Will Supreme Court Accept Challenges to Obama Climate Change Authority?

Posted on June 3, 2013 by Richard Lazarus

Four votes.  That is the number of votes required to grant a Supreme Court petition for a writ of certiorari.  And because that is the same number of Justices who dissented from the Court’s landmark 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, EPA has reason to worry over the summer.

Pending before the Court are nine petitions seeking review of a wide ranging set of challenges to EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles and new stationary sources.  Petitioners include most every significant part of American industry, 14 States, and numerous political leaders.  Some petitions, consistent with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent from the D.C. Circuit’s denial of rehearing en banc in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. U.S. EPA, are strategically narrow; they ask the Court to review only a relatively narrow issue regarding the applicability of the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program to greenhouse gas emissions. Others, by asking the Court to overturn EPA’s determination that greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare seek, as a practical matter, to topple   the Obama Administration’s effort to address global climate change in the absence of new federal legislation.  But a few of the petitions jettison even any pretense of modesty by directly asking, consistent with D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown’s blistering dissent from en banc denial, the Court to do no less than overrule Massachusetts v. EPA.

The Solicitor General and other respondents (including 18 States) will no doubt oppose cert on all issues in their responsive filings this summer.  They have nontrivial arguments, especially given the serious questions they can raise concerning the Article III standing of petitioners to raise the particular legal claims that would likely otherwise have the most force on the merits.  But EPA is likely to be less concerned with whether review is granted than, if granted, on what issues.  The legal stakes for some issues raised are far less consequential than they are for others, which are quite enormous.

Any cert grants will likely be announced in late September, shortly before October’s “First Monday” to allow for expedited briefing and argument as early as January 2014 and more likely in February. Otherwise, all petitions will be denied on that First Monday.  It will be a long summer’s wait for all parties.



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