A Resonating Rebuke Over Greenhouse Gases


The news is rampant this morning regarding the Supreme Court decision yesterday that carbon dioxide is a substance that can be regulated by the EPA.

This is a verbatim repeat of an article this morning in the WSJ Online morning newsletter.  This is the first time I have ever reproduced an article on this blog and I am only doing it because few of you (perhaps none) will be able to access the complete article.  I suggest that you go to to subscribe so that you can read this article from the original source.

The Supreme Court yesterday accused the Bush administration of
shirking its duty to protect Americans from the potential danger of greenhouse
gases through the EPA’s refusal to regulate tailpipe exhaust and other emissions
blamed in part for global warming. The 5-4 ruling may quicken the growth of
official and corporate support for such regulation, even as it holds the
prospect of costly implications for auto makers and energy companies.

The justices asserted that the state of Massachusetts, one
plaintiff in yesterday’s case, had standing to bring the suit in the first
place, in part because of the harm it could suffer from rising sea levels blamed
on global warming and because the original defendant — the U.S. — was in a
position to do something about it. “The sovereign
prerogatives to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
, to negotiate
emissions treaties with developing countries, and (in some circumstances) to
exercise the police power to reduce motor-vehicle emissions are now lodged in
the Federal Government,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. The
Environmental Protection Agency’s “steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas
emissions presents a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both ‘actual’ and
‘imminent,’ … and there is a ‘substantial likelihood that the judicial relief
requested’ will prompt EPA to take steps to reduce that risk.”

The potential damage of greenhouse gases make them de facto air
pollutants and thus the EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act, Mr.
Stevens wrote. The agency’s “laundry list” of reasons for avoiding action and
refusal to even judge the danger of such emissions don’t excuse what amounts to
unlawful negligence, and once the case returns to a lower court the EPA must
explain “its reasons for action or inaction,” he said. Though the ruling doesn’t
force the EPA to act, it suggests the agency will face additional legal trouble
if it doesn’t, and it amounts to what the New York Times calls “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.” In
what The Wall Street Journal calls a second victory for environmentalists, the
ruled, unanimously, to reverse lower court support for an EPA move to allow
operators of coal-fired power plants
to significantly overhaul old plants
without installing new state-of-the-art antipollution equipment.

The court’s decisions come at a time when a growing proportion of
American industry has to varying degrees been jumping on to the ecological
bandwagon, concluding, as the Journal puts it, that “it
was only a matter of time before they were hit with a rule
that will limit
how much fossil fuel they can burn.” But “how such regulation will affect
particular industries and companies remains unclear because the rules have yet
to be written and will be the subject of an intensifying fight in Washington,”
the Journal says. Climate-change concerns are affecting a spectrum of
businesses’ energy decisions, and are among the reasons responsible for the
building momentum
world-wide to renew development of nuclear power
, Cambridge Energy Research
Associates recently noted. And the court’s blow for auto makers comes as
pressure on them is already building in Washington to reduce the carbon-dioxide
emissions from vehicles through higher fuel-economy standards, “a
move that could cost the auto companies billions of dollars
,” the Detroit
News adds.

Still, as the Los Angeles Times says, if yesterday’s decisions were
a major victory for California and other states that want to regulate greenhouse
gases, “the
battle is not over
.” Before California, for example, can implement its
gas-emission regulations it still faces opposition from the EPA and a lawsuit
from the auto industry. But yesterday’s rulings improve the state’s chances.

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