In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court shot down a global warming lawsuit several states and environmental groups had brought against five of America’s biggest utilities, responsible for about one-tenth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The case was aimed at getting the court to rule greenhouse gas emissions a public nuisance and order the defendants to reduce them. But the court said Congress had already authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to handle greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, concluding: “We see no room for a parallel track.”
The new decision bolstered the court’s 2007 decision, in which it ruled the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as well as traditional pollutants, like smog and particulate matter.
After the new decision, the door is still open for environmental nuisance suits in general, and potentially even for state-level nuisance suits on greenhouse gases, noted Yale law professor Douglas Kysar. And, he pointed out, if Congress strips the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases—as some recent bills attempted to do—then the nuisance suits on a federal level could return.
In the Spotlight
The new ruling “puts the spotlight squarely on EPA,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Recently, the agency has issued new rules on emissions from light-duty vehicles and is moving forward on similar rules for larger vehicles. It is also developing its regulations on power plant emissions, which were scheduled to be published in draft form in late July, but have now been pushed back two months in response to complaints from industry and state governments.
Meanwhile, a study by nonprofit group Media Matters found opponents of the EPA dominate TV discussion of the topic, appearing more than four times as often as those in favor of greenhouse regulation by the agency.
Some commentators said the ruling will stoke attempts to hamper the EPA. The Obama administration signaled it may veto any laws that attempt to block the EPA. When asked about attempts to hamstring the EPA, Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley said, “we’re not going to allow any legislation that impedes the need to improve our health and safety.”
Obama Gets Gored
In a long article in Rolling Stone, former Vice President Al Gore made pointed criticisms of the Obama administration’s work on climate change. “His election was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change,” Gore wrote. “Some things have, but others have not. Climate policy, unfortunately, is in the second category.”
Obama’s backers pointed out that many new programs are now coming into place. One is a “game-changing” $2.6-billion solar panel project announced this week that would install nearly as many panels as were installed in the whole country in 2010. The U.S. Department of Energy is backing more than $1 billion in loans for the project, and earlier this month announced it would also back $1.9 billion in loans for two solar power projects in California.
Meanwhile, private financing of renewable energy projects has picked up, with Google emerging as one of the biggest spenders. This year, the company has already invested 10 times as much in renewables and clean tech as it did in 2010, reaching a total of $780 million—including, this month alone, $102 million for a wind energy center and $280 million for a residential solar panel partnership.
Big Oil on the Big Screen
U.S. gasoline prices have dropped somewhat in the past couple of weeks, but the high prices are still a brake on the economy, said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and several members of Congress are targeting oil speculators to try to make prices lower and more stable.
Big Oil is also in the sights of the cartoon “Cars 2.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Director John Lasseter said, “I kept going to big oil” as the villain in the soon-to-be-released film.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.