In a blow to the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's first wave of regulations aimed at tackling climate change.
By agreeing to hear a single question of the many presented by nine different petitioners, the court set up its biggest environmental dispute since 2007.
That question is whether the EPA correctly determined that its decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles necessarily required it also to regulate emissions from stationary sources.
The EPA regulations are among President Barack Obama's most significant measures to address climate change. The U.S. Senate in 2010 scuttled his effort to pass a federal law that would, among other things, have set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the rules, which were issued by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, in a 2012 ruling. The regulations allowed for greenhouse gas emissions from a wide range of sources to be regulated for the first time.
The court accepted six of the nine petitions.
By agreeing to hear various legal claims raised by states and business groups, the court could be setting the stage for limiting the reach of its 2007 ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which it held on a 5-4 vote that carbon was a pollutant that could potentially be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
The legal question, which the court crafted itself from those raised in the six petitions, indicates the court does not plan to revisit the underlying reasoning behind Massachusetts v. EPA but will weigh whether EPA went further than allowed under the Clean Air Act.
Although the court will not rule until next year, the agreement to entertain the petitions is a setback for the administration. Oral arguments are likely to be heard in early 2014 with a ruling issued by the end of June.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups, along with some states, had asked the justices to review the regulations.
The court rejected the petitions filed by Virginia, a conservative legal group called the Pacific Legal Foundation, and an industry group, the Coalition for Responsible regulation.