Today, a Georgia Appeals Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that invalidated an air permit for a coal-fired power plant on the basis of climate change. In June 20, 2008 Georgia’s Fulton County Superior Court invalidated a permit for construction of a 1200-megawatt coal-fired power plant. The Court said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division should have considered CO2 a "regulated pollutant" under the Clean Air Act and required controls as part of the permit.
When the lower Court decision was issued it marked the first time a State Court had invalidated a permit issued under the New Source Review (NSR) program for failing to consider CO2 a "regulated pollutant." The decision sent major shock waves around the Country.
Since the lower Court decision, a series of administrative appeal rulings and EPA proposals on climate change have been issued. The decisions have resulted in a complex regulatory web. Lost was a clear indication whether CO2 should be considered a "regulated pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.
The Georgia Appeals Court decision is well reasoned and navigates the various court and administrative rulings as well as EPA proposed rulemakings. The Court’s final conclusion…as it stands right now CO2 is not a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Until U.S. EPA promulgates actual regulations requiring reduction of CO2 emissions or controls, permits issued under the NSR program need not consider a facility’s CO2 emissions.
Here is a key paragraph from the decision that succinctly sets forth the Court’s reasoning:
This ruling (lower Court’s invalidation of the permit)…would impose a regulatory burden on Georgia never imposed elsewhere. It would compel [the State] to limit CO2 emissions in air quality permits, even though no CAA (Clean Air Act) provision or Georgia statute or regulation actually controls or limits CO2 emissions, and even though (to this Court’s knowledge) no federal or state court has ever previously ordered controls or limits on CO2 emissions pursuant to the CAA. It would preempt ongoing Congressional efforts to formulate a CO2 emissions policy for all the State…If accepted it would engulf a wide range of potential CO2 emitters in Georgia-and Georgia alone- in a flood of litigation over permits, and impose far-reaching economic hardship on the State. We reverse this ruling.
Here are some the items I feel the Court got right in its ruling (keep in mind I’m not making pronouncements about climate change, I am just saying I think the legal analysis is well reasoned).
- Analysis of Impact of Massachusetts v. EPA- The landmark Supreme Court ruling only says that CO2 and other greenhouse gases are "pollutants" under the Clean Air Act. Until EPA adopts affirmative regulations requiring controls or emissions limits on CO2, it will not be considered a "regulated pollutant" under the Clean Air Act. Only "regulated pollutants" must be evaluated as part of the New Source Review Program.
- Johnson Memo is Determinative for Now (prior post)- In Deseret Power, the Environmental Appeals Board said U.S. EPA retained discretion to decide whether monitoring requirements applicable to CO2 which currently exist in the Clean Air Act are enough to raise CO2 to the status of "regulated pollutant" under the Act. Former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, in one of his last acts, issued a memo setting for EPA’s formal determination that monitoring was insufficient to raise CO2 to the status of "regulated pollutant." New EPA Administrator Jackson granted a request to reconsider the Johnson memo, however she did not go as far as to stay the effectiveness of the Johnson memo during the review. The Court finds that the current state of the law is that monitoring is not enough to raise CO2 to the status of regulated pollutant.
- Formal EPA Rulemaking is Required to Trigger Regulation of CO2- The Court concludes that until U.S. EPA completes a formal rulemaking that actually requires controls or emission limits on sources of CO2, permits can be issued without considering CO2 as a pollutant.
- Rejection of IGCC as Part of BACT Analysis- The Court also follows prior Court decisions on the issue of requiring all coal plants to be IGCC plants. It overturned the lower Court ruling that would have required analysis of IGCC as pollution control under the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) requirement. In rejecting a required analysis of IGCC, the Court found that BACT analysis, as set forth in the New Source Review Program, does not require redesign of a facility from a pulverized coal to a syngas plant.