High court affirms rule limiting coal pollution

By Coral Davenport / New York Times News Service

Published Apr 30, 2014 at 12:01AM

Split ideas on smartphones

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed torn as it considered a pair of cases about whether the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest.

Some justices seemed inclined to apply precedents saying that people under arrest lose significant privacy rights. Those decisions say warrantless searches in connection with arrests are justified by the need to find weapons and to prevent the destruction of evidence.

“Our rule has been that if you carry it on your person,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, “it is subject to seizure and examination.”

Other justices said the vast amounts of data held on smartphones warranted a different approach under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches.

“We’re living in a new world,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “Someone arrested for a minor crime has his whole life exposed.”

— New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — In a major victory for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the smog from coal plants that drifts across state lines from 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states to the East Coast.

The 6-2 ruling bolsters the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda: a series of new regulations aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans and the coal industry have criticized the regulations, which use the Clean Air Act as their legal authority, as a “war on coal.” The industry has waged an aggressive legal battle to undo the rules.

Legal experts said the decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, signaled that the Obama administration’s efforts to use the Clean Air Act to fight global warming could withstand legal challenges.

In June, the EPA is expected to propose a sweeping new Clean Air Act regulation to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas that scientists say is the chief cause of climate change. Coal plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“It’s a big win for the EPA, and not just because it has to do with this rule,” said Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard. “It’s the fact that it’s setting the stage and creating momentum for what’s to come.”

If the Supreme Court had decided against the Obama administration in Tuesday’s decision, Freeman said, “It would have been a shot across the bow to the EPA as it takes the next steps” toward putting out the climate change regulations.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA’s efforts to make sure all Americans have clean air to breathe,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, said in a statement. She added that “the court’s finding also underscores the importance of basing the agency’s efforts on strong legal foundations and sound science.”

In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that the regulation was unwieldy and suggested that it was Marxist. As written, the regulation will require upwind polluting states to cut pollution in relation to the amounts of pollution each state produces, but also as a proportion of how affordably a state can do so. In other words, states that are able to more cost-effectively reduce pollution will be required to cut more of it.