Time for substantive action on greenhouse emissions

Today's Topic: Can feds regulate carbon emissions?

Posted on April 12, 2007

Our View A Supreme Court ruling last week draws attention yet again to the fact the government needs to get serious about greenhouse gases. The Bush administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has refused to regulate greenhouse gases as an air pollutant. Environmentalists and several states want the EPA to limit emissions of carbon dioxide on new cars and trucks, which scientists say contribute to global warming. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the EPA failed to follow requirements in the Clean Air Act when it decided not to curb carbon emissions. The Clean Air Act says the EPA must regulate air pollutants that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." It doesn't take long to look at the global warming issue and conclude that carbon emissions endanger the public welfare. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote for the majority, said the EPA has offered "no reasoned explanation" for refusing to decide if greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. Among the four dissenters, Justice Antonin Scalia said the court has "no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency." The Supreme Court's ruling doesn't mean the EPA has to declare carbon dioxide emissions to be pollution. But given the weight of the Supreme Court ruling, the mounting evidence of global warming and the growing momentum that something should be done about it, the EPA should be more forthcoming about the problem of greenhouse gases and regulate emissions. Better yet, Congress should step in and help settle the matter with strong legislation. States are increasingly concerned about emissions from automobiles and from power plants. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a meeting with The Tennessean's editorial board last week that he believed the court's ruling was "correct." Alexander, a key voice on environmental issues with a keen feel for environmental impact on his state, has called for legislation with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that would create a system capping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and letting utilities trade allowances on those emissions. Alexander's bill would help control four major pollutants — sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and carbon. He does not favor a trading system on mercury. But Alexander notes that the Bush administration has applied strong rules on nitrogen and sulfur that should be codified into law. It was notable that after the Supreme Court ruling, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he didn't believe Congress intended for the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, but he added that the ruling is a compelling reason "why Congress must enact, and the president must sign, comprehensive climate change legislation." The federal government should get beyond the political bluster on all sides of climate change and address greenhouse gas emissions with firm, common-sense legislation, like some lawmakers propose. The court ruling may not settle the issue on its own, but it should provide the impetus for steps that would.