WASHINGTON — Dealing a potential blow to the Obama administration and environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases.
The court accepted six separate petitions that sought to roll back EPA's clout over carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. That could signal the court's dissatisfaction with a 2012 ruling by the nation's second most powerful court — the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit — affirming the agency's authority.
The decision to accept cases brought by Texas, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, energy producers and others represented a potential victory for groups that customarily enjoy considerable sway at the conservative-leaning court.
It presents a risk for President Obama and his environmental regulators, who replaced the Bush administration's aversion to regulating greenhouse gases with a major push in the other direction, under the belief that the emissions are responsible for climate change.
The justices already have one case dealing with air pollution on their docket, so the new cases — which will be consolidated into one — makes environmental regulation a major topic for this term. That case involves the EPA's authority to measure pollution that travels across state lines and require upwind states to pay for emissions reductions in downwind states. It will be heard Dec. 10.
The justices limited their consideration of the new case to one question: whether EPA's regulation of motor vehicle emissions triggers new permitting requirements for stationary sources as well, such as power plants. Opponents had mounted a broader challenge to all EPA regulations of greenhouse gases.
The broader battle over greenhouse gas regulation dates back to the Clinton administration, when President Bill Clinton signed the multi-nation Kyoto Protocol but the Senate refused to ratify it. In 2010, the Senate also blocked Obama's effort to set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2007 confirmed the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. But in 2011, the high court cited that regulatory power in protecting industries from private lawsuits seeking damages for the emissions.
Opponents of the EPA regulations had placed their hope in the court's conservative justices, several of whom have voiced concerns about administrative agencies' clout. In a dissent last year, Chief Justice John Roberts warned that "the danger posed by the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed."