The Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) the statutory authority to adopt and impose regulations aimed at protecting the public from airborne contaminants that have been established to be harmful to human health. Essential, such federal law was adopted with the main aim of controlling air pollution (Topping, 2014). Nevertheless, the issue of EPA regulating pollutants has been a subject of political debate in the United States. Such objecting EPA plans to regulate the main sources of greenhouse gases emissions argue that the agency had overstepped in mandate. In addition, EPA has been criticized on grounds that it is trying to rewrite the provisions outlined under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act compels the EPA to determine the emission standards for any form of air pollutant, including pollutants from motor vehicles. However, during 2003, EPA passed two determinations stating that agency did not have any authority under the Clean Air Act to control carbon dioxide, including other greenhouse gases for purposes of climate change. Nevertheless, even if the agency had the authority, it would not establish the emission standards for the case of vehicles (Topping, 2014). One of the most crucial environmental decisions made by the Supreme Court is Massachusetts v. EPA, which some scholars consider to be a turning point for the United States with respect to the issue of climate change. The Supreme Court decision to side with EPA in Massachusetts v. EPA helped in validating EPA’s statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases emissions. To this end, the goal of current paper is to explain the facts surrounding the case and provide an analysis of why the Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts in the Massachusetts v. EPA.
Explanation (The What)
Massachusetts, including other states petitioned by the EPA, asks the agency to start regulating the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are likely to cause global warming. The petitioners in the case comprised of the states of Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Illinois, Connecticut and California, the cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and New York and a number of organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Environmental Trust, International Center for Technology Assessment, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense, Environmental Advocates, Conservation Law Foundation, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and the United States Public Interest Research Group. The petitioners in the case argued that under the Clean Air Act the EPA was supposed to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases contributing to the climate change (FindLaw, 2014).
The respondents in the case included EPA, Utility Air Regulatory Group, CO2 Litigation Group, Truck Manufacturers Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, National Automobile Dealers Association, the Alliance of Automobile manufacturers and the states of Utah, Texas, South Dakota, Ohio, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Alaska and Michigan (FindLaw, 2014).
The issue tabled at the court was related to whether EPA could decline to establish emission standards for motor vehicles in accordance with the policy considerations that are not outlined in the Clean Air Act. In this regard, the issue was to determine whether or not carbon dioxide is an air pollutant that contributed to air pollution as defined under the Clean Air Act. Therefore, if carbon dioxide is not considered as a type of air pollutant that contributes to air pollution, then the agency is not authorized under the Clean Air Act to impose regulations on the emissions of carbon dioxide. If the Clean Air Act governs the emission of carbon dioxide, the administrator of the agency could opt not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. However, it ought to be consistent with the terms outlined in the Clean Air Act. The second issue was whether the Clean Air Act gave EPA the statutory authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases (Topping, 2014).
The definition of petitioners’, henceforth referred to as Massachusetts in current paper, of an air pollutant in the Clean Air Act is extremely broad to an extent that carbon dioxide ought to be considered as an example of an air pollutant. They maintained that the words used in the statute clearly portray carbon dioxide as an air pollutant. As a result, there was no need for a factual debate. In addition, Massachusetts tabled ample scientific evidence indicating that the toxic nature of carbon dioxide is linked to its high concentrations, as well as the supposed association between carbon dioxide emission and global warming, which makes the gas a pollutant. If it is established that carbon dioxide fits the definition of a pollutant in the Clean Air Act, the Supreme Court is supposed to upheld the definition (Topping, 2014). In other words, the definition of an air pollutant as stated in the Clean Air Act, rather than opinion or evidence, ought to determine the outcome of the case. In addition, Massachusetts argued that the decision by the EPA administrator to refrain from regulating carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases violated the provisions of the Clean Air Act. As a result, the Supreme Court evaluated whether or not the reasons provided by the EPA were valid in the context of the Clean Air Act statute for the EPA administrator to make a decision not to regulate emissions from carbon dioxide (Topping, 2014).
On the other hand, the respondents, henceforth referred to as EPA, refuted the petition by making the claim that the Clean Air Act does not give EPA the authority to impose regulations on the emissions of greenhouse gases. The EPA argues that even if the Clean Air Act granted EPA such authority, EPA had the discretion to suspend such decision to a later date until adequate research could be conducted regarding the extent and causes of global warming, including the solutions that can be used to address the issue of climate change (FindLaw, 2014).
Massachusetts v. EPA has become a famous owing to the widespread view that misrepresentations or truthfulness of theories associated with climate change would be resolved by the courts. Despite the fact that it could occur in subsequent proceedings, the issues tabled before the Supreme Court were mostly legal in nature. One of the many reasons why the administrator of the EPA refused to regulate emissions associated with carbon dioxide relates to the uncertainty regarding whether emissions from man-made carbon dioxide contribute to global warming. It has played a significant role in focusing the attention on Massachusetts v. EPA. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court limited the scope of its decision on whether the reasons provided by EPA are valid with respect to the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court refrained from making an explicit decision on whether it is true or false that emissions from man-made carbon dioxide contribute to climate challenge. Massachusetts maintained that scientific uncertainty should not be considered a valid justification for the EPA to refuse to impose regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, the issue presented before the court was not whether or not it is true that man-made carbon dioxide contributes to climate change; instead, the issue was whether it is a valid justification for EPA to refuse to regulate emissions from a pollutant (FindLaw, 2014).
The Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts stating that EPA has the statutory authority to impose regulations on emissions from carbon-dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The 5-to-4 decision by the Supreme Court maintained that the EPA should not circumvent its authority to impose regulations on greenhouse gases. The following section performs an analysis of the Massachusetts v. EPA by focusing on the reasons why the Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts.
Analysis (The Why)
In Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA maintained that Massachusetts failed to prove standing in the case. However, the Supreme Court favored Massachusetts by ruling that Massachusetts had a standing with respect to challenging the decision by EPA to refrain from imposing regulations on emissions associated with carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases attributed to the transportation sector. The three requirements for a standing include “injury, causation and existence of a remedy” (FindLaw, 2014), which provides an explanation why the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts. With respect to injury, the Supreme Court established that the decision by EPA not to impose regulations on carbon dioxide emissions has result in both actual, as well as imminent harm to Massachusetts, particularly in the form of an increase of the sea levels in the coast of Massachusetts. Specifically, the ruling acknowledged that the harms caused by global warming are well-recognized and serious. Massachusetts argued that the already observed harms hint the possible environmental damage in the future, such as changes in the natural systems that are irreversible, substantial declines in water storage during winter in mountainous regions resulting in direct economic consequences among others. With regard to causation, the Supreme Court established that the failure by EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions plays a role in causing harm to Massachusetts. In the case, EPA did not refute the likelihood that a causal relationship exists between climate change and man-made carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, at minimum, the refusal by EPA to impose regulations on such emissions is a contributing factor to harm at Massachusetts (Topping, 2014). With respect to a remedy, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the regulation of greenhouse emissions from motor vehicles alone is not adequate to reverse climate change. However, the Court established that such domestic action can be instrumental in reducing or slowing climate change. According to the ruling of the Supreme Court on the case, owing to the magnitude associated with the likely outcomes of emissions from man-made carbon dioxide, reducing domestic emissions are likely to cause an overall reduction in the pace of global carbon dioxide emissions, irrespective of what occurs in other regions. From such observation, it is evident that the Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts because EPA’s refusal to impose regulations on carbon dioxide emissions has resulted in both actual and imminent harm to Massachusetts. Refusing to regulate emissions from man-made carbon dioxide is a contributing factor to the harms to them, as well. Moreover, the domestic action is capable of reducing the climate change (Greenhouse, 2007).
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The Supreme Court also sided with Massachusetts because it found that carbon dioxide fits within the broad statutory definition of an air pollutant as indicated in the Clean Air Act. The EPA has maintained that the Clean Air Act does not grant the statutory authority to impose regulations on greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. The Supreme Court maintained that the EPA did not specify anything that suggested that Congress intended to limit its authority in considering greenhouse gases as forms of pollutants. In this regard, EPA claimed that imposing regulations on carbon dioxide would pose the need to impose regulations on fuel economy standards, which is currently under the Department of Transportation (Topping, 2014). The Supreme Court refuted such assertion by acknowledging the possibility of overlapping inter-agency efforts to deal with an issue that is crucial as global warming. The fact that the Department of Transportation has the obligation to promote energy efficiency through establishing mileage standards may overlap with the environmental responsibilities of EPA. Irrespective to that, it does not give EPA reason to refrain from fulfilling its duties aimed at protecting the welfare and health of the public, which is a duty specified under the Clean Air Act (Greenhouse, 2007).
The Supreme Court also sided with Massachusetts because it found the reasons provided by EPA for not regulating carbon dioxide to be insufficient. EPA claimed that even if the Clean Air Act gave the agency the authority to impose regulations on carbon dioxide, the agency preferred deferring imposing regulations to a later date citing potential conflicts with the agency’s current efforts to lessen emissions. However, according to the Supreme Court, reducing domestic emissions would require much time in slowing down the pace of climate change regardless of what occurs in other regions (Topping, 2014). In addition, the Court maintained that according to the clear terms used in the Clean Air Act, EPA can only decide not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions after establishing that greenhouse gases are not linked to the global climate change. The underlying reason why the Supreme Court favored Massachusetts is due to the fact that EPA has the responsibility of slowing or reducing global climate change (Topping, 2014).
The opinion expressed by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA is crucial for climate change policy at both national and local levels. The decision by the Supreme Court does not allow imposing regulations on greenhouse gases emissions under the Clean Air Act, but is capable of catalyzing calls for a federal climate change policy that is more comprehensive. It includes extending beyond the transport sector, as well as other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide. Overall, the ruling by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA validated EPA’s authority in regulating greenhouse gases emissions by providing a statutory interpretation of what an air pollutant constitutes.