EPA faces heat over emission standards

Vice President Joe Biden visited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 17, and formally welcomed back more than 160,000 workers who were furloughed by the 16-day stalemate in Congress.

Vice President Biden visits the EPA headquarters. (AP Photo)

“They’ve got all that work piled up, so they’ve got a lot to do, so I’m not going to hold them up very long,” Biden said in his speech to the staff as they began settling back into their desks.

It’s finally another day at the office, but now that the EPA workforce is back on the clock, the heat over the EPA’s latest greenhouse gas emission standards recommences and continues to ignite.

The Supreme Court’s decision last Tuesday to allow a hearing on a particular segment of the Massachusetts v. EPA case in 2007 has brought both states and big businesses to battle on Capitol Hill over the federal regulations imposed by the Obama administration’s recent Climate Change Act.

In 2007, several industrial groups, now revisiting Washington, claimed that the EPA’s justification to regulate carbon dioxide was exaggerated and that the economic consequences of restricting coal plants are dire, considering the energy market is now graduating toward utilizing natural gas sources for fuel, such as fracking, instead of the traditional means of the coal fleet.

Then, the EPA’s guidelines had received the Supreme Court’s approval as permissible by the Clean Air Act. But the authorization was contingent on the EPA’s determination of whether greenhouse gas emissions are hazardous to human health and life.

In 2009, the EPA made its case clear on the dangerous effects of carbon dioxide pollution and presented carbon limitations for both vehicles and stationary sources, such as power plants, factories, etc. The restrictions were hit hard with criticism by 13 states and a slew of industrial factions and companies, such as the National Mining Association, American Electric Power, Southern Company and Xcel Energy.

A Federal D.C. circuit court ruling in 2012 deemed the EPA’s endangerment clause on greenhouse gas emissions sound, so it remains protected and separated from the current judicial review.

The Supreme Court, however, will begin to hear six of the cases debating the new EPA standards for future coal plants starting next year, and the court plans to reach resolutions by next summer. According to Forbes, the EPA will “require that all future coal plants be as clean as combined cycled natural gas units,” and that the plants can “emit no more than 1,100 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour, a significant drop from their current levels of 1,850 pounds.”

Vehicle standards will remain untouched by the judicial review, but the Supreme Court will begin to examine and decide whether the new standards on future plants are symptomatic of excessive government regulation and if the economic effects will be as drastic as the industrialists have argued.

Many opponents of the EPA, especially big oil states like Texas, have tried to disclaim the EPA standards as unconstitutional and have pressed the judicial branch to shift the powers to uphold and direct environmental reforms over to the hands of legislation representatives in Congress.

The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, has even said that “the EPA violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Clean Air Act when it concocted greenhouse gas regulations out of whole cloth.” The Obama administration defended its implementing agency and said that it was Congress specifically that desired the EPA to have sovereignty in controlling and creating the laws of the new Climate Change Act.

The Supreme Court is left to mediate a highly bureaucratic and incentivized environmental issue, which has further implications both economically and politically as Obama’s Climate Change Act seats the EPA as its main enforcing organization.