D.C. Circuit Revives Obama-Era Greenhouse Gas Emission Limits

April 8, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency improperly rescinded Obama-era restrictions on a class of greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), after the court struck down a portion of the rules, a federal appeals court held Tuesday.

In a divided ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said not only did the EPA misinterpret the court’s ruling, but it rescinded the restrictions without any public notice or comment period.

In 2017, the D.C. Circuit struck down a portion of a 2015 rule imposed by the Obama administration that required users of HFCs to switch to cleaner substances that would not contribute to climate change.

A three-judge panel ruled then that the provision exceeded the EPA’s statutory authority. However, it kept in other provisions, including requiring that anyone still using older ozone-depleting substances switch to the newer, safer chemicals.

After reviewing the decision, the EPA unilaterally said it would stop enforcing the other rule.

On Tuesday, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, writing for a majority on the court, said the EPA’s decision was fundamentally flawed.

“EPA had several options by which it could have attempted to address the perceived difficulties associated with implementing our decision,” Srinivasan said.

“But the one option EPA could not permissibly pursue was the one it chose: promulgating a legislative rule without abiding by notice-and-comment requirements and without invoking any exception to those obligations,” he wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao dissented, writing that the agency had “simply interpreted the immediate and necessary consequences of our decision.”

A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency is reviewing the court’s decision.

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