Supremes Hear Debate on CO2 As Pollutant

By Published On: December 1, 2006

Whether the federal Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases from cars, power plants, and other major sources will likely be decided by the highest court of the land by next summer. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments November 29 on whether CO2 is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The reportedly divided justices also heard debate on whether global warming causes California and the other plaintiffs to suffer “imminent injury,” giving them standing to sue. “Regardless of the final ruling, California will continue to fight global warming by pursuing a comprehensive strategy to reduce climate change emissions,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated after the oral arguments. “Our nation has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in California, we have already taken steps to stop the changing of our climate.” The Supreme Court’s ruling also is expected to determine whether California can regulate tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles beginning in 2009. The state was sued after enacting legislation by Assemblymember Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). She also authored AB 32, which seeks to cut CO2 emissions in the state by 20 percent by 2020. The National Association of Manufacturers insisted that the EPA stay away from greenhouse gas regulations. “The issue is global, and a one-sided solution from U.S. regulators will only hurt American business, our competitiveness, and jobs,” said Keith McCoy, NAM’s vice-president for energy resources. Dan Becker, Sierra Club global warming program director, countered that California and other states “are attempting to do what scientists tell us is absolutely necessary if we are to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming from happening.” Failing to heed the scientists’ warnings, he said, will push Congress “to take meaningful action at the national level.” In 1998, the EPA’s general counsel issued a legal analysis that concluded that the agency had the power to regulate greenhouse gases. In 2003, California and 11 other states, three cities, and several environmental organizations sued the EPA after it did an about-face. The agency concluded that it lacked the authority to regulate global warming gases as a pollutant. In addition, it said that even if it had the regulatory power, it would decline to exercise that power. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the EPA conclusions. On June 26, 2006, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The Bush administration has faced heavy criticism for taking a laissez-faire attitude on climate change. “In other areas, this administration has acted like Superman, claiming ‘inherent authority’ to do whatever it likes, even without laws passed by Congress, but when it comes to global warming, the administration acts like a 97-pound weakling,” stated David Doniger, Natural Resources Defense Council policy director. The case is Massachusetts v. EPA, 05-1120. – Elizabeth McCarthy

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