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Published: 12/4/2006

EPA on trial

WHICHEVER way the Supreme Court rules on a case dealing with auto pollution and global warming, the issue of regulating greenhouse gases is not going away. And it shouldn t. The carbon emissions most reputable scientists believe are seeping into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate are producing worrisome and potentially serious environmental changes.

The widespread climate change already observed is too real a scientific concern to be brushed aside in the interest of political expediency. But that s what the Bush Administration and friends are trying to do by absolving the Environmental Protection Agency of regulatory responsibility regarding the principal greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Cars, trucks, and power plants are among the biggest producers of those emissions. Several states, cities, and numerous environmental groups say the federal EPA should be setting limits on those emissions as chief enforcer of the Clean Air Act. The law, first enacted in 1970 and later updated in 1990, gives the government power to control sources of air pollution.

A provision of the Clean Air Act that is central to the EPA debate and case before the Supreme Court says the federal government must regulate any air pollutant that can reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. How could that not include carbon dioxide and global warming?

Interestingly, the EPA s general counsel ruled in 1999 that the Clean Air Act did allow the agency to set emission standards, but the opinion never produced any action. So Massachusetts and 11 other states sued the EPA, claiming the agency was ignoring its legal responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases from new vehicles.

The petitioners further argued they had met their legal burden to show harm by reason of the continued air pollutant risk of carbon dioxide on public health. But the EPA, backed by the White House, auto industry, and scores of business interests, insists monitoring and regulating climate change is not its job.

Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre told the justices 85 percent of the U.S. economy is tied to sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The White House would have all polluters just voluntarily cut back on greenhouse gas emissions kind of like the honor system.

But this year government reports show there s been no rush by prominent producers of harmful emissions to set any targets on their own. If they don t have to comply with mandatory regulations they won t.

The Bush Administration has never taken global climate change seriously despite a mountain of scientific evidence supporting its clear development. But now, for the first time ever, the controversy has come to the Supreme Court.

Hopefully it will uphold the arguments of those pushing for EPA action on vehicle emissions, which will force automakers to find some way to reduce them.

If not, Congress will have to craft a new law leaving little to interpretation that addresses the biggest contributing factors to climate change and how to best regulate the polluters.

Either way, it s way past time to clear the air.



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