The Supreme Court's recent ruling on health care overshadowed another important court decision regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's right to take action against climate change.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon emissions could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The EPA then started writing rules that affected some of the nation’s largest emitters, such as coal-burning power plants. Many of these companies sued, arguing that the EPA had overzealously interpreted the law and relied on uncertain science.
The last week in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its unanimous ruling, which has been described as "ringing", "wide ranging", "a complete slam dunk" and "a righteous smackdown" of climate-regulation opponents. In short, the EPA was vindicated.
The tone of the decision is indicated in the court's response to the claim that the EPA improperly "delegated" its judgment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.S. Global Climate Research Program and National Research Council by relying on their assessments of climate-change science:
This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA did not delegate, explicitly or otherwise, any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decision-makers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of “syntheses” of individual studies and research. Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.
Here are editorial snippets from around the country:
[The ruling] emphatically dismisses arguments that the science is too uncertain to justify federal action [on global warming].
Pieces of climate skeptics’ much-polished evidence were brushed off by the court as "isolated errors" that crumble when facing the large body of science supporting the EPA's decision.
We think it's time that Texas accepted the science on global warming.
[The ruling] has once again demonstrated that the science of climate change, while famously "inconvenient," is virtually impossible for fair and reasonable people to deny.
We would be sympathetic to polluters' complaints that climate change should be addressed by Congress and not by a regulatory agency if those same opponents had not worked so hard to thwart that very effort two years ago. They now must reap what they sowed: a less political and more science-driven regulatory process.
This week's ruling may yet be appealed to the Supreme Court, but experts say there's little chance of reversal there, particularly given the high court's related 2007 decision and the slam-dunk nature of the appeals court's unanimous findings. Opponents would be better served putting their energy where it should have been in the first place — in developing methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.