Front Porch Blog

Supreme court rules against Bush in global warming case

By James Vicini
Monday, April 2, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a defeat for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a U.S. government agency has the power under the clean air law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming.

The nation’s highest court by a 5-4 vote said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “has offered no reasoned explanation” for its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change.

The ruling came in one of the most important environmental cases to reach the Supreme Court in decades. It marked the first high court decision in a case involving global warming.

Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are also emitted by cars, trucks and factories into the atmosphere. They can trap heat close to the earth’s surface like the glass walls of a greenhouse.

Such emissions have risen steeply over the past century and many scientists see a connection between this rise and an increase in global average temperatures and a related increase in extreme weather, wildfires, melting glaciers and other damage to the environment.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court majority, rejected the administration’s argument that it lacked the power to regulate such emissions. He said the EPA’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

In sending the case back for further proceedings, Stevens said the high court did not decide which policy the EPA must follow. “We hold only that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute,” he wrote.

The Bush administration has consistently rejected capping greenhouse gas emissions as bad for business and U.S. workers.

The court’s four most conservative members — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both appointees of President George W. Bush, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — dissented.

Courtesy of James Vicini

High Court Tells EPA to Consider Global Warming Steps (Update3)

By Greg Stohr

April 2 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Bush administration environmental officials to reconsider their refusal to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, giving a boost to advocates of stronger action against global warming.

The justices, voting 5-4, today said the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t follow the requirements of the Clean Air Act in 2003 when it opted not to order cuts in carbon emissions from new cars and trucks.

“EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.

The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean the EPA will have to impose new regulations. Still, it adds to growing pressure on the administration, which has resisted mandatory limits on carbon emissions. The decision is a setback for General Motors Corp. and other automakers and for utilities with coal-fired plants, including American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co.

Environmentalists and 12 states, including California and Massachusetts, are seeking to force the federal agency to limit emissions from new cars and trucks. New York is leading a separate state effort to curb power-plant emissions.

The decision also bolsters efforts by California and other states to enact their own climate-change regulations. In challenging those rules, automakers have pointed to the EPA’s conclusion that carbon dioxide isn’t an “air pollutant” subject to federal and state regulation under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The majority today rejected the agency’s conclusion. “Greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of `air pollutant,”’ Stevens wrote.

Four Dissenters

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Roberts said the court lacked constitutional power to second-guess the agency at the behest of states and environmental groups. The majority’s reasoning “has caused us to transgress the proper — and properly limited — role of the courts in a democratic society,” he wrote.

Scalia said the court “has no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency.”

Environmentalists hailed the decision. “The ruling is a total rejection of the Bush administration’s refusal to use its existing authority to meet the challenge posed by global warming,” Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement.

United Nations

Though having less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. produces 22 percent of the planet’s man-made carbon- dioxide emissions, more than any other country, according to Energy Department figures.

Earlier this year a United Nations panel concluded that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activities are “very likely” the primary cause. The report forecast a rise in sea levels of 7 to 23 inches by 2100.

Separately today, European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas blasted the U.S. for “having a negative attitude in international negotiations” on climate change. “It is absolutely necessary that they move,” Dimas said.

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to cap emissions. In January, five other U.S. power producers endorsed a proposal that would reduce emissions from electricity providers by 25 percent of projected levels by 2020.

`Piecemeal’ Approach

The EPA said in 2003 that it wouldn’t regulate greenhouse- gas emissions from new vehicles, pointing to “substantial scientific uncertainty” about the effects of climate change on human health and the environment and about the best means to address the issue.

The Supreme Court today said that reasoning was insufficient to meet the statute’s requirements. The Clean Air Act instructs the EPA to regulate air pollutants that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

“If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so,” Stevens wrote.

The agency also said unilateral EPA regulation would undermine the president’s ability to persuade developing countries to cut their emissions.

Stevens said foreign policy considerations were for the State Department to assess, not the EPA.

Standing to Sue

In addition, the agency said Congress hasn’t given it authority to regulate greenhouse gases, regardless of what the scientific evidence showed.

The Bush administration said the Clean Air Act confers broad discretion on the EPA to decide whether to regulate. The government also contended that the states lack the legal standing to sue because they can’t show they would reap any environmental benefit from EPA regulation.

Stevens rejected that argument. He pointed to Massachusetts’s contention that its coastline is already being damaged by rising sea levels.

“A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases, no matter what happens elsewhere,” Stevens wrote.

The case is Massachusetts v. EPA, 05-1120.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at .





Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment