Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Blow for White House over emissions

Blow for White House over emissions
By Patti Waldmeir and Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 2 2007 21:17 | Last updated: April 2 2007 21:17

The US Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to the White House with a ruling forcing administration officials to rethink their refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The ruling, one of the most important environmental decisions in years, criticised the US Environmental Protection Agency for giving “no reasoned explanation” for its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks.

The case, Massachusetts v EPA, tested only the legal authority of the EPA to regulate emissions – not whether or not it is good policy to do so. The 5-4 ruling does not necessarily mean the agency will reverse its position. Agency officials will simply be forced to justify their choice under the law.

Still, the ruling will increase pressure on the administration to change its long-held opposition to mandatory limits on carbon emissions and is a setback for both US carmakers and coal-fired power plants.

The decision comes as the politics of global warming are rapidly changing, both in Congress and in the US business community. The Democrat victory in congressional elections could tip the balance in Congress towards new regulation of emissions, with several longstanding foes of regulation appearing to moderate their opposition. There are six bills before Congress to tackle carbon emissions, either by setting up an economy-wide cap and trade system or by regulating specific polluters such as vehicle and power plants.

President George W Bush in January announced plans to tighten corporate average fuel economy standards – Cafe – by 4 per cent a year for the next decade. But in a recent congressional hearing, the chiefs of the big three carmakers opposed tighter targets while accepting general, economy-wide caps on carbon pollution that did not target “tailpipe emissions”.

“The Supreme Court has reaffirmed what we have been saying all along: the Clean Air Act gives EPA authority to fight global warming,” said Howard Fox, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.

The court’s decision to allow Massachusetts to bring the case is also a victory for environmentalists, since it could give them power to challenge other environmental regulations.

Dave McCurdy, chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing most big US and foreign carmakers, said “there needs to be a national, federal, economy-wide approach to addressing greenhouse gases”. The Supreme Court ruling, Mr McCurdy added, means that “the EPA will be part of this process”.

The motor industry has been the only sector subject to carbon dioxide regulations for the past 30 years. The carmakers note they sold more than 1.5m alternative fuel cars and trucks last year, including hybrids.

Additional reporting by Bernard Simon


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