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Supreme Court To Weigh EPA Permits For Power Plant Emissions

The Supreme Court has agreed to review an Obama administration policy that requires new power plants and other big polluting facilities to apply for permits to emit greenhouse gases.

To get these permits, which have been required since 2011, companies may have to use pollution controls or otherwise reduce greenhouse gases from their operations — although industries report that so far they haven't had to install special pollution control equipment to qualify for the permits.

The rule is part of a larger effort by the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.

The EPA started with automobiles. It determined that once it did that, it was "compelled" by the Clean Air Act to also require greenhouse gas permits when companies want to construct big new facilities. The statute requires permits for all facilities that are major polluters of "any air pollutant." And the EPA has long interpreted this to mean any pollutant that is regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The utilities, manufacturers and chemical companies that petitioned the Supreme Court challenge EPA's decision. They argue that the EPA should have interpreted "any air pollutant" to mean only pollutants that have health-based ambient air quality standards, such as ground-level ozone, according to Jeffrey Holmstead, an industry lawyer who headed EPA's air pollution program under the Bush administration.

Furthermore, industry groups argue that getting these permits causes delays in big projects that could help revive the economy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided in 2012 that the EPA got it right.

In its decision, the appeals court cited a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, which affirmed the EPA's determination that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

That Supreme Court ruling also upheld the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and the Obama administration's authority to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up the case on the greenhouse gas permits for large polluters early next year.

These greenhouse gas permits are not the same as the greenhouse gas regulations that the Obama administration has been drafting over the past couple of years.

The EPA last month released a second proposal regarding how it wants to set limits on how much greenhouse gases new power plants can release. President Obama says he also intends to regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants, but has yet to release a proposal.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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