WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency does not have to regulate gases linked to climate change as air pollutants, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, dealing a blow to a dozen states and three cities hoping to cut heat-trapping gases.
In a divided 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA had solid policy reasons not to impose mandatory limits on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons. All four gases are said to contribute to trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Writing for the majority, Judge A. Raymond Randolph did not address the Bush administration’s argument that it lacked legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Randolph said he and Judge David Sentelle assumed the EPA had the power to regulate for the purposes of this case, but “the question we address is whether EPA properly declined to exercise that authority.”
Judge David Tatel dissented, saying if the EPA determines the emissions pose a public health risk, “then EPA has authority – indeed, the obligation – to regulate their emissions from motor vehicles.”
California has already adopted legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and other states are considering similar steps. States will still be allowed to pursue those policies despite the panel’s ruling, legal analysts said. A decision for the plaintiffs would have forced the federal government also to take action.
“This decision is wrong and deserves reversal on both law and policy,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of the parties to the suit. “The decision disregards the EPA’s obligation to protect against the growing threat of global warming, which severely endangers public health and imperils shorelines, water quality, and other vital natural resources.”
Administration officials hailed the decision as a major win.
“We are pleased with this ruling and glad the court supported our decision to use voluntary programs … to reduce carbon and greenhouse gases instead of mandatory regulations and litigation that don’t promote economic growth,” said EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher.
The ruling does not mean an end to the legal battle over carbon dioxide. Senior attorney David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who represented the advocacy group in the case, said the plaintiffs are likely to appeal.