Supreme Court Ruling Doesn't Mean EPA Will Regulate CO2 Emissions

DALLAS (April 2, 2007) – The Environment Protection Agency is not required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from tailpipes, contrary to the impression fostered in media reports about the U.S. Supreme Court's "rebuking the Bush Administration for its inaction." The court simply ruled the EPA had the authority, not that they had the obligation, according to H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

"Even if the EPA does have the authority to regulate new auto CO2 emissions, they have the discretion not to based on their assessment of the health effects," said Burnett. "The EPA could easily justify not regulating CO2 based on the ambiguous Clean Air Act."

The court had three questions before it:

  1. Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision?
  2. Does the Clean Air Act give EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases? 
  3. Does EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?

The court said yes to the first two questions. On the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its decision not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The court said the agency has so far provided a "laundry list" of reasons that include foreign policy considerations. The majority said the agency must tie its rationale more closely to the Clean Air Act.

The federal Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to regulate emissions which "cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." Yet all of the harms projected by models are speculative at best. The models are flawed and their predictions and projections are even more untrustworthy on a regional basis then they are on a global basis, notes Burnett. Accordingly, the EPA can still choose not to regulate CO2 and defend its decision within its authority or lack thereof under the CAA.

"There is no predicted human health effect from increased CO2 emissions at any foreseeable level," said Burnett. "Nothing the EPA could do would reduce the speculative effects of global warming on sea levels, human health, or weather patterns – since EPA regulations can't affect these things, it ought not to regulate emissions as if it could."