The struggle to curb climate change and global warming got a big boost today, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency DOES have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency is the first case involving global warming to reach the US Supreme Court. In a 5-to-4 decision today, the court basically sided with 12 states and several environmental groups that challenged the Bush administration’s “do nothing” stance in addressing global warming.
The case centered on the EPA’s decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles (which make up approximately 20 percent of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions). In part due to heavy lobbying from the auto industry and other pressures – the EPA has largely been inactive in addressing c02 pollution for years. In 1998 during the Clinton administration, the EPA determined that the Clean Air Act gave it the authority to regulate C02. In 1999 environmental groups petitioned the EPA to regulate C02 from new cars and trucks, citing the massive damage caused to air quality, health, and the climate from automotive emissions. But in 2003, under the Bush administration the EPA decided that first, that the EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and, second, that even if the EPA did have such authority that there was no scientific consensus on the role of C02 in global warming, and thus did not warrant regulation.
The court’s ruling today couldn’t force immediate action on regulating emissions – but it did address some major issues, and struck a big blow against inaction. It argued that the EPA had a responsibility to act, and had to provide solid reasons if they choose not to act, which they have thus failed to do. It shifted the burden of proof and requires the EPA to justify inaction, rather than victims to demand action. It solidly confronted the attitudes and claims that both the Bush administration and the automotive industry put forward as reasons to not regulate C02. And the ruling sided with the states on the legal basis of “Standing” – meaning that a plaintiff must be able to show that they are injured by the defendant’s behavior, and that the lawsuit being brought will address that injury. Arguments have been made that climate change is not imminent and certain – so an individual or a state (like Massachusetts, or California below) can’t feasibly claim damage from global warming, and thus have no standing to bring lawsuits against the companies and industries responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Standing was established today – which sets strong precedent for future action.
California passed the historic “Pavley Law” (AB 1493) in 2002 – as a bold step in regulating tailpipe emissions. Several other states pledged to adopt the California standard – but automakers promptly sued California in an attempt prevent regulations (And we thought automakers cared about the environment?). The Federal Court case around the Pavley Law has been awaiting this Supreme Court decision before making a ruling, as there was so much crossover area. In 2006, California also sued the “Big 6″ automakers, holding them responsible for damage caused by global warming to the resources, infrastructure, and health of California. The USSC ruling today should set a strong precedent showing sufficient standing for states to hold big greenhouse gas emitters responsible -both in the auto industry but perhaps even more broadly.
This is exciting news -the future developments of this ruling should be big!
For more reading from the NY Times and Washington Post, check out: