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States petition court to require US EPA to regulate GHG emissions

4 April 2008

A coalition of 18 US states led by Massachusetts, together with a number of environmental groups, have petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles.

The petition was filed on the first anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling Massachusetts v. EPA that required the EPA to make a decision on whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act. A year later, the EPA has not issued a decision. The new court filing requests an order requiring the EPA to act within 60 days.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that—contrary to the agency’s claim—the EPA has authority to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act. The Court also declared that the EPA could not refuse to exercise that authority based on the agency’s policy preferences. Instead, the EPA would have to decide, based on scientific information, whether it believed that GHG emissions were posing dangers to public health or welfare.

According to the petition, after last year’s ruling, the EPA publicly made clear its belief that greenhouse gases were in fact endangering public health or welfare. Once the EPA comes to that judgment, it must regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. On multiple occasions, the agency promised that it would respond to the Supreme Court’s opinion by issuing an “endangerment determination” and draft motor vehicle emission standards by the end of last year.

When the EPA denied California’s request to set its own standards for GHG emissions from motor vehicles, the agency issued detailed findings about the widespread harms that greenhouse gases are causing. The California waiver was denied on the grounds that the many severe harms that California faced would also afflict other states across the country.

The petition further asserts that the EPA has already prepared an endangerment determination. A Congressional investigation conducted by Congressman Henry Waxman confirmed that the EPA sent its draft endangerment determination and proposed regulations to the Office of Management & Budget in December 2007. According to the petition, an investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform established that consistent with its announced schedule, the EPA implemented its internal process of drafting an affirmative endangerment determination during the Fall of 2007.

According to the petition, the EPA has now declined to issue that proposed endangerment determination and it last week said that it would delay responding to the Supreme Court’s opinion until after it conducts a lengthy public comment period later this year to examine policy issues raised by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Source: Massachusetts Attorney General