The EPA and Science Win in Court

A recent court ruling is a win for the EPA, climate science, and the environment.

The Supreme Court's recent ruling on health care overshadowed another important court decision regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's right to take action against climate change.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon emissions could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.  The EPA then started writing rules that affected some of the nation’s largest emitters, such as coal-burning power plants. Many of these companies sued, arguing that the EPA had overzealously interpreted the law and relied on uncertain science.

The last week in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its unanimous ruling, which has been described as "ringing", "wide ranging", "a complete slam dunk" and "a righteous smackdown" of climate-regulation opponents.  In short, the EPA was vindicated.

The tone of the decision is indicated in the court's response to the claim that the EPA improperly "delegated" its judgment to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.S. Global Climate Research Program and National Research Council by relying on their assessments of climate-change science:

This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA did not delegate, explicitly or otherwise, any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decision-makers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of “syntheses” of individual studies and research. Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.

For more background, see the articles in the Christian Science Monitor and Courthouse News Service.

Here are editorial snippets from around the country:

The Washington Post:

[The ruling] emphatically dismisses arguments that the science is too uncertain to justify federal action [on global warming].

The American Prospect:

Pieces of climate skeptics’ much-polished evidence were brushed off by the court as "isolated errors" that crumble when facing the large body of science supporting the EPA's decision.

Houston Chronicle:

We think it's time that Texas accepted the science on global warming.

The Baltimore Sun:

[The ruling] has once again demonstrated that the science of climate change, while famously "inconvenient," is virtually impossible for fair and reasonable people to deny.
We would be sympathetic to polluters' complaints that climate change should be addressed by Congress and not by a regulatory agency if those same opponents had not worked so hard to thwart that very effort two years ago. They now must reap what they sowed: a less political and more science-driven regulatory process.
This week's ruling may yet be appealed to the Supreme Court, but experts say there's little chance of reversal there, particularly given the high court's related 2007 decision and the slam-dunk nature of the appeals court's unanimous findings. Opponents would be better served putting their energy where it should have been in the first place — in developing methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Louise Belt July 08, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions means changing A/C and heating habits. I think it is easier to work at recapturing the 171 trillion pounds of carbon that has been released from the soil into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide since the start of mechanized agriculture in the 1800s. Sequestering carbon in your soil can increase yields and cut costs. Even soil in lawns can be turned black by using only organic fertilizer and leaving clippings on the lawn. Sure, trees capture lots of carbon dioxide but farm soils can, too, thanks to no till farming Get your soil sampled and analyzed. Aim for at least 3% soil organic matter. You can sequester 300 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Read Hobby Farms August Issue: Mission: Carbon Capture, p. 56.
Louise Belt July 08, 2012 at 09:01 PM
That should be 500 (not 300) pounds of carbon per acre, per year, ideally 1000 pounds.
Louise Belt July 08, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Thanks for your succinct informative posts, Louise Belt
Dirk Maas July 14, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Thank you Louise. I hope to read the article you mention. I don't know much about carbon sequestration, but it seems to me that the most foolproof, effective method is to leave the carbon in the ground, in its original form. But any effort to reduce or reverse the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is a step in the right direction, and has my support.


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