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Supreme Court: EPA must address climate risk

The high court's 5-to-4 ruling Monday rejects the White House's view and hands environmentalists a major victory.

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The Environmental Protection Agency must take action to assess the environmental perils of global warming.

In a major victory for environmentalists, the US Supreme Court on Monday rejected the Bush administration's view that the EPA has discretion to decide when and how to best respond to international environmental threats. The vote was 5 to 4.

Instead, the high court said laws passed by Congress to protect the environment require the EPA to swing into action to assess environmental threats that jeopardize human health and safety.

"Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation," writes Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority. He says the agency had offered no reasonable explanation to avoid the clear instructions of the Clean Air Act.

"This is the congressional design," Justice Stevens writes. "EPA has refused to comply with this clear statutory command." Joining Stevens in the majority were Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented. In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts focused on the issue of standing. Redress of the grievances spelled out in the suit are the function of Congress and the chief executive, not the federal courts, he wrote, adding that his position "involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem."

When he first campaigned for the presidency in 2000, George Bush promised to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. During the first year of his presidency, then-EPA administrator Christine Whitman said the same thing in speeches and testimony. But the White House soon reversed that position and refused to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act.


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