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Adding its voice to growing alarm over global warming, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to take a fresh look at the problem with an eye toward regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from cars. The 5-4 ruling in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency is a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration, which argued that such gases are not air pollutants under the meaning of the Clean Air Act. The EPA also said that even if it did have the authority to regulate new cars’ emission of greenhouse gases, it would choose not to, because the problem is being addressed in other ways. The Court’s newest justices, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr., both dissented. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the Court, said the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority over greenhouse-gas emissions, adding that the only way the EPA could refuse to act is if it now determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change. The Court also rejected the government’s argument that because other countries like India and China are poised to increase greenhouse-gas emissions, any EPA action on domestic cars would have a trivial impact. “A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases, no matter what happens elsewhere,” wrote Stevens. The decision took an unusually broad view of standing — usually a major obstacle in environmental lawsuits — by finding that, even though warming is a diffuse global problem, Massachusetts has already been significantly injured. “These rising seas have already begun to swallow Massachusetts’ coastal land,” Stevens wrote. Groups that sided with Massachusetts immediately applauded the decision as one of the most important environmental rulings in history. The finding that carbon dioxide — one of the gases at issue — is an air pollutant could also have implications for coal-fired power plants and other environmental issues. “Today is a great day for the environment,” says Howard Fox, a lawyer for Earthjustice. “The Supreme Court has reaffirmed what we have been saying all along: The Clean Air Act gives EPA authority to fight global warming. The EPA must act immediately and issue regulations that limit greenhouse gases from motor vehicles that contribute to global warming.” Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says, “EPA can no longer hide behind the fiction that it lacks any regulatory authority to address the problem of global warming,” In a statement, the EPA indicated that it is assessing its next step. But it also defended the actions it has already taken on the issue: “The Bush administration has an unparalleled financial, international, and domestic commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration has spent over $35 billion on climate change programs — more than any other country in the world.” Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which filed a brief in support of the Bush administration’s stance, issued a statement Monday calling for a “national, federal, economy-wide approach to addressing greenhouse gases.�This decision says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be part of this process.” The decision laid bare sharp divisions among the justices over the issue of standing, as well as whether the Court should have anything to say at all about the environment. Roberts led the Court’s conservative wing in dissent. “Global warming may be a �crisis,’ even �the most pressing environmental problem of our time,’ ” Roberts wrote, quoting from the brief by Massachusetts and other petitioners. “ It is not a problem, however, that has escaped the attention of policymakers in the executive and legislative branches of our government.” Roberts also described as “pure conjecture” any connection between global warming and the loss of Massachusetts coastal land. Also dissenting were Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. “The Court’s alarm over global warming may or may not be justified, but it ought not to distort the outcome of this litigation,” wrote Scalia in a separate dissent. “No matter how important the underlying policy issues at stake, this Court has no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency.” In a second environmental ruling Monday, the Court ruled against Duke Energy Corp. in a dispute over the effect of modification of its power plants in compliance with clean-air rules. In a unanimous decision by Justice David Souter, the Court in Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp. said the company’s modification triggered the requirement that the plants meet new, not old standards for reducing emissions. “This is a huge win for clean air,” said Environmental Defense president Fred Krupp in a statement. “The Court ruled unanimously that companies have to use the latest cost effective technology to reduce pollution when they upgrade their plants. This is not a legal abstraction — it means we’ll have cleaner air and less childhood asthma.”
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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