washington, D.C., appeals court. The Supreme Court announced last October it wouldn't review those issues.
A trade group of manufacturers said in a court brief that the best-available-technology requirement gives regulators the ability to "impose almost unlimited costs" and intrude into every aspect of a plant's operations, all the way down to "light bulbs in the factory cafeteria."
There is no legal basis for excluding greenhouse gases from the permitting program, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, where it ruled 5-4 that the EPA had the power—and was obligated—to regulate greenhouse gases if it found the emissions to be harmful. (WSJ, 2/18/2014)