EPA Can Regulate CO2, Supremes Say

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on a case that could influence future White House policy on global warming.

In the case — in which the state of Connecticut and eleven other states had sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — the Court decided that the EPA can regulate levels of carbon dioxide emissions. The decision came in a 5-4 ruling.

The case, Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency, involved the regulation of the emission of so-called greenhouse gases that could contribute to global warming and lead to climate change. On the one side of the case were eleven different states — among them Massachusetts , California , and New York — that argued that the EPA already has the right to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

On the other side was the Bush administration, which is arguing that the Clean Air Act, which was originally enacted in early 1970s before global warming was issue or a concern, did not give the federal government the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration was supported by several industries that build vehicles and engines as well as the oil companies and states where oil and gas production are a major industry.

The majority ruling was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, and supported by justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Souter. In it, Justice Stevens said that the agency “has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," the Associated Press reports.

The Sierra Club hailed the ruling as a new era in carbon dioxide legislation.

“The decision is incredibly important; it means, among other things, that even if EPA and the Administration try to stonewall regulatory or legislative action, California and the other states which are already moving to regulate CO2 pollution from motor vehicles can quickly move to resolve the legal challenges from the auto industry to those standards,” the environmental activist group said on its Web site. “And since states with more than 40 percent of the North American auto market have adopted such rules, as a practical matter the auto industry is going to have to clean up all its cars, even if Washington continues to dither and delay.”

In the sharply divided court the minority four justices gave two reasons for ruling against the case. Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether the courts were the place to hash out a federal agency’s responsibilities, while adding his position "involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem." Justice Scalia wrote separately that the court should defer to the agency’s expertise, "no matter how important the underlying policy issues at stake."

Dissenting opinions were held by conservative groups as well, some which question global warming hypotheses and some which took issue with the court’s assertion of power over environmental policy.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for the bad guys in the battle over whether the American people will be governed by accountable elected officials or unaccountable judges,” said the National Center for Public Policy Research. “Unable to convince the Senate to vote upon, let alone ratify, the Kyoto global warming treaty, the left has adopted the Kyoto-by-stealth strategy of asking judges to force its version of science into the pocketbooks of the American people. Shame on them. And shame on the five Justices who agreed to do so today.”

The Center continued on its Web site: “We learn from Justice Stevens today that carbon dioxide is 'the most important... greenhouse gas.' Science cannot confirm the Justice's confident statement. The role of water vapor, the most plentiful greenhouse gas, is not yet understood. Nor is the role of carbon dioxide understood. Such uncertainty, among many others, is the reason scientists annually request and spend several billion dollars of funds supplied by hardworking U.S. taxpayers for research into climate change. Can the taxpayers now expect relief?”

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