The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a sensible ruling concerning the regulation of pollution and the supposed threat of global warming. The ruling directly affects eight states that sued four electric power companies, the main one being American Electric Power Co. of Ohio, for causing global warming.
The court’s summary of Monday’s 8-0 decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, says the plaintiff “alleged that public lands, infrastructure and health were at risk from climate change.” The eight states were joined in the suit by three nonprofit land trusts (conservation groups). The trusts, in the court summary, “urged that climate change would destroy habitats for animals and rare species of trees and plants on land the trusts owned and conserved.” All plaintiffs sought court orders requiring each defendant power company “to cap its carbon dioxide emissions and then reduce them by a specified percentage each year for at least a decade.”
In many editorials, we have expressed skepticism that humans are the main cause of any global warming that may be occurring and believe the science behind the assertion is not as settled as some say. And we’ve seen research that has been presented as bona fide, later revealed to be untrue, or, worse, manipulated to serve a political end, as was alleged in the fall 2009 “Climategate” scandal involving the emails from University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.
But the Supreme Court was not weighing the larger issues surrounding global warming; it based its ruling on the narrow question of jurisdiction. As Justice Ginsburg wrote, “It is altogether fitting that Congress designated an expert agency, here, EPA, as best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions. The expert agency is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions. Federal judges lack the scientific, economic, and technological resources an agency can utilize in coping with issues of this order.”
The case arose in 2004 when the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency said it was not going to pursue greenhouse gas reductions. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration’s EPA is expected to issue new regulations next year “to reduce power plants’ emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas.”
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is seeking to thwart those regulations.
“The court said the EPA has full responsibility, which is the correct decision,” Ilya Shapiro told us; he’s a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “The legislative process is continuing. If the EPA oversteps its bounds, countersuits could be launched.”
We agree. The idea of New Mexico or Texas suing an Ohio power company for “global warming” damage to our state just doesn’t make sense. We’re usually not happy with the EPA’s actions. And we’ll have to see what the Obama administration comes up with. But at least this decision prevents the 50 states from attacking each other’s power companies.