Federal Court Ruling Could Help New Jerseyans Breathe Easier

Tom Johnson | June 27, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Court finds with EPA, carbon dioxide emissions are threat to public health

A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the federal government’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a ruling that will have important implications for what kinds of cars consumers drive in New Jersey and what types of power plants are built here.

In a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, it agreed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide emissions pose a public health threat. The court also upheld the EPA’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and from new power plants.

The ruling comes at a time when sluggish economic growth has fueled efforts to roll back environmental protection regulations in Washington and New Jersey. In a move that angered environmentalists, Gov. Chris Christie last year pulled the state out of a 10-state regional effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“This ruling is a game changer because it supports EPA’s programs to regulate greenhouse gases, which is an important step in protecting us from climate change,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Those concerns were heightened in the wake of a new study released this week identified a 600-mile swath of Atlantic Ocean coastal area from North Carolina to Boston that is in danger of flooding because sea levels are rising much faster than elsewhere due to global warming.

Other environmentalists also hailed the decision.

“These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants and other big industrial sources,’’ said David Doniger, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The court upheld the agency’s efforts to limit emissions from new power plants, which were proposed in March. Those rules are expected to make it more difficult to build new coal-fired plants, which already are under economic pressure because of low natural gas prices.

In New Jersey, however, that rule is expected to have little impact. Most of the smaller coal-fired plants have been retired or will be in the next three years because of tougher emission standards already adopted by EPA. Christie also has vowed not to permit new coal-fired plants in the state.

Also, a new natural-gas fired plant expected to be built in West Deptford would be grandfathered in under the agency’s proposed new rule for power plants.

The rules, however, do not apply to existing generating units — the single biggest source of climate-changing pollution other than the transportation sector. In New Jersey, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is a natural-gas-fired power plant owned by PSEG Power in Bergen County, one of 41 power plants in the state contributing to global climate change, according to a database released by the EPA earlier this year. In New Jersey, more than 26 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions were released in the state, according to the agency’s data base.

Tittel argued that more needs to be done to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the “thousands’’ of facilities that spew pollution that contributes to global climate change.

In New Jersey, those facilities include four refineries, a number of garbage incinerators, a brewery in Newark, garbage dumps, and most of the big universities, and hundreds of chemical facilities.