Xcel Energy, EPA win Supreme Court battle on climate change laws

Xcel Energy and other utilities sided with the EPA in court and won.

Xcel Energy and other utilities sided with the EPA in court and won.

In news that initially sounds like a contradiction in terms, the Environmental Protection Agency and five major utility companies, including Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, have scored a win together in the U.S. Supreme Court.

What are big fossil fuel-burning utilities doing in bed with the EPA? Both were challenging an effort by eight states seeking to implement their own greenhouse gas emission rules.


But in a unanimous 8-0 ruling that overturned a lower court ruling in New York, the justices said that the EPA has the sole authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin lost. Xcel, American Electric Power Co., Cinergy Co., Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority -- and the EPA -- won.

The states argued that current greenhouse gas standards don't go far enough, fast enough, to cut carbon emissions blamed for climate change. But justices, as they did when California tried to enact its own automobile emissions standards a few years ago, said the federal government should set the standards nationwide under the Clean Air Act.

On the surface, this sounds like good news for companies like Xcel, because they won't face piecemeal regulations around the country -- and maybe will have an easier time lobbying just one agency, the EPA, for favorable treatment.

There's a different battle taking place in Congress, where power companies and lawmakers from states reliant on fossil fuel industries for energy production and jobs are trying to clip the EPA's wings. In that battle, the EPA's opponents say its carbon emission standards are too tough.

There's a thorough dissection of the Supreme Court case, American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, at SCOTUSblog