The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants under the Clean Air Act last month when it denied a petition by several states to force power plants to reduce pollution.
The original lawsuit was filed in 2004 by several states looking to force pollution reductions at a time when the George W. Bush administration was claiming to have no authority to regulate carbon dioxide. The states sued under common-law nuisance provisions, which is what the Supreme Court blocked. The Court had previously ruled in 2007 that not only did EPA have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, it must.
In denying the 2004 petition last month, Justice Ginsburg wrote for the majority: “The expert agency is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions. Federal judges lack the scientific, economic and technological resources an agency can utilize in coping with issues of this order.”
So with last year’s failure of comprehensive climate legislation in the U.S. Congress, all eyes turn to EPA. “Today the country’s highest court validated EPA’s ability to adopt strong standards, and now the Obama Administration should feel confident in moving forward with meaningful protections from coal-fired power plants and other sources of industrial pollution,” wrote Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a statement.
What the Obama administration is prepared to do is an open question. That President Obama has “failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change” is a common criticism most recently leveled by former Vice President Al Gore in an essay for Rolling Stone. But Gore’s Obama criticism drew disproportionate attention compared to his overall message, which included strong criticism of the news media’s handling of the climate issue, explains Natural Resources Defense Council’s Dan Lashof in a blog post on Grist. “The jury is still out on President Obama’s climate record. The verdict depends on the power plant and automobile standards the administration is writing now,” says Lashof.
The combination of electric power plants and vehicles accounts for approximately 60 percent of U.S. climate pollution, but on both measures, the administration is focusing on other benefits.
Obama is making the case for fuel efficiency regulations requiring cars and light trucks to average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 on the grounds that it would save consumers money and reduce the United States dependency on oil, but the measure would also dramatically reduce global warming pollution from vehicles. (Sign a petition supporting fuel efficiency improvements.)
Details of the administration’s approach to power plant rules have not yet been released, but based on opposition to other power plant regulations and the showdown in New Jersey over a regional agreement on power plant pollution, it will be contentious.