Good News on Climate Change

Supreme Court Decision Will Force Government Action

Court says that the EPA must consider greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, winning a major victory in the fight against global warming.

The Supreme Court released its 5-4 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency decision today, rebuking the Bush administration and the EPA for not regulating carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses that cause global warming as stipulated in the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act states that the EPA is required to set emissions standards for “any air pollution agent” from motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines “which in [its] judgment cause or contribute to air pollution.” Yet the EPA has maintained that “greenhouse gases are not air pollutants, and therefore are not subject to government regulation,” concluding that it would regulate carbon dioxide if it determined that it caused “adverse effects on public health, welfare, or the environment.”

Hopefully this Supreme Court decision will finally get the EPA to listen to reason. Overwhelming consensus in the scientific community shows that carbon dioxide from automobile emissions adds significantly to global warming—a very real threat to public health, welfare, and the environment in the United States and across the globe.

The Earth’s temperature has already increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, leading to rising sea levels, a decrease in snow coverage, the retreat of glaciers and sea ice, and an increase of droughts. Scientists also predict that without intervention, Earth will near a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit global temperature increase within the next 25 years, leading to worsening crop yields, water shortages, and diminished economic growth in developing countries.

The Center for American Progress has made policy suggestions for curbing the carbon gas emissions that cause global warming, including adopting a national cap-and-trade program as part of a larger initiative to prevent the global average temperature from rising beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. The larger initiative should include:

  • The immediate creation of a national cap on emissions and a market for trading credits.
  • Economy-wide implementation that protects early adopters and provides opportunities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and agriculture and forestry industries to participate.
  • Potential for integration into international carbon credit trading markets in the future.
  • Reinvigorated fuel economy standards to increase vehicle efficiency by 50 percent by 2025, from the current fleet average of 24.6 mpg to approximately 37 mpg.
  • Establishing a renewable electricity portfolio standard that mandates 25 percent of all electricity be generated by renewable resources by 2025.

Americans overwhelmingly support initiatives like these. Seventy-two percent of Americans think the federal government should impose mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, and nearly 90 percent believe the federal government should require or encourage companies and individuals to take action to reduce global warming.

While the Center for American Progress lauds today’s Supreme Court decision, the time for federal regulation of carbon emissions is well past due. Plans like cap-and-trade and the Center for American Progress’ numerous biofuel solutions will help get the United States back on track and doing its part to combat climate change.

For more on CAP’s recommendations on combating climate change, please see:

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