Supreme Court rules against Bush administration on greenhouse gas regulations

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday rebuked the Bush administration for refusing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, siding with environmentalists in the court's first examination of the phenomenon of global warming.

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday rebuked the Bush administration for refusing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, siding with environmentalists in the court's first examination of the phenomenon of global warming.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by improperly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions standards to control carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which scientists say contribute to global warming.

In a separate case, the court dealt a setback to the utility industry, supporting a federal clean-air initiative aimed at forcing power companies to install pollution-control equipment on aging coal-fired power plants.

"EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority in the case involving vehicle emissions.

Stevens rapped the EPA for refusing to regulate auto emissions and instead offering "a laundry list of reasons not to regulate." There may be uncertain science surrounding global warming, Stevens acknowledged, but, he said, thatdoesn't mean the EPA can shirk what he said was its "obligation" under the law.


The issue at stake is somewhat narrow. But environmentalists and some lawmakers said it could serve as a turning point, placing new pressure on the Bush administration to address global warming, and adding to the political momentum that the issue has received because of Democratic control of Congress and a desire from the corporate community for a comprehensive government response to the issue.

The decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al v. Environmental Protection Agency et al also reinforced the division on the Supreme Court, with its four liberal members in the majority and its four most conservative members dissenting. Justice Anthony Kennedy's role as the key justice in this term's 5-to-4 decisions was again on display, as he sided with Stevens and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

The case dates from 1999, when the International Center for Technology Assessment and other groups petitioned the EPA to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions for new vehicles. Four years later, the EPA declined, saying that it lacked authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that even if it did, it might not choose to because of "numerous areas of scientific uncertainty" about the causes and effects of global warming. Massachusetts, along with other states and cities, took the agency to court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote one dissent, which was joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He said that global warming may be a "crisis," even "the most pressing environmental problem of our time," but that it is an issue for Congress and the executive branch. He said the court's majority used "sleight-of-hand" to even grant Massachusetts the standing to sue.

Besides Massachusetts, the plaintiff-states were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Other plaintiffs included the District of Columbia, Baltimore, New York City and a dozen environmental groups.

Several automobile trade groups sided with the EPA, as did the states of Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

power plant ruling

In the second case, the justices unanimously ruled against Duke Energy Corp. in a lawsuit originally brought by the Clinton administration, part of a massive enforcement effort targeting more than a dozen utilities.


In the Duke case, the North Carolina-based utility had admitted that its plant renovations had increased the overall amount of pollution. However, lower courts ruled that changes the company made did not increase the pollution per hour at each plant, and therefore did not trigger the new source review language.

Most companies settled with the government, but several Clinton-era cases involving more than two dozen power plants in the South and the Midwest are pending. The remaining suits demand fines for past pollution that, if levied in full, would run into billions of dollars.

The justices ruled that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., overstepped its authority by implicitly invalidating 1980 Environmental Protection Agency regulations, interpreting them in a way that favored Duke Energy. The appeals court's decision "seems to us too far a stretch," Justice David Souter wrote.

Monday's ruling sends the case back to lower courts, and Duke Energy said in a statement that it was confident it would show the EPA rules do not apply to its plants. "We continue to believe we have solid defenses against the government's claims," said Marc Manly, Duke's chief legal officer.

Cox News Service, Hearst Newspapers, the New York Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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