LAW MANTRA THINK BEYOND OTHERS

(National Monthly Journal, I.S.S.N 2321 6417)



“Massachusetts Et Al v. Environment Protection Agency
549 U.S. 497 (2007)”
Introduction:
Global warming has become one of the major issues that the world is facing today.
Development of industries helped the countries develop but at the price of the environment.
Rapid industrialization took place in the initial years. All this rampant development took place
without any concern for the environment whatsoever. Slowly the effects started emerging.
Global warming developed and finally the people started looking at the price of development
that we were paying.
This case was a landmark judgment against the crony capitalism that we had developed over
the ages. Companies were free to pollute the environment without any responsibility or liability
and regulating agencies avoiding responsibility in the mane of administrative structure. The
petition was filed by some states and non-governmental organizations against the EPA to
regulate greenhouse gas emission from new motor vehicles. The case argued that Carbon
Dioxide should also be counted as an air pollutant and other greenhouse gases should be
regulated under CAA. The petitioners wanted the definition to be broader so that no contention
would arise in the future and that global warming could be significantly controlled as the
greenhouse gases are a major contributor to this. EPA et al argued that there was a fallacy that
man-made carbon dioxide led to global warming.
In the end, EPA was remanded and was asked to review the CAA and include greenhouse
gases specifically.This case shows how the mind-set of people has developed and how people
now value sustainable development over economic development. It is a classic example of how
communities strive to stand for the well-being of its citizens and how the legal system of a
nation decided in favor of sustainability.

Facts in brief:

On October 20, 1999, the International Center for Technology Assessment (the “CTA”) with
other 18 private organizations filed a rulemaking petition requesting EPA to regulate emission
of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydro fluoro-carbons from new motor vehicles


under §202 of the Clean Air Act . Petitioners maintained that year 1998 was the warmest year
on record and these four greenhouse gases significantly trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and
affect climatic changes, thus have serious adverse effects on public health and environment.
Fifteen months after the submission of this petition EPA requested public comments on all the
issues brought in concern by the petition asking reviews specially on scientific, technical, legal,
economic or other aspect any which may be relevant for EPA’s consideration to this petition.
EPA received over 50,000 comments.

On September 8, 2003, EPA simply denied the rulemaking petition, reasoning 1) that it does
not have authority to issues mandatory regulations to address global climatic changes and (2)
that even if it had the authority to set greenhouse gas emission standards, it would be unwise to
do so at this time. EPA observed that Congress last amended the CAA in 1990, Congress did
know about all the global climate change and rise in temperature yet it declined all proposed
amendment and rather chose to authorize further investigation. EPA maintained that this
amendment and Congress other tailored solution read against the general authorization of
section 202(a)(1) to confer regulatory authority. EPA also denied to consider greenhouse gases
as air pollutants under CAA. EPA also maintained that even if it had authority it would be
unwise to do so at this time because it may conflict President’s comprehensive approach to
non-regulatory programs to encourage voluntary regulation of such emission and also it may
hamper the President’s ability to persuade other developing countries to limit greenhouse gas
emissions.
Some states and local government joined the petitioner and sought review of EPA’s order in
the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This three panel judge
court upheld the decision of EPA and maintained that EPA has properly exercised its discretion
under §202(a)(1) and thus dismissed the petitions. Petitioners now moved to Supreme Court
for further review. The Court reversed the D C Circuit’s decision and held that petitioners had
standing to challenge EPA's denial of their petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from
new motor vehicles under the CAA and EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas
emissions from new motor vehicles under the CAA, and EPA must give sound reason to
decline the exercise of the authority.

The Supreme Court Decision:
A five-four majority of Supreme Court altered the decision of D.C Circuit Court, concluding 1)
that the Petitioners had the standing to seek redress, 2)that EPA had authority to regulate
greenhouse gases, 3)that the EPA cannot refuse to exercise its authority to regulate.


The majority was very clear on the first question that whether petitioner had standing. It held
that Massachusetts and other states had proper standing as they met all three essential aspects
of standing – injury, causation and redressability. The majority held that EPA’s refusal to
regulate greenhouse gas emission has inevitable harm to Massachusetts and other states and a
favorable decision can reduce the harm. On the question of EPA’s authority to regulate, the
court rejected the EPA’s argument that it lacked authority and thus state lacked authority to sue
and that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Court also threw away EPA’s claim that exercising
its power may overlap with the Department of Transportation's authority and role of setting
mileage standards, reasoning that overlapping of duties could not be used as an escape to not to
regulate and act in public welfare. J ustice Steven, while writing for the majority concluded that
reasons provided by EPA are not sufficient enough to support its decision to not regulate and
EPA is empowered to regulate by law and the statutes and hence it cannot refuse to regulate.
Court also concluded that it can only avoid action if EPA provides substantial evidences that
greenhouse gases do not contribute to climatic change and hence do not hamper environment.

Analysis:
19 private organizations when filed a petition against EPA to regulate emission of four
greenhouse gasses from new motor vehicle under section 202 of CAA to curb the adverse
effects that these four gases have on environment, the case looked convincing from a boarder
world panorama. This petition contained all the substantial evidences to prove that these
greenhouse gases are actually air pollutants and should be regulated for the sake of global
climate change. Petitioner also maintained the fact that EPA does have authority to regulate
which is very much evident from the clauses in the CAA and legal opinion of former general
counsels of EPA. EPA however denied any such authority and it was well supported by D C
Circuit court of appeal. Again petitioners sought review in the apex court that is the Supreme
Court which eventually held that petitioner has standing to sue EPA and EPA has the authority
to regulate such emission. Decision of Supreme Court is valid in its place when it says that
Massachusetts has injury, causation and redressability and it can claim such interest because it
is not an individual, it has quasi sovereign interest and also there is no escaping the fact it did
loss its coastal land due to global warming.
But the major question is, even if EPA starts regulating the motor vehicle emission, how much
good would it do to petitioners or to the world. Most of the greenhouse gas emission causes
due to activities in developing countries which has effect on the entire world. The injury claim
here cannot meet the standing. The injury is too big that it needs solution on bigger panorama
and this small step cannot combat such big issue. Supreme court maintained that the standing is


the right to bring suit against a party, not to decide the end result of that law suit and here
Massachusetts have proper standing but how far will this standing be fruitful to address such
big issue. Another bigger question is that is it really feasible to invest such amount and
resources to curb the emission that might not be able to help in long run. Sadly final judgment
skipped all these important questions and just decided the authority and standing ignoring all
practical and logical approach.

Conclusion:
This case indeed is a landmark judgment which goes through constitutional ambiguity and
puzzling opinions. This serves as an example on how political intervention should be curbed
and policies on such complex issue must be free from biases and rather rest on scientific
researches. Supreme Court’s decision clearly points out that welfare legislation and
interpretation of law are two separate aspects and should be properly exercised for common
good. Fields including scientific theories and researches requires strict science based policy
making. But on the logical strata and on world panorama, this judgment proves to be of little
help. This judgment can serve as a judicial remedy for the petitioners but cannot solve the
world-wide problem of global warming alone and thus provides very insignificant or no help.
Massachusetts v. EPA is not an environment law case alone it rather illustrates a larger theme
i.e. politicization of executive and administrative expertise. The solution in this case is the
judicial response to administrative overreach. Massachusetts v. EPA started as a significant
environment law case but it consequently became an administrative law case, providing little
help.


By:- PalackAgarwal, 6
th
sem, 3rd year, B.A LL.B. Hons, Swami Vivekanand Law
College, Lucknow University