The Heat Is Online

Supreme Court to Bush: Regulate Auto Emissions

Justices Say E.P.A. Has Power to Act on Harmful Gases

The New York Times, April 3, 2007


WASHINGTON, April 2  In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions. The court further ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal.


The 5-to-4 decision was a strong rebuke to the Bush administration, which has maintained that it does not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act, and that even if it did, it would not use the authority. The ruling does not force the environmental agency to regulate auto emissions, but it would almost certainly face further legal action if it failed to do so.


Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said the only way the agency could avoid taking further action now was if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or provides a good explanation why it cannot or will not find out whether they do.


Beyond the specific context for this case  so-called tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks, which account for about one-fourth of the countrys total emissions of heat-trapping gases  the decision is likely to have a broader impact on the debate over government efforts to address global warming.


Court cases around the country had been held up to await the decision in this case. Among them is a challenge to the environmental agencys refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, now pending in the federal appeals court here. Individual states, led by California, are also moving aggressively into what they have seen as a regulatory vacuum.


Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, said that by providing nothing more than a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, the environmental agency had defied the Clean Air Acts clear statutory command. He said a refusal to regulate could be based only on science and reasoned justification, adding that while the statute left the central determination to the judgment of the agencys administrator, the use of the word judgment is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text.


The court also decided a second Clean Air Act case Monday, adopting a broad reading of the environmental agencys authority over factories and power plants that add capacity or make renovations that increase emissions of air pollutants. In doing so, the court reopened a federal enforcement effort against the Duke Energy Corporation under the Clean Air Acts new source review provision. The vote in the second case, Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp., No. 05-848, was 9 to 0.


The two decisions left environmental advocates exultant. Many said they still harbored doubts about the federal agency and predicted that the decision would help push the Democratic-controlled Congress to address the issue.


Even in the nine months since the Supreme Court agreed to hear the first case, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 05-1120, and accelerating since the elections in November, there has been a growing interest among industry groups in working with environmental organizations on proposals for emissions limits.


Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the main industry trade group, said in response to the decision that the alliance looks forward to working constructively with both Congress and the administration in addressing the issue.


This decision says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be part of this process, Mr. McCurdy said.


If the decision sowed widespread claims of victory, it left behind a prominent loser: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who argued vigorously in a dissenting opinion that the court never should have reached the merits of the case or addressed the question of the agencys legal obligations.


His dissent, which Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. also signed, focused solely on the issue of legal standing to sue: whether the broad coalition of states, cities and environmental groups that brought the lawsuit against the environmental agency four years ago should have been accepted as plaintiffs in the first place.


This was the issue on which the coalitions lawsuit had appeared most vulnerable, given that in recent years the Supreme Court has steadily raised the barrier to standing, especially in environmental cases. Justice Scalia has long been a leader in that effort, and Chief Justice Roberts made clear that, as his statements and actions in his pre-judicial career indicated, he is fully aboard Justice Scalias project.


Chief Justice Roberts said the court should not have found that Massachusetts or any of the other plaintiffs had standing. The finding has caused us to transgress the proper  and properly limited  role of the courts in a democratic society, he said, quoting from a 1984 decision. And, quoting from a decision Justice Scalia wrote in 1992, he said, This courts standing jurisprudence simply recognizes that redress of grievances of the sort at issue here is the function of Congress and the chief executive, not the federal courts.


Chief Justice Roberts complained that todays decision recalls the previous high-water mark of diluted standing requirements, a 1973 decision known as the Scrap case. That was an environmental case that the Supreme Court allowed to proceed on a definition of standing so generous as to be all but unthinkable today. Todays decision is Scrap for a new generation, the chief justice said, not intending the comparison as a compliment.


The majority addressed the standing question by noting that it was only necessary for one of the many plaintiffs to meet the three-part definition of standing: that it had suffered a concrete and particularized injury, that the injury was fairly traceable to the defendant and that a favorable decision would be likely to redress that injury.


Massachusetts, one of the 12 state plaintiffs, met the test, Justice Stevens said, because it had made a case that global warming was raising the sea level along its coast, presenting the state with a risk of catastrophic harm that would be reduced to some extent if the government undertook the regulation the state sought.


In addition, Justice Stevens said, Massachusetts was due special deference in its claim to standing because of its status as a sovereign state. This new twist on the courts standing doctrine may have been an essential tactic in winning the vote of Justice Kennedy, a leader in the courts federalism revolution of recent years. Justice Stevens, a dissenter from the courts states rights rulings and a master of court strategy, in effect managed to use federalism as a sword rather than a shield.


Following its discussion of standing, the majority made short work of the agencys threshold argument that the Clean Air Act simply did not authorize it to regulate heat-trapping gases because carbon dioxide and the other gases were not air pollutants within the meaning of the law.


The statutory text forecloses E.P.A.s reading, Justice Stevens said, adding that greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Acts capacious definition of air pollutant.


The justices in the majority also indicated that they were persuaded by the existing evidence of the impact of automobile emissions on the environment.


The agency itself does not dispute the existence of a causal connection between man-made gas emissions and global warming, Justice Stevens noted, adding that judged by any standard, U.S. motor-vehicle emissions make a meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations.


Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion, signed by the other three dissenters, disputing the majoritys statutory analysis.

The decision overturned a 2005 ruling by the federal appeals court here.


Editorial  The New York Times, April 3, 2007

The Court Rules on Warming

It would be hard to overstate the importance of yesterdays ruling by the Supreme Court that the federal government has the authority to regulate the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by motor vehicles.

It is a victory for a world whose environment seems increasingly threatened by climate change. It is a vindication for states like California that chose not to wait for the federal government and acted to limit emissions that contribute to global warming. And it should feed the growing momentum on Capitol Hill for mandatory limits on carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.

The 5-to-4 ruling was a rebuke to the Bush administration and its passive approach to the warming threat. The ruling does not require the government to regulate greenhouse gases. But it instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate emissions, urges it to pay attention to the scientific evidence and says that if it takes the same stance, it has to come up with better reasons than its current laundry list of excuses.

The ruling also demolishes President Bushs main justification for not acting  his argument that because the Clean Air Act does not specifically mention greenhouse gases, the executive branch has no authority to regulate them. The president has cited other reasons for not acting, including costs. But his narrow reading of the Clean Air Act has always been his ace in the hole.

The court offered a much more capacious reading of the act, as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. The plaintiffs  12 states and 13 environmental groups  had argued, and the court agreed, that while the act does not specifically mention greenhouse gases, it gives the federal government clear jurisdiction over any air pollutant that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. This interpretation was first set forth by Carol Browner, administrator of the E.P.A. under President Clinton, and remained agency policy until Mr. Bush reversed it in 2001.

The administration had also argued that the states did not have standing to sue on this issue because they could not show that they would be harmed by the governments failure to regulate greenhouse gases. The court ruled that the states have a strong and legitimate interest in protecting their land and their citizens against the dangers of climate change and thus have standing to sue.

The ruling reinforces state efforts in other ways. California and nearly a dozen other states have adopted their own regulations requiring lower greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. These rules, however, require federal approval, which seemed unlikely as long as the agency could claim that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant  a claim it can no longer make.

The E.P.A. had also argued that reducing emissions would require it to tighten fuel efficiency standards, a job assigned by law to the Department of Transportation. The automakers have made much the same argument against Californias emissions rules. But the court said that the E.P.A. could not shirk its responsibilities just because another department sets mileage standards. The agency is clearly in for some serious soul-searching.

The decision was unnervingly close, and some of the arguments in the dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., were cause for concern  especially his comments about the complexities of the science of climate change, which is too close for comfort to the administrations party line.

Still, the Supreme Court, for the first time, has said that global warming is a real and present danger. This can only encourage those on Capitol Hill and in the states who are growing increasingly impatient for aggressive action.

High court tells EPA to rethink policy on emissions

Mass. led case against agency

In a defeat for the Bush administration, the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that greenhouse gases are pollutants and ordered federal environmental officials to reconsider their refusal to limit emissions from new cars and trucks.

The justices' 5-to-4 decision did not go so far as to require the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emission of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide from motor vehicles. Rather, the court directed the agency to take a new look at the gases. If officials determine the gases contribute to global warming and therefore harm human health, the agency should regulate them under the federal Clean Air Act or provide some reasonable explanation why it will not, the court said.

"In short, 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.

Massachusetts was the lead plaintiff in the case, brought by 12 states and 13 environmental groups and argued by James R. Milkey of the Massachusetts attorney general's office. The ruling is the high court's first on global warming and is expected to have far-reaching implications for regulating greenhouse gases in the United States. It comes at a time of rapid transition in attitudes about climate change in Washington, as Democrats have gained control of Congress and a flurry of bills have been filed to reduce or deal with the effects of climate change.

The EPA had argued that the Clean Air Act did not give it authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that there was "scientific uncertainty" about the effect of climate change on human health. The agency also said that even if it did have that authority, it would not regulate the gases because that would interfere with the Bush administration's voluntary efforts to reduce global warming. The EPA also does not regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, the other key source of heat-trapping emissions.

Climate change policy specialists said it will now be difficult for the EPA to contend that heat-trapping gases do not contribute to global warming and therefore harm human health: In the eight years since the case was brought, evidence of the connection has mounted. Two months ago, the United States endorsed a scientific statement that concluded that there was more than 90 percent certainty that the recent increase in global temperatures was mostly caused by manmade releases of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. A related report being published Friday is expected to describe the effects of a warming world, including increases in disease, more precipitation, and dwindling water supplies.

Even the EPA's website discusses human health problems from more extreme weather conditions and rising temperatures the world is expected to experience in coming years.

"It is unimaginable that they could refuse to regulate on [any grounds] that would withstand the giggle test," said Seth Kaplan, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, an advocacy group and one of the parties that joined Massachusetts in the lawsuit. "We argued a case that was frozen in time -- there is even more mountains of evidence that the EPA will have to look at now."

While several types of gases contribute to global warming, carbon dioxide is the main one that environmental groups seek to control in cars and power plants.

The EPA released a statement saying it is reviewing the decision. "The Bush administration has an unparalleled financial, international, and domestic commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions," it said, adding that the administration is pursuing voluntary efforts to prevent emissions and has spent more than $35 billion on climate change programs -- "more than any other country in the world."

A jubilant Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley held a press conference yesterday, saying the decision was long in coming but very welcome.

"It's really groundbreaking," Coakley said in a phone interview. "The decision says to the Bush administration, 'look, you guys have a job to do and you are not doing it' . . . EPA can no longer hide behind the fiction that it lacks any regulatory authority to address the problem of global warming."

The case began in 1999 when environmental groups asked the EPA to set motor vehicle emissions standards for greenhouse gases. Four years later, the EPA denied the request, and Massachusetts appealed the decision in federal court, along with the other parties. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, and oral arguments were held in late November.

Yesterday, Stevens was joined in the majority by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Most of the dissent centered on whether individual states could use the federal courts to address their complaints. Roberts wrote that Congress and the executive branch, not the courts, should address the states' concerns about the EPA's lack of regulation. He stressed that his position involves "no judgment" on global warming.

The ruling is expected to strengthen efforts by California and other states -- including most New England states -- to enact their own greenhouse gas rules for motor vehicles. Automakers have sued California, Vermont, Rhode Island, and other states over those plans, arguing in part that the EPA does not qualify greenhouse gases as pollutants under the federal Clean Air Act.

Yesterday's ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants severely weakens that argument, and may result in automakers pushing for a federal policy for greenhouse gas emissions rather than deal with varying standards from states, specialists said. If rules were passed, it would probably come in the form of tighter fuel economy standards. Those standards would reduce gasoline use, and therefore its byproduct of carbon dioxide, in vehicles.

"This ruling implies that states have a right to protect their citizens from harm," said Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. "This is one of the most important environmental decisions ever from the Supreme Court."

Reaction from industry was swift . Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents some of the nation's biggest car companies, posted a comment on the group's website calling for a "national, federal, economy-wide approach to addressing greenhouse gases."

Thomas F. Reilly, the former Massachusetts attorney general who is now in private practice after a gubernatorial bid, was pleased yesterday.

"It's a great feeling. . . . Someone had to stand up and force the EPA to do their jobs," Reilly said, adding it felt "really good to have the little state of Massachusetts" as the one to do it.

Beth Daley can be reached by email at  


Rebuke for administration on emissions

Justices order government to re-examine regulations on car emissions


The Associated Press, April 2, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.

Greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the landmark environmental law, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion.

The courts four conservative justices  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas  dissented.

Many scientists believe greenhouse gases, flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, are leading to a warming of the Earth, rising sea levels and other marked ecological changes.

Shifting politics
The politics of global warming have changed dramatically since the court agreed last year to hear its first global warming case.

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 worlds leading climate scientists reported in February that global warming is very likely caused by man and is so severe that it will continue for centuries.

Former Vice President Al Gores 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 greenhouse gases emissions, of which carbon dioxide is the largest.

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.

Three questions

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 courts swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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

Chief Justice dissents

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 redress of the kind of grievances spelled out by the state of Massachusetts is the function of Congress and the chief executive, not the federal courts, Roberts said.

His position involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem, he said.

The decision also is expected to boost Californias prospects for gaining EPA approval of its own program to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Federal law considers the state a laboratory on environmental issues and gives California the right to seek approval of standards that are stricter than national norms.

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

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved