White House expected to feel the heat from Supreme Court's ruling on global warming

The high court rules that the EPA does has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emmisions.

The US Supreme Court has pushed up the political temperature on climate change. And judging by most reporting and analysis, the White House is likely to feel much of that heat.

Across the news media – print, broadcast, and Internet – there was general agreement that, as BusinessWeek.com put it, "the high court's first global warming case is a rebuke to the administration of President George W. Bush."

In essence, the high court told the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) April 2 that it has the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

In clearly acknowledging the existence of global warming, the nation's highest court essentially warned the EPA that it darn well better use its authority or have a very good reason not to.

Echoing many news reports, the Reuters news agency called the decision "a stinging defeat for the Bush administration."

As The Washington Post noted, "the ruling could also lend important authority to efforts by the states either to force the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to be allowed to do it themselves."

The Post added:

"New York is leading an effort to strengthen regulations on power-plant emissions. California has passed a law seeking to cut carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles starting in 2009; its regulations have been adopted by 10 other states and may soon be adopted by Maryland."

In California, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, news of the high court's decision was greeted enthusiastically by two top public officials.

California Attorney General (and former governor) Jerry Brown (D) called the ruling a "resounding affirmation of California's actions to address global warming."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who bucked the White House in pushing for more aggressive efforts to fight global warming, said,

"We expect the U.S. EPA to move quickly now in granting our request for a waiver, which will allow California and ... other states that have adopted our standards to set tougher vehicle emissions levels."

But as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, crafting state laws to lower greenhouse gas emissions can be a complicated and contentious matter.

"In its original form, the [Washington State] bill would have set state goals for cutting greenhouse gases, created limits for how much carbon dioxide new power plants could release, created a state climate office, and required other actions to reduce pollution that's contributing to climate change.
"Since then, the legislation has morphed into a Franken-bill with new rules tacked onto it and major rewrites. It was then patched together into something approximating its original form and on Monday, it was tacked onto another piece of legislation to help ensure its survival."

This week's court decision also offered considerable grist for editorial writers.

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal took strong exception to the slim high-court majority (it was a 5 to 4 decision).

"... a narrow majority managed to diminish the rules of judicial standing, rewrite the definition of 'pollutant' under the Clean Air Act, and dramatically curtail the decision-making authority of the executive branch.
"The five Supreme climatologists granted Al Gore's fondest wish by declaring that 'the harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized'."

But The New York Times (and many of the other major newspapers that weighed in) saw the decision as good news. In its lead editorial, the Times wrote:

"It is a victory for a world whose environment seems increasingly threatened by climate change. It is a vindication for states like California that chose not to wait for the federal government and acted to limit emissions that contribute to global warming. And it should feed the growing momentum on Capitol Hill for mandatory limits on carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas."

Internet bloggers found plenty to ponder as well.

Scientific American's Christopher Mims wrote in the editor's blog:

"It's significant that the court did not throw out the case based on standing – that is, whether the states and cities that were suing the EPA had a right to do so in the first place ... [T]he court declared, in effect, that these cities and states were in some way potentially injured by the actions of the EPA – essentially an admission that the court believes that anthropogenic global warming is at least a possibility."

The Supreme Court ruling comes just as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set to release a major report April 6 that, among other things, will outline some of the regional impacts of global warming around the world.

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