Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Supreme Court & Climate Change

In an important ruling the court enters the fray.

Editorial: Supreme rebuke
Court warms up to threat of a hotter planet
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The U.S. Supreme Court struck another blow Monday against the Bush administration's inaction on global warming with a ruling that keeps intact California's pioneering efforts to cut greenhouse gases.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that, contrary to the arguments pushed by Bush's lawyers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has authority to regulate vehicle emissions that are warming the Earth's atmosphere. It also determined that individual states have the right to challenge the EPA for stronger standards, since rising sea levels and other consequences of global warming could pose direct harm to these states.

Had the court ruled the other way, it would have tripped up a five-year-old California law -- since enacted by 10 other states -- that requires auto manufacturers to sell motor vehicles with the lowest feasible carbon dioxide emissions by 2009.

California has federal authority to establish pollution standards stronger than the federal government's. But if the court had determined that the EPA and the states lacked authority to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant, it would have crippled California's law. It also would have taken away one of the state's key tools for reducing greenhouse gases, since vehicles account for 41 percent of these emissions in California.

Until Monday, there appeared to be a strong chance that the court would rule against the states. In oral arguments last November, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and other conservative justices seemed skeptical that Massachusetts, California and others had standing to sue the federal government over carbon dioxide. Scalia, in particular, questioned if Massachusetts was imminently imperiled by sea level rise and, if it was, whether the federal government could do anything about it.
"I mean, when is the cataclysm?" said Scalia, seeming to mock the science that state lawyers were presenting the court.

On Monday, however, Scalia ended up in the minority, largely because Justice Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento joined with four other justices in clarifying the EPA's responsibility. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens made clear that states faced serious harm from a warming planet, and that the EPA has authority to act, even if its actions alone can't be expected to reverse global warming.