Supreme Court rules in favor of greenhouse gas regulations

High Court Rebukes EPA on Emissions, Environment

Listen to this story... by

California Attorney General Jerry Brown welcomed the Supreme Court's decision .

Eric Risberg

California Attorney General Jerry Brown welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars. AP Photo

All Things Considered, April 2, 2007 · The Supreme Court stood up for the environment in two major court rulings Monday. One gives the Environmental Protection Agency the go-ahead to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The second ruling sends a rebuke to the owners of dirty coal-fired power plants.

It was kind of like when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz learned she always had the power to go home. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency does, in fact, have the authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Bush administration officials had argued that the agency didn’t have that power – and so the EPA couldn’t require cars to reduce emissions. Several states and environmental groups sued the EPA, arguing that the agency did have that power and should use it.

Law professor Lisa Heinzerling from Georgetown University represented the states. She says the ruling has implications not just for car emissions but for power plants, factories and other sources of greenhouse gases.

“It’s a huge deal, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this,” Heinzerling said.

The ruling does not require the EPA to regulate. But Heinzerling says for the EPA to avoid regulating, it would have to show that these emissions don’t endanger public health or welfare.

“I think it will be extremely difficult, and I would venture to say impossible for them to conclude based on the scientific evidence we have that you cannot anticipate that greenhouse gases will endanger public health or welfare,” Heinzerling said.

EPA officials declined an interview with NPR. An EPA press release says the agency is reviewing the court ruling. The ruling could put the EPA in a difficult position because so far, President Bush has rejected mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

In the meantime, environmentalists and state officials say the ruling opens the door for states to move ahead with regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars. A dozen states, led by California, have adopted or are in the process of adopting such rules. They need the EPA’s OK to go ahead. And Heinzerling says the Supreme Court ruling will make it hard for EPA officials to say no.

“I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t,” she said. “I don’t see any legal basis for refusing to allow California and other states to enact standards after this ruling.”

The main auto industry trade group wouldn’t comment on the ruling. But Dan Riedinger from Edison Electric Institute says his industry doesn’t want the EPA to set standards.

“If greenhouse gases are going to be regulated, and obviously a lot of people think that’s inevitable, we would far rather that come from the U.S. Congress,” Riedinger said.

The other big Supreme Court decision could also have a big impact on power plants and their pollution. Attorney Blan Holman from the Southern Environmental Law Center worked on the case for environmental groups.

“The case is all about old coal-fired power plants and what happens when you rebuild them,” Holman said. “Do you have to put air pollution controls on them or do you not?”

Holman’s talking about the equipment that filters out fine particles and smog from smoke stacks. They cause thousands of early deaths and many emergency room visits every year.

The EPA, environmental groups and states are suing several power companies for failing to install pollution controls. In this case, the Supreme Court decided against Duke Energy.

“It’s a major set back to the case and it’s something that is regrettable to us, but it is not shutting down the case by any means,” said Tom Williams, who represents Duke.

The Supreme Court was deciding whether annual emissions or hourly emissions are the deciding factor when measuring if emissions have increased and thus pollution controls should be installed. The Supreme Court says annual emissions are what matters. But the power companies have other ways to defend their actions.

“It’s our contention in this case that we did nothing wrong in the first place, and that is why we’re going to continue to press this in the lower courts,” Williams said.

But environmentalists say the ruling will provide a strong incentive to clean up many of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. And they say that both rulings together suggest that the Supreme Court is far greener than anyone realized.

Victory in Venezuela: Indigenous communities win fight against coal mines

(Special note: This article was written by friends of Rising Tide in
Venezuela, the eco-indigenous defense group Homoetnatura and regards
the latest announcements purportedly by President Hugo Chavez and his
call to not open new coal mines in the state of Zulia, on indigenous
lands. We in Rising Tide are elated and happy to hear this great news,
but are still committed to accompanying the indigenous and ecologist
resistance in Venezuela against the fossil fuel infrastructure that
support Big Coal and Big Oil in the region- namely the trans-guajira
poliduct, the Bolivar or America Harbor, and the rail-lines that are
part of the coal industry expansion in Zulia ).

In Caracas we buried the coal phantom.
The Venezuelan Minister of the Environment prohibits the opening of new
coal mines in the state of Zulia

Sociedad Homo et Natura
Environmental Collectives
Indigenous Communities of Wayíºu and Yukpa of Sierra de Perij’a

Caracas, March 21, 2007 – By presidential decree, the Minister of the
Environment, Yubiri Ortega de Carrizalez, announced yesterday before
the Yukpa and Wayíºu indigenous people of the Sierra de Perijá, the
prohibition to open new coal mines in the state of Zulia. Additionally,
by the same presidential mandate, it was rejected the expansion of the
Guasare and Paso Diablo mines projected by Corpozulia and Caribozulia.

Yesterday, the indigenous resistance of the Perija, the social
movements and the ecologists who mobilized to take over the Ministry
against the mining industry, felt that they had buried the coal phantom
and its entire threat in Caracas, which for years had hurt the
indigenous peoples of the state of Zulia. However, until the current
mining concessions in indigenous lands are not revoked by decree, the
fight goes on.

In a meeting with indigenous leaders from the Ukpas and Wayuu, the Home
et Natura Society and alternative community media outlets, the Minister
of the Environment indicated that she has hope in the new model ordered
by President Chavez, which is already underway in the fields of
ecology, agriculture, tourism, and sustainable development.

We know that the transnational powers interested in the coal in Zulia
will keep promoting the survival, by all means, of their coal
mega-project. There are still questions on the future of the Nigales
bridge, America Harbor (currently Bolivar Harbor), and the Zulia
railways, all of which are part of the expansion plans of the coal
mines that were scheduled to open in indigenous territories that have
now been prohibited by the presidential mandate.

The downfall of the miserable

Martinez Mendoza threw his final thrust by organizing a paid counter
demonstration, forcing the Mara community councils, the mining workers
and their families to open more coal mines, after hearing the
presidential proposal: agriculture, cattle breeding and tourism in
exchange of more coal. On Thursday, the envoys paid by Mendoza
abandoned the black script ordered by Obis Prieto (president of
Carbozulia) and accepted the sustainable development proposal in
exchange for the prohibition of coal mines. This initiative will be
taken to Mara next Thursday.

If the coal mines, for all of which they represent, the global mourning
of thousands of families that have lost their children and spouses; the
social misery that they have caused in their path; the pollution of the
soil, the air, and the water; the loss of the woods and rivers; are
forever prohibited and if the Venezuelan state finally decrees the
prohibition of coals mines in favor of sustainable agricultural and
cattle breeding projects that are pro-life, then the eyes of world
would find ourselves looking at an exemplary act of social justice and
the beginning of a necessary change.

The coal mining and its plans, destroyed entire towns in Mara,
destroyed woods and rivers, left the Bari indigenous people without a
land, subordinated the indigenous leadership for decades, and left
their own people subject to shame and rejection.

President Chavez, by saying today that there will be no more coal mines
in Zulia, you are giving back hope for the future to the Wayíºu de Mara
and Páez people, to the indigenous of the Sierra de Perijá and to life
itself. We are looking forward to the decree that will forever prohibit
this dark curse.