Massachusetts v. EPA
127 S. Ct. 1438 (2007)

  • The Clean Air Act requires the EPA Commissioner to regulate pollutants “which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
  • A number of States and environmental organizations petitioned EPA to begin regulating CO2 and other greenhouse gases because climate change (aka global warming) was problem likely to endanger the public health.
    • In response, EPA found that they lacked the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses because they were not pollutants (at least not in the traditional sense).
      • EPA seriously suggested that CO2 doesn’t make people sick, and makes plants grow, so it was a good thing, not a pollutant.
    • EPA further argued that even if they did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses, it was within EPA’s discretion to choose which pollutants to regulate, and they chose not to.
      • EPA felt that other laws designed to improve fuel economy were good enough.
  • The States (led by Massachusetts) sued the EPA to force them to begin regulating greenhouse gases.
    • Specifically, Massachusetts argued that:
      • EPA does have authority over global warming and greenhouse gases because of the broad wording of the Statute.
      • EPA’s decision not to regulate greenhouse gases exceeded the scope of its discretion under the law.
      • EPA violated the Clean Air Act by not giving it effect.
    • EPA argued that the petitioners did not have standing to sue EPA because they could not show that they had been harmed by greenhouse gases.
      • (Because in the Republican EPA Commissioner’s view, global warming was a just a myth propagated to destroy capitalism.)
  • The Appellate Court affirmed EPA’s decision to not regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  Massachusetts appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found that EPA must regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the petitioners did have standing to sue EPA.
      • Massachusetts argued that global warming would cause sea levels to rise and the State would lose valuable beachfront property.
        • But in order to have standing an injury has to be ‘imminent’.  Was sea level rise really an imminent threat?  Also, can Massachusetts show that their sea level rise is directly caused by the emissions that they are asking EPA to regulate?
      • The majority found that Massachusetts had standing because, as a sovereign they had a special duty to protect their citizens.
    • The Court found that the Clean Air Act does indeed give the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
      • “Greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of air pollutant.”
    • The Court also found that EPA’s rationale for not regulating greenhouse gases was inadequate.  If they did a scientific study and found a scientific basis for not regulating, then that would be ok, but they can’t decide not to regulate solely on the opinion of the EPA Commissioner.
      • The Court remanded the case back to EPA to make a scientific study and make a factual determination.
      • Despite the fact that the regulation says, “In the Administrator’s judgment…”
  • In a dissent, it was argued that the alleged injury that Massachusetts suffered was far too speculative to give them standing to sue.  In addition, since CO2 emissions are a worldwide problem.  EPA did not have the ability to significantly affect global CO2 levels, therefore it was pointless to bother to regulate it.  Also, CO2 isn’t a ‘pollutant’ in the same way that toxic heavy metals are (you can’t get sick from breathing it in), so it isn’t really covered under the purpose of the Clean Air Act.