What are the U.S. Congress & Supreme Court Doing About Global Warming?

Science Policy Director, Fresh Energy

U.S. Congress

The U.S. Congress, after years of inaction, is currently focusing significant attention on global warming and on legislative proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the proposed bills would do what scientists have been counseling us to do for years: begin reducing emissions within the next decade and cut emissions by at least 80% below current levels by the middle of this century. By following this science-based principle, Congress has the opportunity, and obligation to enact laws that will prevent irreversible damage to our climate and lives. In addition, we as individuals all have the opportunity and obligation to help push these proposed bills into laws.

Follow closely these Congressional debates, and urge your elected officials to support mandatory, economy-wide emissions reductions programs. In order to maximize our chances to prevent irreversible damage from global warming, legislation needs to require that emissions be cut by at least 80% by the year 2050, and that emissions reductions begin within 10 years.

Sources of carbon emissions in the U.S. come from a wide variety of activities, including electricity generation, heating and cooling our buildings, transportation, powering industry, agriculture, and waste management- the variety of sources necessitates economy-wide action.

Given all of the current concerns, the U.S. Congress has a unique opportunity to pass legislation that is stringent and protective. Some requirements for global warming legislation should include :

  • Emissions reductions should be quantifiable and on enforceable, tight timelines.
  • The federal global warming program should use market-based approaches suited to our market economy. It has been said that the failure of the marketplace to set a price for the damages done by global warming pollution is the greatest market failure of all time.
  • The keys to successful global warming policy are mechanisms that reflect the costs of global warming pollution in our energy decisions. Causing global warming pollution should carry a cost.
  • Policy should encourage energy savings and the rapid adoption of zero carbon technologies.
  • Federal legislation should never pre-empt states from taking more stringent actions to reduce emissions.

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 took on some high-profile cases related to greenhouse gas regulation. The Court’s decisions in these cases will help the country move forward on protecting the climate, clearing away the question of whether the federal government can regulate the emissions that cause global warming.

In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. At issue in the case was the EPA’s refusal to acknowledge that greenhouse gases are air pollutants.

Twelve states and several environmental groups challenged the Bush Administration’s refusal to consider greenhouse gases as pollutants and regulate them under the Clean Air Act. The decision of the Supreme Court criticized the Bush Administration’s rationale for its inaction, and instructed the EPA to reconsider its position in light of the Court’s ruling.

This case is important because it resolved that the EPA cannot continue to hide behind its claim of no authority to regulate the emissions that cause global warming. In its decision, the court ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are classified as air pollutants. The court also reviewed carefully the science behind global warming, and with its decision, essentially validated the science-based need for emissions reductions.

The Supreme Court’s decision that the Bush Administration has a statutory duty to regulate global warming emissions may very well accelerate Congressional policies to reduce emissions. The decision also impacts California and eleven other states that are trying to move forward with state regulations that would reduce emissions of global warming pollution from the tailpipes of cars. The Court rejected the administration’s excuses for not allowing forward-thinking states to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles.

What Can You Do?

  • Read about global warming.
  • Contact your elected officials to support strong global warming bills.
  • Attend local global warming events in your community.
  • Learn about the latest and greatest actions being taken.
  • Connect with people in your community.
  • Be a part of the solution!

Union of Concerned Scientists

Pew Center on Global Climate Change with Info on Federal Bills Pending

Fresh Energy Global Warming Action monthly e-newsletter

Government and Global Warming

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