The case in question is being argued by 12 states, three cities and a handful of other groups. The basic argument in Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency is that the EPA is compelled by the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, which is the primary pollutant from automobiles and old power plants that is linked to global warming. The Bush administration’s lawyers contend that these pollutant are too pervasive to regulate.
Several issues here are both saddening and maddening. For one, the United States remains the world’s most industrialized and polluting nation. We consume more energy than anyone. Soon, however, that status will likely change. China, India, Brazil and others are growing at astronomical rates. Whereas others now cry foul over our practices, we will one day be on the receiving end of other polluting nations. We could do ourselves a huge favor now and in the future by taking the lead on the issue of pollution and global warming. Instead, this administration chooses to go it alone.
There is also the record of this administration on ignoring and even ridiculing science in general and in particular the facts about global warming. A new report released this week from a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research projects that the Arctic Ocean will be mostly open water in summer 2040, which is several decades earlier than previous studies suggested. Instead of paying attention to these warnings, this administration has focused solely on the problems reducing emissions will have on the economy, job growth, and big industry.
When the Clean Air Act was passed in 1971, progressive environmentalism was not a partisan issue. Richard Nixon signed the legislation creating this historic act, and it was a bipartisan group of respected lawmakers who ushered it through Congress.
In many cases, this administration has overstepped its constitutional authority, but this time it is taking an opposite stance. EPA lawyers argued that they don’t have the authority to regulate these gases, but it seems apparent from the wording of the act that they do. The Clean Air Act mandates that the EPA take action on any “air pollutant” that could “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
Many who advocate for stronger pollution policies believe the fact that this case made it to the Supreme Court is a good sign. Most in the scientific community support the notion of a relationship between greenhouse gases and global warming, but a minority still contend that the correlation is hypothetical. Under this scenario, many aspects of the global warming debate could be decided by the courts.
The Supreme Court should uphold the spirit of the Clean Air Act and OK the EPA’s authority to regulate these gases. However, if the courts choose not to wade into the global warming fray, the new Congress will have a clear mandate to either update the Clean Air Act or develop its own far-reaching, bipartisan clean air bill and hope that this president will sign it into law.