The increasing problem in air pollution has become one of the many challenges the government has been trying to face. Laws have been passed and agencies have been founded just to initiate the preservation and conservation of the air humans depend on. Yet, dealing with the issue, not only the environment is in question. The country’s economy is also affected by the efforts to revive nature’s health. In the April 2 Supreme Court decision regarding the appeal of a group of environmentalists on a decision granted by the EPA, the court does not only take the environment’s future in their hands but also the country’s economy is under consideration.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the many independent agencies of the United States government. Established in 1970, it is responsible for the protection and preservation of the environment. The main objective of EPA is “to control and diminish air and water pollution, noise pollution, and pollution by radiation, pesticides, and other toxic substances” (1). The agency is known to established federal standards for air and water quality to limit the discharge of hazardous pollutants by industrial firms. It also initiates research studies to determine, identify and develop safer ways to manage and control wastes and pollution. EPA is also responsible of hazardous chemicals that affect the condition of the environment.
On the same year of the agency’s creation, the Clean Air Act was amended and its implementation was entrusted to the EPA administrator. Although the said act was originally ratified in 1955, it has gone through several modifications particularly in the year 1970, thus it is most commonly known as the Clean Air Act of 1970. The act ensures to institute federal standards for air pollutants from all sources and to work with the local government units to monitor contaminants. The act aims to improve the quality of air in areas which do not meet the standards set by the agency and to prevent the deterioration in places where air quality already meets or exceeds the set standards (2).
In the Massachusetts vs. EPA case filed in 2003, the Clean Air Act and the EPA administration was hurled into a wave of controversy for the first time. In the year 1999, nineteen private environmental organizations filed a petition to the EPA administrator requesting the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and cars as asserted in the Clean Air Act. The said petition claims that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from automobiles contribute significantly to global warming thus hastening the unusual climate changes occurring nowadays. Consequently, the environmental groups hoped that the EPA administration will be doing their part to resolve the alleged issue. However, after four years, the EPA administration denied the petition declaring that they don’t have the power to authorize any mandatory regulations regarding global warming and climate change and if they do have the permission; it would be impractical to do so at that time. Accordingly, the petitioners submitted their appeal to the District Court of Columbia regarding the result of their request but unfortunately, the court agreed with the EPA administration’s decision (3).
Presenting their appeal to the Supreme Court, the case was reviewed on November 29, 2006. The EPA’s defense was that they lacked the authority to impose new regulations on automobile CO2 emissions since the said greenhouse gas is not considered an air pollutant. Also, they reiterated that given the permission to do so, they would decline from taking the responsibility because of conflicting agency priorities. The EPA presented that even though CO2 is considered a greenhouse gas, it has slow and insignificant effects on the quality of air hence it is not considered an air pollutant.
The petitioners, on the other hand, argued that CO2 should be considered as an air pollutant since it has adverse effects on the public’s health as exhibited on their given evidences. The opposing side also emphasized that since CO2 has harmful effects on the environment it fits the description of the Clean Air Act’s definition of an air pollutant. The Clean Air Act defines an air pollutant as “any air pollution agent or combination of agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air” (2).It is sufficient to say that the EPA should not have denied the petition of the environmental groups. Moreover, the petitioners wanted to express that it is not appropriate for the EPA to decide against their petition just because it is untimely and the effect of the said air pollutant is merely anticipated.
After reviewing the arguments posed by the two parties, on April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the petitioners affirming that CO2 does fit the definition of an air pollutant as stated in the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, the court requires the EPA to review the petition and set appropriate regulations and standards to monitor the discharge of CO2 in air (4).
The Supreme Court decision has a range of implications, varying from the “judicial standings of the environmental plaintiffs to America’s economic future” (5). The most disturbed of which is the country’s industry that depends on coal as an energy source which when burned, produces CO2. Though the original petition only involves the CO2 emissions in automobiles, the regulations that the EPA will enforce may also include stationary polluters such as coal-using industries. It would be illogical to regulate emissions of automobiles and then, not regulate other possible sources of CO2 emissions. This will certainly influence the concerned industry’s production negatively since they have to replace their traditional energy source leading to a destructive impact on the country’s economy. Nonetheless, the court’s verdict on the issue will alleviate one way or another, the mounting air pollution ravaging the public’s health and welfare.
The Supreme Court’s ruling concerning the EPA is considered a victory by environmentalists. It sets an example that even an agency founded to protect and defend the environment may also be working against its own goals and principles. It is pleasing to know that there are still concerned citizens that monitor and demand for what they think they are entitled to have. Nevertheless, the decision is also a warning signal to industries contributing to the environment’s deterioration. The Supreme Court was given a choice; to sacrifice the environment or the economy; and as witnessed, it has already made a choice.
- “Environmental Protection Agency”. Encarta. CD-ROM. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.
- “Clean Air Act”. Environmental Protection Agency. 22 April 2007
- U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Case No. 03-1361. Massachusetts et. al. vs. EPA et. al. “On Petitions for Review of an Order of the Environmental Protection Agency” (15 July 2005). 22 April 2007
<www.nma.org/pdf/legal/071505 mass vs epa.pdf>.
- US Supreme Court Syllabus. Case No, 05-1120. Massachusetts vs. EPA (02 April 2007). 22 April 2007 <www.supremecourtus.gove/opinions/06pdf/05-1120.pdf>.
- Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Supreme Court Decision Opens Door to EPA Power Grab”. PSNewsWire-USNewsWire (02 April 2007). 22 April 2007 <http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/news_press_release,83901.shtml>.