Supreme Court Decision to Have Major Impact, Experts Predict

Judge's gavel
A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling is expected to influence climate change legislation nationwide.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week that the federal government has the power to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act will have far-reaching effects, according to the New York Times. Although the Bush Administration is unlikely to use this authority to implement significant controls on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, efforts by the U.S. Congress and state governments to regulate emissions are likely to be bolstered by the April 2 decision.

The ruling, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, comes at a key time. The Congress recently began hearings that could lead to climate legislation, and at least four major climate bills had been introduced by January 17. Several states, led by California, have already adopted legislation to control carbon emissions, and legal experts believe these efforts will be easier to defend in light of the Supreme Court ruling. California is currently battling a lawsuit by automakers that would prevent it from regulating CO2 emissions from cars—a suit that it is now more likely to win, according to Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder, a key lawyer in the Supreme Court case.

More than a dozen states have imitated California’s attempt to restrict automobile emissions, and at least 300 bills have been filed in 40 states to address climate change. This, combined with the Supreme Court ruling, greatly increases the chance that the United States will begin to match its leadership in contributing to climate change with leadership in the effort to slow it down, according to Worldwatch Institute president Christopher Flavin. Other countries are moving as well: last month, leaders of the European Union agreed to an ambitious target of cutting EU emissions by one fifth by 2020.


This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.