SAN FRANCISCO - Amid new calls for the resignation of George W. Bush's top environment official, 12 states and 11 non-profit groups went to court this week accusing the Bush administration of refusing to comply with an environmental order handed down a year ago by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It has been a full year since the Supreme Court declared that greenhouse gases are pollutants which should be regulated by the federal government, but the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has refused to grant California's waiver that would allow us and 19 other states to improve our quality of life by setting tougher vehicle emissions levels," California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement."The authority of states to address greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles has been clearly and unequivocally supported -- by the Supreme Court, a federal court decision in Vermont, and in December by a federal court here in California. On this issue, the U.S. EPA has failed to lead, it has failed to follow the states' lead, and we are prepared to force it out of the way in order to protect the environment."
At issue is a decision called Massachusetts v. EPA, which was handed down on Apr. 2, 2007. Before that decision, the Bush administration had argued that it did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and, even if it did have the authority, it was not required to do so.
In response, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the EPA does have the authority to regulate heat trapping gases under the Clean Air Act, and that, if the EPA was not going to do so, it must articulate a compelling scientific reason.
The Court directed the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. The Court said if the EPA makes this so-called "endangerment finding," then it must regulate these emissions from motor vehicles.
A year later, no "endangerment finding" has been made, prompting the states and environmental groups to go back to court -- this time in the Federal District Court in Washington, DC.
"There's no time table attached to force the initial order," said Tony Kreindler of the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "But we're now going on seven years in trying to force the EPA to do its job."
Kreindler said the case is "terribly significant" in the fight against global warming because if California and the other states that have pledged to adopt California's tight emissions standards are allowed to do so, it will create deep cuts in greenhouse gas pollution across about half the country.
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Multiple calls to the EPA press office in Washington were not returned in time for publication.
The head of the agency, Administrator Stephen Johnson, has been under fire not only from state leaders and environmental groups, but also from Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives global warming committee voted Wednesday to subpoena Johnson, demanding he turn over long-sought documents on whether greenhouse gas pollution endangers human health and a draft plan to regulate these emissions.
The subpoena gives the agency 10 days to comply.
At least one environmental group is now going farther, calling on Johnson to resign.
In a letter sent to Johnson on Wednesday, Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder wrote: "You have repeatedly demonstrated that you are incapable of providing the environmental stewardship that is required to successfully lead the agency you head. We call on you to resign."
"Johnson repeatedly goes out of his way to disregard the opinions of EPA scientists and staff, making decisions with logic that is inconsistent, contradictory, and paradoxical," Blackwelder said. "His decisions have recklessly endangered the planet. Instead of acting on behalf of the public interest, he has catered to corporate polluters and special interests. As the journal Nature has editorialized, Johnson is 'sabotaging' the EPA 'with reckless disregard for law, science, or the agency's own rules.' It is time for Johnson to go."
Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington joined California in filing suit this week.
National and international environmental groups that also joined the suit include: Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, International Center for Technological Assessment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
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