US Govt: 'slow on warming'

The US Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency today for its inaction on global warming.

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Its decision could encourage faster action in Congress on climate change and lead to more fuel-efficient cars as early as next year.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling in its first case on climate change, declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under the landmark environment law, and the "laundry list" of reasons it has given for declining to do so are insufficient, the court said.

"A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases, no matter what happens elsewhere," Justice John Paul Stevens said in the majority opinion.

"EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change."

The politics of global warming have changed dramatically since the court agreed last year to hear its first case on the subject, with many Republicans as well as Democrats now pressing for action. However, the administration has argued for a voluntary approach rather than new regulation.

The reasoning in the court's ruling also appears to apply to EPA's decision not to impose controls on global warming pollution from power plants, a decision that has been challenged separately in court, several environmental lawyers said.

In the short term, the decision boosts California's and 11 other states' prospects for gaining EPA approval of their own programs to limit motor vehicle exhaust pipe emissions, beginning with the 2009 model year. Those cars begin appearing in showrooms next year. Emission limits would become stricter each year until 2016.

Automobile makers have said stricter emission limits would be accomplished by increasing fuel-economy standards.

Reacting to the court ruling, the automakers called for an economy-wide approach to global warming, cautioning that no single industry could bear the burden alone.

The ruling also improved the odds that Congress would take action on comprehensive legislation to reduce global warming, said business groups, environmental advocates and lawmakers. Several measures already have been introduced.

Many scientists believe greenhouse gases, flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, are leading to warming of the Earth, rising sea levels and other marked ecological changes.

Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are burned. One way to reduce those emissions is to have more fuel-efficient cars.

In handing an almost-total victory to Massachusetts, 11 other states, three cities and 13 environmental groups that sued the EPA, the court has adopted many of their concerns and their belief that taking even limited action concerning new American cars and trucks is better than doing nothing.

The world's leading climate scientists reported in February that global warming is "very likely" to be caused by man and is so severe that it will continue for centuries.

Former Vice President Al Gore's documentary movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" – making the case for quick action on climate change – won an Oscar award. Business leaders are saying they are increasingly open to congressional action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is the largest.

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