We publish a fair number of stories regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their efforts around the nation. The agency’s presence is almost ubiquitous in the various industries on which American Recycler reports. Whether it’s doling out funds for clean up and prevention efforts, or punishing companies that fail to comply with their byzantine guidelines, the EPA is both Santa Clause and bogeyman. And under a decision released by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, it doesn’t look like the agency’s far-reaching authority will be curbed anytime soon.
A previous Supreme Court case, Massachusetts v. EPA, held that greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide are air pollutants subject to EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act. However, a number of parties, including several states, argued that despite that ruling, or possibly as a result of it, the EPA exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress with some of the regulations it promulgated in the wake of that decision.
The Clean Air Act sets permitting thresholds – facilities emitting 100 to 250 tons per year of any regulated pollutant are subject to the law’s permitting requirements, which are overseen by the EPA. Those thresholds do not translate well to greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, since they are everywhere in the atmosphere. Because of that, the EPA changed those threshold numbers for greenhouse gas emissions to 75,000 to 100,000 tons per year to narrow the number of emitting facilities that would be subject to the Clean Air Act’s permitting requirements.
The Court found that the EPA could not unilaterally rewrite specific standards written into law, even though those standards may not work in practice. However, the Justices went on to find that the EPA still had the authority to impose greenhouse gas regulations on facilities that are already regulated under another EPA program – the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program.
The practical implication is that while a few stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions may yet evade EPA permitting requirements, the vast majority are still obligated to comply with both permitting requirements, and requirements that they install best available emission control technology.
And so the behemoth agency trundles on unfazed and undiminished for the time being.
Until next month,
Dave Fournier, Jr.
Published in the July 2014 Edition of American Recycler News