The Supreme Court will take another look at government regulation of air pollution in a high-stakes environmental and economic fight pitting the Obama administration against a coalition of states and utilities.
The justices on Monday will hear six separate appeals, which have been consolidated into an hour of oral arguments. A ruling is expected by June.
At issue is whether the Environmental Protection Agency can tighten emissions standards for "stationary" greenhouse gas sources, such as power plants, in what the Obama administration says is an effort to stem the effects of global warming.
In the larger political sphere, this issue could be major test of executive authority, with many conservative groups painting President Barack Obama as misusing his power and ignoring the will of the legislature.
Republicans in Congress and their allies have expressed similar concerns over discretionary changes and delays in implementing the Obamacare health reform law; a tepid federal response to recent state marijuana legalization; and a refusal to defend a law that did not recognize legally-married same-sex couples for federal purposes.
The high court last summer struck down that provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The Supreme Court in 2007 affirmed the conclusions by much of the scientific community that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant, but that case dealt with emissions from motor vehicles.
A range of business groups say the agency then improperly extended its regulatory authority to stationary sources.
Texas was among the states whose cases were accepted. The justices had earlier rejected three other related appeals, including one from Virginia state officials-- broader challenges to the EPA's power over carbon emissions.
Numerous environmental groups support the administration, saying the court's acceptance of only one legal question was a positive sign.
"The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that EPA has the authority and the responsibility to address climate pollution," said Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, which filed a legal brief in the case.
"It is vital to our nation's public health and prosperity that large industrial emitters deploy common sense pollution controls to mitigate climate pollution in the same way they have so effectively cut other air pollutants," Patton said.
A coalition of states is backing the administration: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, along with the City of New York.
Some progressive groups worry the conservative majority Supreme Court has been overly friendly to corporate interests in recent years, and could rule in this case against the Obama administration.
This is the second major environmental regulation case that will be heard this term.
The justices in December heard arguments over the EPA's ability to measure emissions from an upwind state that is polluting a downwind state, requiring those upwind states to pay for greenhouse gas reductions. A ruling in that case is still pending.
Many business groups hope the conservative majority will limit the reach of government in this and a range of regulatory areas, which the Chamber of Commerce and others say is hurting the economy and stifling innovation.
"EPA's warped regulatory theory would expand greenhouse gas regulation, on a timetable of EPA's own choosing, to the entire economy in violation of statute," said Cory Andrews of the Washington Legal Foundation. "It is therefore vitally important that the court clarify the intended scope of EPA's authority, before this regulatory mischief spreads further."
And leaders of other states opposing the federal government say the Obama administration's actions are "unprecedented."
"The EPA's illegal regulations threaten Texas jobs and Texas employers," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "As Texas has proven in other lawsuits against the EPA, this is a runaway federal agency." Abbott is also running for governor of Texas as a Republican.
The cases to be argued Monday are Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. EPA (12-1272); Texas v. EPA (12-1269); Southeastern Legal Foundation v. EPA (12-1268); Energy-Intensive Manufacturers Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Regulation v. EPA (12-1254); American Chemistry Council v. EPA (12-1248); and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (12-1146).