In a landmark environmental ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said today that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks. In addition, it also ruled that the EPA had an obligation to regulate heat-trapping emissions that may affect global climate change, unless they can offer scientific proof to the contrary. The 5-4 decision was a significant blow to the Bush Administration, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d argued unsuccessfully that carbon dioxide and other tailpipe emissions were not subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
In Justice John Paul StevensÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s majority opinion, which was backed by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer, the Court ruled that the EPA had flouted the Ã¢â‚¬Å“clear statutory commandÃ¢â‚¬Â of the Clean Air Act and that tailpipe emissions definitely qualify as air pollutants under the Clean Air ActÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s broad definition. While the ruling cannot force the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, it opens the door for further legal challenges if the agency should fail to do so.
Essentially, the burden of proof now rests with the EPA to provide evidence that greenhouse gases do not contribute to global warming, an unlikely maneuver at this stage of the game. More likely, federal and state governments will begin placing legislative caps on emissions, and the EPA will most likely be obligated to enforce them.
Next up for environmental groups will be the issue of power-plant carbon-dioxide emissions, which the EPA has also refused to regulate. A case concerning that matter is currently in a federal appeals court and will probably make its way to the Supreme Court sometime in the future.
Most significantly, the decision gave a clear legal standing to the problem of global warming as an issue that affects the public health. Therefore, the EPA and other government agencies may be obligated to protect the nation against the factors that lead to climate change, just as they would be in matters of toxic waste or other clear public dangers.