High Court Rebukes Bush
son Car Pollution
MARK SHERMAN / AP / Forbes 2apr2007
[More on Bush, who is unquestionably the all-time worst president]
The Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration Monday for its inaction on global warming in a decision that could encourage faster action in Congress on climate change and lead to more fuel-efficient cars as early as next year.
The court, in a 5-4 ruling in its first case on climate change, declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under the landmark environment law, and the "laundry list" of reasons it has given for declining to do so are insufficient, the court said.
"A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases, no matter what happens elsewhere," Justice John Paul Stevens said in the majority opinion. "EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change."
The politics of global warming have changed dramatically since the court agreed last year to hear its first case on the subject, with many Republicans as well as Democrats now pressing for action. However, the administration has argued for a voluntary approach rather than new regulation.
The reasoning in the court's ruling also appears to apply to EPA's decision not to impose controls on global warming pollution from power plants, a decision that has been challenged separately in court, several environmental lawyers said.
In the short term, the decision boosts California's and 10 other states' prospects for gaining EPA approval of their own program to limit tailpipe emissions, beginning with the 2009 model year. Those cars begin appearing in showrooms next year. Emission limits would become stricter each year until 2016.
Automobile makers have said stricter emission limits would be accomplished by increasing fuel-economy standards.
Reacting to the court ruling, the automakers called for an economy-wide approach to global warming, cautioning that no single industry could bear the burden alone.
Monday's ruling also improved the odds that Congress would take action on comprehensive legislation to reduce global warming, said business groups, environmental advocates and lawmakers. Several measures already have been introduced.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee urged President Bush "to work with Congress to enact a mandatory cap-and-trade proposal and other programs to reduce our nation's greenhouse gas emissions."
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said the agency is studying the court's ruling.
In the meantime, she defended EPA's voluntary partnerships to reduce emissions. "These national and international voluntary programs are helping achieve reductions now while saving millions of dollars, as well as providing clean, affordable energy," Wood said.
Many scientists believe greenhouse gases, flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, are leading to warming of the Earth, rising sea levels and other marked ecological changes.
Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are burned. One way to reduce those emissions is to have more fuel-efficient cars.
In handing an almost-total victory to Massachusetts, 11 other states, three cities and 13 environmental groups that sued the EPA, the court adopted many of their concerns and their belief that taking even limited action concerning new American cars and trucks is better than doing nothing.
The court's four conservative justices - Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - dissented.
"In many ways, the debate has moved beyond this," said Chris Miller, director of the global warming campaign for Greenpeace, one of the environmental groups that sued the EPA. "All the front-runners in the 2008 presidential campaign, both Democrats and Republicans, even the business community, are much further along on this than the Bush administration is."
Democrats took control of Congress last November. The world's leading climate scientists reported in February that global warming is "very likely" to be caused by man and is so severe that it will continue for centuries. Former Vice President Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" - making the case for quick action on climate change - won an Oscar. Business leaders are saying they are increasingly open to congressional action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is the largest.
The court had three questions before it.
_Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision?
_Does the Clean Air Act give EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases?
_Does EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?
The court said yes to the first two questions. On the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its contention it has the discretion not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The court said the agency has so far provided a "laundry list" of reasons that include foreign policy considerations.
The majority said the agency must tie its rationale more closely to the Clean Air Act.
In his dissent, Roberts focused on the issue of standing, whether a party has the right to file a lawsuit.
The court should simply recognize that dealing with the complaints spelled out by the state of Massachusetts is the function of Congress and the chief executive, not the federal courts, Roberts said.
He said his position "involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem."
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a separate dissent, said the court should not substitute its judgment in place of the EPA's, "no matter how important the underlying policy issues at stake."
Whatever else comes of the decision, "this administration's legal strategy for doing nothing has been repudiated," said David Doniger, counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group involved in the case.
Other states that have adopted California's standards on emissions of greenhouse gases are: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The case is Massachusetts v. EPA, 05-1120 [at Findlaw.com website].
Justices Rule Against
Bush Administration on Emissions
DAVID STOUT / New York Times 2apr2007
WASHINGTON, April 2 — The Supreme Court ruled today, in what amounts to a rebuke of the Bush administration, that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide from automobile emissions, and that it has shirked its duty in not doing so.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the court found that the Clean Air Act expressly authorizes the E.P.A. to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, contrary to the E.P.A.’s contention, and that if the agency still insists that it does not want to regulate those emissions, it must give better reasons than the “laundry list” of invalid considerations it has offered so far.
Today’s decision is surely not the last word in the continuing debate over the effects of global warming and what can, or should, be done about it. But it was still highly significant in at least two respects.
First, the majority brushed aside the Bush administration’s assertion that the Clean Air Act does not treat carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as “pollutants,” and thus does not give the E.P.A. the authority to regulate them.
Secondly, the five justices declared that contrary to the administration, Massachusetts and the 11 other states and various other plaintiffs that sued the E.P.A. do indeed have legal standing to pursue their suit. In order to establish standing, a federal court plaintiff must show that there is an injury that can be traced to the defendant’s behavior, and that the injury will be relieved by the action the lawsuit seeks.
“E.P.A.’s steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions presents a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both ‘actual’ and ‘imminent,’ ” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, citing two standards linked to standing.
“E.P.A. identifies nothing suggesting that Congress meant to curtail E.P.A.’s power to treat greenhouse gases as air pollutants,” Justice Stevens wrote. Instead, the agency resorted to “impermissible considerations” in rejecting the plaintiffs’ request to regulate those admissions, the justice wrote.
“Its action was therefore ‘arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law,’ ” Justice Stevens went on. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined his decision.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented, along with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. The chief justice said his dissent “involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem.” Rather, he wrote, the kind of dispute in this case is better resolved by Congress and the executive branch rather than the courts.
Contrary to what the majority held, the plaintiffs failed to show a cause-and-effect relationship between global warming and actual injury, the chief justice wrote. For instance, he dismissed as “pure conjecture” a plaintiffs’ assertion that Massachusetts is gradually losing its coastal territory to higher sea levels generated by global warming.
The majority did not declare that the E.P.A. must find that greenhouse gases are a danger because they contribute to global warming. But the justices said the agency can escape its regulatory duties “only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change, or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.”
The tone of the majority opinion seemed to suggest that the E.P.A. would face a high barrier in arguing that greenhouse gases are not harmful. Justice Stevens alluded extensively to scientific findings in recent years attesting to the dangers of the gases, and he noted that the plaintiffs’ affidavits detailing those dangers were not contested.
The majority dismissed the E.P.A.’s argument that even if it did have authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, it could exercise its judgment in declining to do so. “Put another way, the use of the word ‘judgment’ is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text,” the decision stated.
Nor was the majority persuaded by the defendants’ arguments that even if carbon dioxide emissions do contribute to global warming, they are but a small part of the worldwide problem. “Agencies, like legislatures, do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell swoop, but instead whittle away over time, refining their approach as circumstances change and they develop a more nuanced understanding of how best to proceed,” the majority wrote.
In a friend-of-the-court brief of behalf of 18 scientists who specialize in climate issues, Robert B. McKinstry Jr. of Philadelphia and several other lawyers asserted that the E.P.A. had tried to create the impression that there is more uncertainty about global warming than really exists among scientists. “It is virtually certain that what has been observed so far is only the beginning,” the brief said.
A White House spokeswoman said she could not comment at length on today’s ruling. “We haven’t had a chance to review the opinion in full,” said Dana Perino. “People at E.P.A. and across the government are going to have to do that. I can’t speak to the broader implications of the bill.”
The court rejected the E.P.A. argument that it was constrained from regulating carbon dioxide emissions because doing so would require it to tighten mileage standards, a consideration that belongs to the Department of Transportation. “That D.O.T. sets mileage standards in no way licenses E.P.A. to shirk its environmental responsibilities,” the ruling said.
Final word or not, today’s decision pleased environmentalist groups. “The Supreme Court has reaffirmed what we have been saying all along: the Clean Air Act gives E.P.A. authority to fight global warming,” said Howard Fox, a lawyer for Earthjustice, who argued the case before a federal appeals court.
Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said; “It’s an historic moment when the Supreme Court has to step in to protect the environment from the Bush administration.”
Besides Massachusetts, the plaintiff-states were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Other plaintiffs included the District of Columbia, Baltimore, New York City and a dozen environmental groups.
Several automobile trade groups sided with the E.P.A., as did the states of Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.