- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

From combined dispatches

The Supreme Court handed environmentalists two victories yesterday, ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and reviving a bid to reduce pollution at coal-fired power plants.

The high court voted 5-4 that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks and that the agency “has offered no reasoned explanation” for its refusal to do so.

Greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the landmark environmental law, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion.

Many scientists say greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, are leading to a warming of the Earth, rising sea levels and other marked ecological changes. Many other scientists dispute some of these conclusions.

The court’s four conservative justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — dissented.

The ruling in one of the most important environmental cases to reach the Supreme Court marked the first high court decision in a case involving global warming.

President Bush has opposed mandatory controls on greenhouse gases as harmful to the U.S. economy, and the administration has called for voluntary programs instead of regulation. The states and environmental groups that brought the lawsuit hailed yesterday’s ruling.

“As a result of today’s landmark ruling, EPA can no longer hide behind the fiction that it lacks any regulatory authority to address the problem of global warming,” Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said.

“Today, the nation’s highest court has set the White House straight. Carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, and the Clean Air Act gives EPA the power to start cutting the pollution from new vehicles that is wreaking havoc with our climate,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Greenhouse gases occur naturally and also are emitted by cars, trucks and factories into the atmosphere. They can trap heat close to Earth’s surface like the glass walls of a greenhouse.

The decision boosts California’s and 10 other states’ prospects for gaining EPA approval of their own program to limit tailpipe emissions, beginning with the 2009 models. Those cars begin appearing in showrooms next year. Emission limits would become stricter each year until 2016.

Automobile makers have said stricter emission limits would be accomplished by increasing fuel-economy standards.

Reacting to the court ruling, the automakers called for an economywide approach to global warming, cautioning that no single industry could bear the burden alone.

Democrats in Congress predicted that the ruling could increase pressure on lawmakers to push forward with caps on carbon-dioxide emissions. The United States is the world’s biggest emitter of such gases.

Justice Stevens rejected the EPA’s argument that it lacked the power under the federal clean air law to regulate such emissions.

He wrote that the EPA’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

He was joined by his liberal colleagues, Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter, and the court’s swing voter, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

In sending the case back for further proceedings, he said the EPA can avoid regulation only if it determined that the gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provided a reasonable explanation.

“If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse cases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so,” he said.

The EPA said that the administration was committed to reducing greenhouse gases and that it was “reviewing the court’s decision to determine the appropriate course of action.”

The dissenters said the environmental groups and the states lacked the legal right to bring the lawsuit.

“No matter how important the underlying policy issues at stake, this court has no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency,” Justice Scalia wrote.

In the power-plant case, the justices unanimously set aside a federal appeals court decision that barred an anti-pollution suit against Duke Energy Corp.

The court said the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overstepped its authority by implicitly invalidating 1980 EPA regulations, interpreting them in a way that favored Duke. The case, filed by the federal government and environmental groups, now returns to the lower courts.

The appeals court’s decision “seems to us too far a stretch,” Justice Souter wrote.

The 1980 regulations “may be no seamless narrative, but they clearly do not define” the law’s requirements in the way Duke interprets them, the justice wrote.

The high court opted not to resolve a debate over a part of the Clean Air Act affecting companies that modify coal-fired plants. The so-called New Source Review provisions require companies to get permits and install pollution-control equipment when they make a plant modification that “increases” emissions.

Utilities, backed by manufacturing companies that are also subject to the law, said those provisions apply only when plants increase their maximum hourly emissions rate. Conservation groups led by Environmental Defense contend that the requirement encompasses the more common scenario in which an upgrade allows longer hours of operation, thereby boosting annual emissions.

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