WASHINGTON (April 2, 2007) – After a four-year court battle, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled today 5-4 that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions are “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, and that the U.S. government already has authority to start curbing them.
The Supreme Court’s decision, in Massachusetts v. EPA, repudiates the Bush administration’s do-nothing policy on global warming. For years, the administration has denied carbon dioxide is an air pollutant that EPA can control under the Clean Air Act.
“Today the nation’s highest court has set the White House straight. Carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, and the Clean Air Act gives EPA the power to start cutting the pollution from new vehicles that is wreaking havoc with our climate,” said David Doniger, NRDC’s attorney in the case.
In 2003, EPA ruled that it had no power to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping chemicals. Today the High Court struck down that ruling stating in a majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens. Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts filed the dissenting opinion, in which Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito joined.
The Court ordered EPA to make a fresh decision on curbing heat-trapping pollution from new cars, SUVs, and trucks – this time relying solely on global warming science and not on illegal excuses for inaction.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes as Congress is moving into high gear on new legislation to cap and reduce global warming pollution from all major sources across the economy. And major U.S. businesses are supporting limits on heat-trapping emissions. This January NRDC joined General Electric, DuPont, BP and several other businesses and environmental groups in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which endorses substantial, enforceable limits on global warming pollution.
The High Court decision is likely to help forge consensus in Congress for new and more comprehensive global warming legislation. “The prospect that EPA will act under today’s Clean Air Act may light a fire under some industries that have been standing in the way,” Doniger said.
NRDC was joined in the suit by 12 states (CA, CT, IL, RI, MA, ME, NJ, NM, NY, OR, VT and WA), Baltimore, New York City, Washington, D.C., and numerous other environmental groups and non-profit organizations. Fourteen "friend of the court" briefs were also filed from an array of scientists, former EPA administrators, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, electric power companies, state and local governments, and others.
“We’ve now broken a major legal logjam on this issue, and this will be the year that the political logjam is broken, too,” continued Doniger.