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Supreme Court Rejects Bush in Global Warming Debate

By Jennifer Parker (ABC News) - April 2, 2007

Court Says Environmental Protection Agency May Determine Effect of New Car Emissions on Global Warming

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Supreme Court has waded into the political debate on global warming.

Under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has argued that carbon dioxide and the like aren’t pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and therefore, the agency has no power to regulate them.

In a sweeping 5-4 decision released Monday, the Supreme Court rejected that position, declaring that the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The Supreme Court majority decided US motor-vehicle emissions make a “meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations” and hence, to global warming.

“A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related,” Justice Stevens wrote.

Bush Administration Defeat Delights Environmental Groups

Environmental groups applauded the Court’s decision.

“It’s an important signal that the Bush administration cannot continue to ignore the problem of global warming for political reasons when the science is so clear and there’s such clear pressure from the public to move forward,” said Josh Dorner, spokesperson for the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C.

“An enormous victory for the fight against global warming,” declared Doug Kendall, whose group Community Rights Counsel filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The Supreme Court has recognized both the importance of the problem and the need for the federal government to act on the solution,” Kendall said, arguing the decision is a major victory for states who want to rely on the congressional Clean Air Act.

Historic Decision Does Not Equal Action

Connecticut and 11 other states, along with 13 environmental groups, sued the EPA over the issue; however, those same groups say it may be years before any real change is taken by the EPA.

“It puts a process into motion that essentially compels the EPA to at some point issue regulations on carbon dioxide,” said Dorner. “I think, obviously, that process will be a slow one and we might see some action in Congress before that process comes to full fruition. It just moves things down the field one more step.”

Court Dives Into Heated Debate

The Supreme Court had three questions before it: Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision? Does the Clean Air Act give the EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases? Does the EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?

The Court said “yes” to the first two questions and, on the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its contention that it has the discretion not to regulate tailpipe emissions.

The Court said the agency has so far provided a “laundry list” of reasons that include foreign policy considerations, and added that the EPA must tie its rationale more closely to the Clean Air Act.

Global Warming’s Political Rise

The political climate has changed dramatically over the issue of global warming since the Court agreed last year to hear the case — the Supreme Court’s first on the subject.

In November 2006, Democrats took control of Congress and pledged to make global warming a national issue.

In February, the world’s leading climate scientists reported global warming is “very likely” caused by man and is so severe that it will “continue for centuries.”

Perhaps one of the biggest political players in the climate change arena is former Vice President Al Gore.

His Academy Award-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, which makes the case for prompt action on climate change, has gained widespread attention and applause, not to mention giving Gore a microphone to the world during the Oscars.

Standing alongside David Guggenheim, director of the Gore-inspired documentary, onstage, Gore proclaimed, “My fellow Americans, people all over the world — we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”

The former vice president turned environmental activist also recently testified before both the House and Senate on the issue of global climate change, spurring rumors of another presidential bid, all of which have been downplayed but not entirely rejected by Gore.