"EPA's policy reversal is a crude attempt by the Bush administration to tie its own hands, and then claim that it is powerless to address the critical issue of global warming," said David Bookbinder, Washington Legal Director for the Sierra Club.
On August 28, 2003, EPA officials reversed long-standing policy with an administrative ruling that denied authority to control heat-trapping emissions like carbon dioxide, claiming they do not meet the Clean Air Act definition of a "pollutant." The ruling came in response to a 1999 petition by the International Center for Technology Assessment, Greenpeace, and other environmental organizations asking the EPA to comply with the law, which requires the agency to protect Americans against all harmful pollutants, including emissions that damage the climate.
"The Bush administration tried to say yet again that it's not their job to fight global warming. In fact they have both the legal and moral responsibility to tackle global warming pollution," said Bookbinder.
After many delays, the EPA eventually opened a public comment period on the petition, receiving approximately 50,000 comments -- the vast majority supporting the call for action against global warming. More than three years later, however, the Bush administration had still refused to act. In 2002, the groups sued the EPA for its failure to respond, which led to the decision being challenged.
"When emissions contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health and welfare, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to step in," said Earthjustice attorney Howard Fox, co-counsel for Sierra Club in this suit. "By taking a pass on global warming emissions, EPA is evading a clear duty to act against a serious air pollution menace."
Today's filing come on the heels of the California Air Resources Board's draft rule that would implement a state law requiring automobile makers to reduce global warming emissions from new cars and light trucks beginning in 2009. Inaction by the Bush administration has forced states to take the lead in reducing global warming pollution. California is leading the way to curbing global warming emissions, with seven Northeastern states planning to implement the California rules when they become final.
States, territories, and other governments challenging the EPA's decision are American Samoa, the City of Baltimore, California, California Air Resources Board, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, the City of New York, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Environmental groups joining the challenge are Bluewater Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.