WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first regulations ever aimed at reducing the gases blamed for global warming, handing down perhaps the most significant decision on the issue since a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases could be controlled as air pollutants.
The rules, which had been challenged by industry groups and several states — including Texas — will reduce emissions of six heat-trapping gases from large industrial facilities, such as factories and power plants, as well as from vehicle tailpipes.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said the Environmental Protection Agency was "unambiguously correct" in using existing federal law to address global warming, denying two of the challenges to four regulations and dismissing the others.
Texas officials, who have accused the EPA of overbearing regulation, decried the ruling.
The greenhouse gas rules "will result in no environmental benefits whatsoever" while imposing significant costs on industry and American consumers, said Bryan Shaw, chairman of the state environmental commission.
The court "failed to rein in the unelected bureaucrats at the (EPA) who are holding our country's energy independence and fragile economy hostage to a radical environmental agenda," state Attorney General Greg Abbott said. He said Texas is considering whether to appeal. Industry groups may try to persuade Congress to narrow the EPA's clout by reshaping the Clean Air Act.
"Congress now has a responsibility to reform the Clean Air Act to remove the deference most courts give to EPA's technical judgment and to refine the definition of air pollution in the act," said Kathleen Hartnett White, director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the conservative-minded Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Texas environmentalists are pleased with the ruling.
"The thing that's disappointing about Texas (officials) is the fervor with which they have gone after EPA over these rules in place to protect human health," said Elena Craft of the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund. "The science is clear that we need to start taking action."
Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said no one expected the "complete slam dunk" issued by the court and said the decision was exceeded in importance only by the Supreme Court ruling five years ago.
President Barack Obama's administration has come under fierce criticism from Republicans, including Mitt Romney, for pushing ahead with the regulations after Congress didn't pass climate legislation and the Bush administration resisted such steps. In 2009, the EPA concluded that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, triggering controls on vehicles and other large sources. But the administration has always said it preferred to address global warming with a new law.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said it was a mistake for the EPA to be involved in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas.
But the court Tuesday denied two challenges to the administration's rules, including one claiming that the EPA erred in concluding greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. The plaintiffs argued that the EPA should have considered policy implications of regulating heat-trapping gases along with the science. They also questioned the EPA's reliance on scientific evidence they said included significant uncertainties.
Chief Judge David Sentelle, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and David Tatel and Judith Rogers, both appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton, flatly rejected those arguments. "This is how science works," the unsigned opinion said. "EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."