For Immediate Release, April 2, 2007
Contact: Kieran Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 275-5960
Supreme Court Ruling on Greenhouse Gases May Save the Polar Bear
Decision Undermines Bush Assertion That Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing
Cannot Lead to Control of Greenhouse Gases
TUCSON, Ariz.— In a decision with enormous implications for polar bears, fuel economy standards, and the Bush administration's policy of blocking any and all regulation of greenhouse gases, the Supreme Court today struck down the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) blanket refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars under the Clean Air Act.
“Today's ruling is not just about vehicle emissions,” said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center of the Biological Diversity. "It’s a stake through the heart of the administration’s stubborn insistence that federal agencies cannot regulate greenhouse gases."
The case was initiated when the EPA rejected a petition by environmental groups to classify and regulate carbon dioxide emissions from cars as an “air pollutant.” U.S. vehicles contribute about 28 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and six percent of all carbon emissions worldwide. They are a major and readily controllable source of global warming. The petition had sought to require the EPA to establish standards that would lower carbon emissions and reduce the global warming risk to human safety, endangered species and the environment. The Bush administration denied the petition on a moving-target basis; it argued that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and therefore the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the legal authority to regulate it, but if it does have the authority, it has the “discretion” to ignore the authority in order to pursue alternative presidential policies.
“The Bush administration has taken an imperial authority approach to global warming by asserting that federal agencies such as the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have no authority under existing law to control greenhouse gases and that any and all administrative action is at the sole discretion of the White House,” said Suckling. “To date, that discretion has consisted of pathetic half-measures and wishful thinking. White House policy is to order more fiddles while the world burns."
Titled Massachusetts v. EPA, the case was brought to the Supreme Court by a coalition of 12 states and cities and 13 environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity. The administration tried to block the suit by arguing that the coalition did not have the legal right to challenge the administration in court. The Supreme Court rejected that argument and went on to rule that the Clean Air Act does give the EPA authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. In the court's words: “Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’ we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles...EPA can avoid taking further action [i.e. regulating emissions] only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. To the extent that this constrains agency discretion to pursue other priorities of the Administrator or the President, this is the congressional design.”
The ruling does not in itself regulate vehicle emissions. Instead it strikes down the EPA refusal to act and orders a scientific review that considers only the requirements of the Clean Air Act.
The decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority including Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy. Dissenting were conservative stalwarts Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The Polar Bear Connection:
In response to a petition and lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and NRDC, the Bush administration proposed to list the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act on December 27, 2006. The listing proposal correctly predicts that all summer sea ice will melt in as few as 30 to 40 years if global warming trends continue, but bizarrely refused to identify the cause of global warming or what steps must be taken to reverse it to save the polar bear from extinction. In the press conference announcing the decision, Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne repeatedly stated that discussion of greenhouse gases is off the table because regulation of such gases is beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act and the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Instead, Kempthorne asserted, such issues will be dealt with by the president.
“The administration’s logic on polar bears and the Endangered Species Act is exactly the same its logic on car emissions and the Clean Air Act,” said Suckling. “Today's decision by the Supreme Court should make the administration think twice about attempting to bar the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from addressing greenhouse gases under the Endangered Species Act. The polar bear's existence depends on it.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitat.