A Supreme Day for Clean Air in America

April 2, 2007

Fred Krupp, President, 212/505-2100
Vickie Patton, Senior Attorney, 303/440-4901
Tony Kreindler, 202/572-3378, 202/210-5791

(Washington, DC - April 2, 2007) – The Supreme Court held today that carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases are “air pollutants” that are within EPA’s power to control under the Clean Air Act,  and the U.S. government already has authority to regulate them. The ruling is a significant victory for the environment and adds new momentum for federal action on climate change.

The Court ruled that EPA must reconsider the regulation of greenhouse gases for motor vehicle tailpipes. A similar case involving the regulation of global warming pollution from new coal plants is pending in the lower courts; EPA also will be required to reevaluate its stance on greenhouse gases from these generating facilities. EPA’s failure to address the urgent problem of global warming underscores the imperative of congressional action that prevents further foot-dragging by the Agency.

“Today, the highest court in the land decided that the Clean Air Act clearly empowers EPA to address the pressing problem of global warming pollution. Unfortunately, EPA has refused to act and swift congressional action will be critical to ensure real progress,” said Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp.  “The Court did all it can, but if we’re really going to fix climate change, Congress has to pass a cap on global warming pollution, and soon.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency previously declared it did not have the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution. By a 5 to 4 margin the Court overruled that position, ordering the Agency to reconsider regulating greenhouse gas emissions. 

Environmental Defense is urging Congress to put an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions and set the U.S. on the path to an 80 percent reduction from current levels by mid-century.

The global warming case (Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, et al., No. 05-1120) arises from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s denial of a petition to limit global warming pollution from new motor vehicles. EPA reasoned that global warming pollution did not constitute an “air pollutant” within the meaning of the federal Clean Air Act. That term is defined to encompass “any” “substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air.” The Court held that the Clean Air Act is “sweeping” and “unambiguous” in encompassing global warming pollution.

The federal government also claimed that the states and environmental organizations were not injured by the adverse effects of global warming pollution, despite the body of evidence in the case demonstrating the serious and direct impacts of global warming pollution on human health and the environment. The high Court rejected that argument.

In a second case (Environmental Defense, et al. v. Duke Energy, No. 05-848), the Court ruled that industrial smokestacks and power plants must meet today’s cost-effective pollution control standards when facilities are refurbished. 

“This is a huge win for clean air. The Court ruled unanimously that industrial facilities and power plants seeking to expand their operations must use modern clean air technology to reduce air pollution. The high Court’s decision upholding these clean air safeguards means we’ll have healthier air and less childhood asthma,” said Krupp. “We’re very proud of our work in this case — it’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

The Duke Energy case originated in December 2000 when the United States filed a civil enforcement action charging that Duke had engaged in extensive expansions at 30 coal-fired electric generating units (eight power plants) in North and South Carolina without modernizing its air pollution controls as required under the Clean Air Act. Similar Clean Air Act enforcement cases are pending nationwide against coal-fired power plants and other industrial pollution sources. Today’s decision will also halt a broad policy initiative by the EPA that relied on the lower court decision to weaken the clean air standards for power plants nationwide.

Environmental Defense was a plaintiff in both cases.