A federal appeals court has struck a commanding blow for public health, science and the rule of law, sending a sharp rebuke to states like Florida that continue to side with big polluters. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week upheld efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases. The ruling is a big step toward controlling the impact of global warming.
The court unanimously rejected a challenge by 14 states and industry trade groups that sought to block the EPA from imposing a host of restrictions on the release of greenhouse gases. The opponents charged that the EPA acted rashly, without authority and on the basis of bad science in moving to limit emissions from cars and light trucks and to cap emissions from big polluters like electric power plants.
The court dismissed these claims entirely in a decision that covered dozens of cases. It found that the EPA was "unambiguously correct" in moving to limit this pollution under the Clean Air Act, tracing that authority to a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision that expressly singled out greenhouse gases as an air pollutant subject to regulation under federal law. The appeals court ruled that the EPA's so-called Endangerment Finding — its legal basis for moving ahead with the greenhouse gas restrictions — was correctly considered and based on sound science. And the court moved the ball by declaring that effective enforcement of the Clean Air Act required "forward looking" judgments about the risks of air pollution. The ruling is a full-throated endorsement of rigorous steps to protect public health and welfare.
The court also fired a well-deserved shot at the states and polluters who sued the EPA by calling out the political nature of the legal challenges. The judges noted the impact of human activity on greenhouse gas emissions, and cited the "well-documented rise in global temperatures." They faulted the states for raising policy issues — not scientific ones. And the court dismissed as a "semantic trick" the argument by the states and heavy industry that the EPA had cherry-picked and farmed out its scientific work. The EPA acted on the basis of "substantial record evidence," the judges wrote. "This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has intervened in several cases to challenge the EPA's clean air rules, arguing that the moves are based on flawed science or bad economics. She should accept the court's finding that the federal government is acting properly to safeguard Americans against the danger of global warming and dirty air. She should stand with Floridians, not polluters.