Image: VEHICLES ON HIGHWAY
Damian Dovarganes  /  AP
Vehicles account for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions tied to global warming. A lawsuit wants the courts to force the EPA into action to curb those emissions.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/2/2008 7:20:53 PM ET 2008-04-02T23:20:53

A coalition of states on Wednesday sued the Bush administration, saying it has failed to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for regulating the greenhouse gases tied to global warming.

The Supreme Court said in April 2007 that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is a pollutant subject to the Clean Air Act. The court directed the EPA to determine if carbon dioxide emissions, linked to global warming, endanger public health and welfare.

If that is the case, the court said, the EPA must regulate the emissions.

The 18 states, two cities and 11 environmental groups said in a court filing Wednesday that the EPA has not issued a decision on regulation. Their court filing seeks to compel the EPA to act within 60 days.

“The EPA’s failure to act in the face of these incontestable dangers is a shameful dereliction of duty,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The Sierra Club, which is also part of the lawsuit, accused the Bush administration of favoring industry. "While this administration has done everything possible to make a mockery of the rule of law in this country, it’s still stunning that they refuse to yield even to the high court," said Sierra Club legal counsel David Bookbinder.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the Supreme Court required the agency to evaluate how it would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and other vehicles, but set no deadline.

The EPA plans to include the evaluation in a broader look at how to best regulate all greenhouse gas emissions, not just those from vehicles, he said. Otherwise, a mash of laws and regulations could emerge rather than the “holistic” approach the administration favors.

“We want to set a good foundation to build a strong climate policy of potential regulation and laws we can work toward and actually see some success,” Shradar said.

Draft rule abandoned?
The Supreme Court ruling requires the agency to regulate carbon dioxide if it determines it is a danger to public health and welfare.

The plaintiffs contend the EPA has already completed the work needed to start regulating carbon dioxide.

Senior EPA employees have told congressional investigators in the House about a tentative finding from early December that CO2 posed a danger because of its climate impact. They said a draft regulation was distributed to the Transportation Department and the White House.

The EPA officials, in interviews with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said those findings were put on hold abruptly.

EPA administrator Stephen Johnson has said the issue had to be re-examined because of tougher automobile mileage requirements enacted in December.

The plaintiffs want the finding about the dangers of carbon dioxide released within 60 days so the process for regulating vehicle emissions can begin. They said final rules wouldn’t be ready until the next administration takes over.

In Washington, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming voted 12-0 Wednesday to issue a subpoena for all drafts of EPA documents on the issue.

“EPA has made no effort to accommodate the committee’s request,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the committee’s chairman.

Shradar declined to say whether the agency would produce the documents the subpoena will request. “We will review this new petition and respond appropriately,” he said.

EPA chief signals go-slow approach
Johnson last Thursday told lawmakers that the agency would not be rushed into deciding.

Such action "could affect many (emission) sources beyond just cars and trucks" and needs to be examined broadly as to other impacts, he wrote the leaders of the House and Senate environment committees.

Johnson said he has decided to begin the process by seeking public comment on the implications of regulating carbon dioxide on other agency rules that cover everything from power plants and factories to schools and small businesses.

That process could take months and led some of his critics to suggest he was shunting the sensitive issue to the next administration.

"This is the latest quack from a lame-duck EPA intent on running out the clock ... without doing a thing to combat global warming," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. He is chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Johnson said that if CO2 is found to endanger public health and welfare, the agency probably would have to curtail such emissions from other sources as well. That could affect a range of air pollution, from cement factories, refineries and power plants to cars, aircraft, schools and off-road vehicles.

"Rather than rushing to judgment on a single issue, this approach allows us to examine all the potential effects of a decision with the benefit of the public insight," Johnson wrote.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noted that Johnson has had nearly a year to respond to the court but "now, instead of action, we get more foot-dragging."

"Time is not on our side when it comes to avoiding dangerous climate change. This letter makes it clear that Mr. Johnson and the Bush administration are not on our side, either," Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in Wednesday's court action include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia, plus the city of New York, and the mayor and city council of Baltimore.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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