All justices presiding, regardless of ideology, signaled doubts about the case, the Washington Post reports.
California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, along with New York City and three environmental groups, are suing power plants in Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia and Minnesota. The case, American Electric Power Co v. Connecticut, covers five power companies: American Electric Power Co., Cinergy Corp., Southern Co., Xcel Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), an independent federal corporation with millions of electricity customers.
“Asking a court to set standards for emissions sounds like the kind of thing that EPA does,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency. “I mean, Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and… the relief you’re seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of ‘super-EPA.'”
The Post said that the hearing Tuesday was on whether the case should go to trial before a district judge, but that the justices often questioned how a federal judge would consider such a case. The Obama administration is also opposing the states’ effort.
In 2007, the Supreme Court said that greenhouse gases (GHGs) can be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood argued that EPA action on GHGs will likely be delayed by the actions of congressional Republicans, who have launched various tactics to revoke that authority or the funding for it.
“It could be a long time before EPA actually arrives at a judgment,” Underwood told the court. “A lot can happen to delay or derail the fulfillment of a promise.”
The agency has ordered states to begin issuing GHG permits to big emitters such as oil refineries, coal-burning power plants, cement factories and glass makers. Those rules took effect January 2, although the EPA decided to defer application of the GHG rules to biomass facilities for three years, and states have struggled with the federal government over the permitting process.
The EPA plans to propose GHG emissions limits this year, and finalize the rules next year. In the meantime, large emitters and fuel suppliers must report their 2010 GHG data to the EPA by September 30, 2011.