In a case brought by 12 states and 13 environmental organisations that has lasted four years, the nine judges in the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to give the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars and lorries. Legal experts believe the ruling will also apply to greenhouse gases from sectors other than transport.
The case put environmental organisations against the EPA. The EPA had argued that it had no authority under the US Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, because the Act referred to pollutants, and greenhouse gases are largely not pollutants. But the environmental movement said the EPA had the necesssary right, and enlisted the support of 12 state governments to take the EPA to court.
Five of the judges not only said the EPA had the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and lorries, but that it had an obligation to do so unless it could justify not regulating based only on science and “reasoned justification”.
The judge who gave the majority opinion, John Paul Stevens, said that, while the Clean Air Act left the issue of regulation to the EPA’s administrator, “the use of the word ‘judgement’ is not a roving licence to ignore the statutory text.”
The judges who voted against the judgement did so not for environmental reasons but because they argued the case should not have been a legal one heard in the courts but a political one dealt with by Congress.
The verdict, which overturns a decision by the Court of Appeal in 2005, makes it more likely that California will have its programme to limit greenhouse gases from cars approved. Emissions from cars and lorries account for 25% of the USA’s total greenhouse gases.
T&E director Jos Dings said: “This judgement removes the most important excuses used by the Bush administration to justify its inaction on climate change.”
This news story is taken from the April 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.