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Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

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Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (2007), is a U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 case decided 5-4 in which twelve states and several cities of the United States brought suit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 (EPA) to force that federal agency to regulate carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and other greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

es as pollutants.

Background


Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act
Clean Air Act
A Clean Air Act is one of a number of pieces of legislation relating to the reduction of airborne contaminants, smog and air pollution in general. The use by governments to enforce clean air standards has contributed to an improvement in human health and longer life spans...

 (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7521(a)(1), requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to set emission standards for "any air pollutant" from motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines "which in his judgment cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare."

In 2003, the EPA
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is the head of the United States federal government's Environmental Protection Agency, and is thus responsible for enforcing the nation's Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as numerous other environmental statutes. The Administrator is...

 made two determinations:
  1. The EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act
    Clean Air Act
    A Clean Air Act is one of a number of pieces of legislation relating to the reduction of airborne contaminants, smog and air pollution in general. The use by governments to enforce clean air standards has contributed to an improvement in human health and longer life spans...

     to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) for climate change purposes.
  2. Even if the EPA did have such authority, it would decline to set GHG emissions standards for vehicles.

Parties


The petitioners
Plaintiff
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

 were the states of California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, Maine
Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

, Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, Vermont
Vermont
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...

 and Washington, the cities of New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

, and Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, the territory of American Samoa
American Samoa
American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of the sovereign state of Samoa...

, and the organizations Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Arizona, is a nonprofit membership organization with approximately 220,000 members and online activists, known for its work protecting endangered species through legal action and scientific petitions...

, Center for Food Safety
Center for Food Safety
The Center for Food Safety is a U.S. non-profit organization, based in Washington, D.C., that also maintains an office in San Francisco, CA...

, Conservation Law Foundation
Conservation Law Foundation
Conservation Law Foundation is an environmental advocacy organization based in New England. Since 1966, CLF's mission has been to advocate on behalf of the region's environment and its communities. CLF's advocacy work takes place in four program areas: Clean Energy & Climate Change, Clean Water &...

, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense
Environmental Defense
Environmental Defense Fund or EDF is a United States–based nonprofit environmental advocacy group. The group is known for its work on issues including global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health...

, Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth International is an international network of environmental organizations in 76 countries.FOEI is assisted by a small secretariat which provides support for the network and its agreed major campaigns...

, Greenpeace
Greenpeace
Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, The Netherlands...

, International Center for Technology Assessment
International Center for Technology Assessment
The International Center for Technology Assessment is a U.S. non-profit bi-partisan organization, based in Washington, D.C.. ICTA aims to provide the public with full assessments and analyses of technological impacts on society...

, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a New York City-based, non-profit, non-partisan international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing...

, Sierra Club
Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco, California, by the conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president...

, Union of Concerned Scientists
Union of Concerned Scientists
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit science advocacy group based in the United States. The UCS membership includes many private citizens in addition to professional scientists. James J...

, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. James Milkey of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office represented the petitioners in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Respondents were the Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a trade group of automobile manufacturers that operate in the United States. Their mission is to "represent the common interests of its members and provide a forum to enable them to advance public policies that meet consumer and societal needs for clean,...

, National Automobile Dealers Association
National Automobile Dealers Association
The National Automobile Dealers Association, founded in 1917, represents nearly 17,000 new-car and truck dealers, both domestic and international, with about 37,500 separate franchises...

, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, CO2 Litigation Group, Utility Air Regulatory Group, and the states of Michigan
Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, Idaho
Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

, Nebraska
Nebraska
Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

, North Dakota
North Dakota
North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

, Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, South Dakota
South Dakota
South Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. It is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux American Indian tribes. Once a part of Dakota Territory, South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. The state has an area of and an estimated population of just over...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, and Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

.

Appeals court


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided on September 13, 2005, to uphold the decision of the EPA.
However, the reasoning among the appellate judges for coming to the majority conclusion was sharply at odds.

The lower court was sharply divided on whether the petitioners had "standing
Standing (law)
In law, standing or locus standi is the term for the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case...

," a personalized injury creating a right to use the courts (instead of the Congress) to obtain government action. One of the three judges found no standing while a second of three postponed a factual decision for any later trial. Despite having granted certiorari
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

, the Supreme Court could have revisited that question in order to dodge a difficult decision and dismiss for lack of standing. Yet, once certiorari
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

has been granted, such a reversal is rare.

Granting of certiorari


On June 26, 2006, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

.

Issues

  1. Whether the petitioners had standing.
  2. Whether carbon dioxide
    Carbon dioxide
    Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

     is an "air pollutant" causing "air pollution" as defined by the Clean Air Act
    Clean Air Act
    A Clean Air Act is one of a number of pieces of legislation relating to the reduction of airborne contaminants, smog and air pollution in general. The use by governments to enforce clean air standards has contributed to an improvement in human health and longer life spans...

    . If carbon dioxide is not an air pollutant causing air pollution, then the EPA has no authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. If the CAA governs carbon dioxide, the EPA Administrator could decide not to regulate carbon dioxide, but only consistent with the terms of the CAA.
  3. Whether the EPA Administrator may decline to issue emission standards for motor vehicles on the basis of policy considerations not enumerated in section 202(a)(1).

Arguments


The Petitioners argued that the definition in the CAA is so broad that carbon dioxide must be counted as an air pollutant. They claimed that the question was controlled by the words of the statute, so that factual debate was immaterial. Furthermore, the Petitioners filed substantial scientific evidence that the toxicity
Toxicity
Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage a living or non-living organisms. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as the effect on a substructure of the organism, such as a cell or an organ , such as the liver...

 of carbon dioxide results from high concentrations and that alleged causation of global warming transforms the gas into a pollutant.

If the statutory definition of the CAA includes carbon dioxide, then the Federal courts would have no discretion to reach any other conclusion. The definition contained in the statute, not evidence or opinion, would control the outcome.

The Petitioners asserted that the EPA Administrator's decision not to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases violated the terms of the CAA. Thus, the Supreme Court also considered whether the reasons given by the EPA were valid reasons within the CAA statute for the EPA Administrator to decide not to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA argued that the Administrator has the discretion under the CAA to decide not to regulate.

The EPA Administrator argued that other actions are already being taken to increase fuel efficiency of automobiles and that (as of 2003) scientific investigation was still under way. Thus, the EPA Administrator decided not to regulate "at this time".

This case has become notable because of a widespread perception that the truth or falsehood of theories of global warming will be decided by the courts. While this could eventually occur in later proceedings, the questions before the U.S. Supreme Court here were much more narrow, and legal in nature.

One of several reasons that the EPA Administrator declined to regulate carbon dioxide is uncertainty about whether man-made carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming. This has attracted great attention to the case. However, the Supreme Court only decided whether the Administrator's reason is a valid reason within the CAA. The Supreme Court did not explicitly decide if it is true or untrue that man-made carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming, although high-profile comments by Justices during oral argument are likely to affect the public debate.

The Petitioners argued that scientific uncertainty is not a valid basis for the EPA Administrator to decline to regulate. The question before the High Court "was not whether the causation is true or untrue," but whether it is a valid reason for the Administrator to not regulate a pollutant.

Stevens' opinion for the Court


First, the petitioners were found to have standing. Justice Stevens reasoned that the states had a particularly strong interest in the standing analysis. The majority cited Justice Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932...

' opinion in Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co.:


"The case has been argued largely as if it were one between two private parties; but it is not. The very elements that would be relied upon in a suit between fellow-citizens as a ground for equitable relief are wanting here. The State owns very little of the territory alleged to be affected, and the damage to it capable of estimate in money, possibly, at least, is small. This is a suit by a State for an injury to it in its capacity of quasi-sovereign. In that capacity the State has an interest independent of and behind the titles of its citizens, in all the earth and air within its domain. It has the last word as to whether its mountains shall be stripped of their forests and its inhabitants shall breathe pure air."


Second, the Court held that the Clean Air Act
Clean Air Act
A Clean Air Act is one of a number of pieces of legislation relating to the reduction of airborne contaminants, smog and air pollution in general. The use by governments to enforce clean air standards has contributed to an improvement in human health and longer life spans...

 gives the United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 (EPA) the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act provides:


“The Administrator shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) in accordance with the provisions of this section, standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”


The Act defines "air pollutant" as "any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive . . . substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air". The majority report commented that "greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

es fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of air pollutant"

Finally, the Court remanded the case to the EPA, requiring the agency to review its contention that it has discretion in regulating carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and other greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 emissions. The Court found the current rationale for not regulating to be inadequate and required the agency to articulate a reasonable basis in order to avoid regulation.

Roberts' dissent


Chief Justice Roberts authored a dissenting opinion. First, the dissent condemns the majority's "special solicitude" conferred to Massachusetts as having no basis in Supreme Court cases dealing with standing. The dissent compares the majority opinion to "the previous high-water mark of diluted standing requirements," United States v. SCRAP
United States v. SCRAP
United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures , 412 U.S. 669 , was a landmark 8-0 decision of the United States Supreme Court which was argued February 28, 1973 and decided June 18, 1973...

 (1973). Roberts then argues that the alleged injury (i.e., Massachusetts' loss of land because of rising sea levels) is too speculative and without adequate scientific support. The dissent also finds that even if there is a possibility that the state may lose some land because of global warming, the effect of obliging the EPA to enforce automobile emissions is hypothetical at best. According to Roberts, there is not a traceable causal connection between the EPA’s refusal to enforce emission standards and petitioners' injuries. Finally, the dissent maintains that redressability of the injuries is even more problematic given that countries such as India and China are responsible for the majority of the greenhouse-gas emissions. The Chief Justice concludes by accusing the majority of lending the Court as a convenient forum for policy debate and of transgressing the limited role afforded to the Supreme Court by the U.S. Constitution.

Scalia's dissent


First, Justice Scalia
Antonin Scalia
Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

 found that the Court has no jurisdiction to decide the case because petitioners lack standing. In his estimation, that is the end of the inquiry. However, since the majority saw fit to find standing, his dissent continued.

The main question is, "Does anything require the Administrator to make a 'judgment' whenever a petition for rulemaking is filed?" Justice Scalia sees the Court's answer to this unequivocally as yes, but with no authority to back it. He backs this assertion by explaining that the "statute says nothing at all about the reasons for which the Administrator may defer making a judgment"—the permissible reasons for deciding not to grapple with the issue at the present time. Scalia saw no basis in law for the Court's imposed limitation.

In response to the Court's statement that, "If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so," Scalia responds that EPA has done precisely that, in the form of the National Research Council panel that researched climate-change science.

Resting the heart of his dissent on the Court's abdication of applying Chevron deference, he closes with the notion that no matter how important the policy issue in question, the Court should defer to the more experienced and reasoned judgment of the agency.

Remand



On remand, EPA found that six greenhouse gases “in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” On February 16, 2010, the states of Alabama, Texas and Virginia sought judicial review of EPA's determination in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

See also

  • Regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act
    Regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act
    The United States Environmental Protection Agency began regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act from mobile and stationary sources of air pollution for the first time on January 2, 2011...

  • Standing (law)
    Standing (law)
    In law, standing or locus standi is the term for the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case...

  • Global warming
    Global warming
    Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

  • Effects of global warming
    Effects of global warming
    This article is about the effects of global warming and climate change. The effects, or impacts, of climate change may be physical, ecological, social or economic. Evidence of observed climate change includes the instrumental temperature record, rising sea levels, and decreased snow cover in the...

  • International Panel on Climate Change - Fourth Assessment Report
    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report
    Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , is the fourth in a series of reports intended to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change, its potential effects, and options for...

  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 549
  • List of United States Supreme Court cases

Further reading


External links