Major Environmental Victory in Supreme Court

Ken AshfordEnvironment & Global Warming & Energy, Supreme Court1 Comment

It was close, 5-4, but the Supreme Court handed down its opinion on the controversial EPA case.  The case was relatively simple: does the Clean Air Act give the EPA the authority to regulate greenshouse gases?  The EPA (under Bush) said "no".  States sued, saying to the EPA, "Hey. Do your job."  The EPA said, "It ain’t our job".


Some background: the case emerged in 2003 after the EPA rejected a petition calling for the federal government to restrict emissions of greenhouse gases — most notably, carbon dioxide. The EPA’s general counsel argued in a memo that “[carbon dioxide] and other [greenhouse gases], as such, are not air pollutants,” and “substantial scientific uncertainty” still exists about the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment.

The statement meant the Bush administration would not have to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this view. (The Washington Post would later report that “two of the jurists who helped decide the case” had “attended a six-day global warming seminar…sponsored by a free-market foundation and featuring presentations from companies with a clear financial interest in limiting regulation.”)

CNN gives the skinny:

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.

"EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," Stevens said. He was joined by his liberal colleagues, Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, and the court’s swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The lawsuit was filed by 12 states and 13 environmental groups that had grown frustrated by the Bush administration’s inaction on global warming.

Opinion here (PDF)

It should be noted that the, given the tone of the opinion, the EPA is going to be hard-pressed to come with a reason NOT to address global warming.