Supreme Court Rejects EPA & Coal Plants' Nonsense

EPA v. Massachusetts

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday, in Massachusetts v. EPA, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Twelve states, along with public health and environmental groups, had sued the EPA for failing to protect citizens against emissions. The case wended its way to the highest court after the EPA denied the appeal of the states asking it to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA had argued that it wasn't authorized to pass mandatory regulations under the act, and that no causal link between greenhouse gases and emissions was proven. The agency also said that such regulation would be a "piecemeal", therefore would conflict with "the President's comprehensive approach".

Interestingly, the EPA relied in part on the court's opinions in a tobacco case, Brown v. Williamson. In that case the Supreme Court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could not regulate cigarette smoke. The EPA noted in its arguments that in the tobacco case the court had considered "tobacco['s] unique political history" and the tobacco industry's "significant portion of the America economy". Climate change also has "political history", said the EPA. The agency reasoned that if it were to act on carbon dioxide and other emissions, that would alter Congress' intent for the Clean Air Act to regulate "local" pollution, and would force the EPA to apply the act to a very "global" problem. This, the EPA said, would have even greater economic and political repercussions than had the FDA been forced to regulate tobacco.

The court's majority opinion heartily rejected these arguments. The opinion recounted some of the science and political history of climate change and emissions, and compared this to tobacco's history, clearly outlining the strong differences between congressional intent and action in the two cases.

The EPA also reasoned that even if it did have agency in this case, the only way to control greenhouse gases would be to regulate fuel efficiency, which was the Department of Transportation's (DOT) purview. The court rejected this rational, noting that the EPA "has been charged with protecting the publics 'health' and 'welfare'", whereas "DOT sets mileage standards". The EPA couldn't "shirk its environmental responsibilities", said the court, by claiming some confusing inter-agency overlap.

The agency stated that it was following the Clean Air Act's allowance for it's best "judgment", and that given existing scientific uncertainty on climate change, it would be best in the EPA not take action. It also said that greenhouse gases weren't "air pollutants". The court said that such a stand was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law". Added the court, the "laundry list" of excuses of why the EPA couldn't respond, unbacked by any scientific reasoning, was inadequate excuse for inaction. The court ordered the EPA to find whether greenhouse gases endangered public health.

In the April 2, 2007 White House Press Briefing following the decision, acting Press Secretary Dana Perino asserted that the Bush administration has "long said that greenhouse gases are contributing to a warming planet and that human generated carbon dioxide is a large contributor..." But then she refuted the court, stating that the Bush administration policies have been successfully (and comprehensively) enacted via Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, even though in fact combined fuel efficiency of the US car and light truck fleet has decreased since 1986. The Press Secretary also argued incorrectly, that increasing fuel efficiency would cause safety issues, which is oft-tried, but tired and false reasoning.

The minority court opinion argued that though global warming was real and problematic, the "redress of grievances of the sort at issue" was best left to the executive and legislative branches. (though, given that the Clean Air Act is Congresses current solution, one that the executive branch has blatantly flouted, this seems questionable). The minority disputed the state of Massachusetts' (plaintiff) standing, and also argued that the plaintiffs didn't convincingly show an injury due to "global warming". Furthermore the minority opinion said, it wasn't clear that the injury (loss of coastal land) was redressable with the Clean Air Act.

Bush responded to the decision by saying that any action must not hurt the economy. The U.S. couldn't do something when China was doing nothing, he noted puerilely.

EDF v. Duke Energy

The Supreme Court also ruled 9-0 in favor of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in EDF v. Duke Energy. The court ruled that the company needs to follow the rules of the Clean Air Act when refurbishing old coal plants.

Clean air proponents welcome the rulings.

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