A federal court has defended the Obama administration's unprecedented push to limit greenhouse gas emissions, laying down a marker in the debate over the limits of environmental regulation.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency moved for the first time to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Building on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the Clean Air Act could be used to regulate air pollutants that are hazardous to human health and welfare, the agency set new emissions standards for cars and factories producing six specific types of gases that linger in the atmosphere and are thought to exacerbate climate change.

Industry groups and some states challenged the new rules, saying the EPA was overstepping its authority. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington dismissed that argument on Tuesday, saying the agency was unambiguously correct in asserting that the new rules met the public health standards.

The ruling could have implications for the presidential race. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has assailed President Obama for issuing regulations that are shackling businesses and inhibiting economic growth. Romney has also accused Obama of sidestepping Congress after the legislature failed to pass climate-change legislation. Industry groups make a similar argument.

The EPA's decision to move forward with these regulations is one of the most costly, complex and burdensome regulations facing manufacturers, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement. These regulations will harm their ability to hire, invest and grow. By moving forward, the EPA is adding to the mounting uncertainty facing manufacturers of all sizes.