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Court decision clears way for climate-change controls

Published June 26, 2012 12:35 pm

Environment • Appeals court upholds EPA's "endangerment" finding.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cleaner air and less of the pollution blamed for climate change will be among the benefits Utahns and other Americans can expect as a result of a federal appeals court ruling on Tuesday.

That was the consensus of environmental groups reacting to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision to uphold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "endangerment" finding, clean-car standards and pollution permit requirements for new and expanding large industrial plants.

"This is an enormous step for Utah and our nation," said Vickie Patton, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the environmental groups that argued in favor of the EPA's decision to regulate greenhouse gasses blamed for climate change under the Clean Air Act.

"Under the court's ruling today, families in Utah will have cleaner cars that save them money at the gas pump," Patton said. " It will help break our unhealthy addiction to foreign oil, and it will protect us from dangerous climate change."

The ruling upholds several areas of air-quality law, said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. Those areas include:

Light-duty vehicles • Limits are retained for fuel-efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and common pollutants associated with smog and sooty pollution.

Industrial plants • Stepped-up permit requirements apply to major changes at those that contribute significant greenhouse gasses and other pollution.

Greenhouse gas reporting • The "tailoring rule" defines which plants must inventory pollution related to climate change.

Bird said Utah had already been implementing the regulatory portions of EPA's greenhouse gas program.

"On a day-to-day basis, this doesn't change what we've already been doing," he said.

Under federal law, EPA began tallying greenhouse gasses from the nation's biggest emitters in 2011. Based on that inventory, Utah's power plants emerged among the biggest contributors to the pollution blamed for climate change.

The 61 Utah facilities listed released nearly 42 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses yearly into the environment, with about 83 percent coming from 14 power plants. Two Utah coal-fired plants ranked among the nation's top 100 emitters: the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta and the Hunter facility in Castle Dale.

Supporting the regulations were key states, environmental groups and, in the end, automakers as the regulations repeatedly visited the courts over the years — even the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, some states, including Texas and Arizona, balked at any greenhouse gas regulations. Also fighting the rules were industry organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Western States Petroleum Association and the National Association of Home Builders.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson borrowed from the court's own words in calling the ruling a strong validation of her agency's "unambiguously correct" approach to handling the issue.

"I am pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that EPA followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources," she said.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah —

Read the ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case is available at http://1.usa.gov/MR4lgP.