In ruling unanimously that state and conservation groups cannot ask federal judges to put caps on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday followed a rationale right out of a civics textbook. Unfortunately, the real world of government rarely resembles the neat, clean formulas upon which governing is based.
By deciding that eight states, three private land trusts and the city of New York could not seek a decree from a federal judge to set carbon-dioxide emission standards for the federal Tennessee Valley Authority and four private power companies, the Court crippled efforts to enforce clean air standards in the absence of needed action in Washington. Writing for the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was given this authority under the Clean Air Act, and while the states and conservation groups can go to federal court under the specific provisions of the Act, they cannot follow what she described as a parallel track by pursuing claims through the federal courts.
But what if there is no Clean Air Act? Or no Environmental Protection Agency? Both are under naked political assault, which the justices declined to consider from their lofty perch above the fray.
The Republican-controlled House has passed a bill that would strip the EPA of its ability to regulate gases causing global warming through the Clean Air Act. A similar measure failed in the Senate but the shift of a few seats to the Republican Party would push it through. If this measure should become law, the only defense against the gutting of rules that regulate the emission of gases fueling human-caused global warming would be the states and conservation groups, and the Supreme Court Monday closed off that route.
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said in the New Hampshire debate that she would get rid of the EPA, and none of her opponents spoke out in defense of the agency. Of the eight states that got together to take on polluters in 2004 (Massachusetts was not among them because of the opposition of Governor Mitt Romney) two bailed out when Republican governors were elected. When one political party totally surrenders its responsibilities to our environment on behalf of its corporate masters, a response must come from somewhere else. Sadly, it will not be coming from the courts.