OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna announced today that Washington will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond to a landmark ruling that requires the agency to exercise its authority to protect the environment from greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
McKenna joined attorneys general from 16 states and the District of Columbia, the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, the City Solicitor of Baltimore, and 11 environmental advocacy groups in petitioning the court to require EPA to respond to last year’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA.
That ruling, which the U.S. Supreme Court issued one year ago today, required EPA to make a decision on whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act. To date, EPA has not taken action. Today’s court filing, known as a Petition for Mandamus, requests an order requiring EPA to act within 60 days.
“Although Washington is a leader in reducing climate change impacts, federal enforcement is critical to our mission of protecting our environment,” McKenna said. “Motor vehicles are the primary source of human-made greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. EPA must exercise its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions.”
The petition is the latest development in efforts to require EPA to take action. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Seffern is representing Washington in the case.
In October 2003, Washington was one of 12 states, led by Massachusetts, to file suit challenging the EPA's refusal to initiate rulemaking under the federal Clean Air Act to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, from motor vehicles.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the states that – contrary to the agency’s claim – EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The court also declared that the agency could not refuse to exercise that authority based on its policy preferences. Instead, EPA would have to decide, based on scientific information, whether it believed that greenhouse gas emissions were posing dangers to public health or welfare.
Earlier this year, McKenna joined state and local attorneys across the nation in sending a letter requesting the EPA respond in writing by Feb. 27, 2008, to inform the states of the agency’s plans to comply with the mandate. In its response, EPA declined to provide a timeframe.
Today’s petition states that after last year’s ruling, EPA publicly made clear its belief that greenhouse gases were in fact endangering public health or welfare. On multiple occasions, the agency promised that it would respond to the Supreme Court’s opinion by issuing an endangerment determination and draft motor vehicle emission standards by the end of last year.
When EPA recently decided whether California could set its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, the agency issued detailed findings about the widespread harms that greenhouse gases are causing. For example, EPA’s administrator specifically found that “[s]evere heat waves are projected to intensify in magnitude and duration over portions of the U.S. where these events already occur, with likely increases in mortality and morbidity, especially among the elderly, young and frail.”
The EPA denied California’s request only on the grounds that the many severe harms that California faced would also afflict other states across the country.
The petition further asserts that the EPA has already prepared an endangerment determination. A Congressional investigation conducted by Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., confirmed that the EPA in fact sent its draft endangerment determination and proposed regulations to the Office of Management & Budget in December 2007. According to the petition, an investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform established that consistent with its announced schedule, the EPA implemented its internal process of drafting an affirmative endangerment determination during fall 2007.
The EPA has now declined to issue that proposed endangerment determination. The agency said last week that it would delay responding to the Supreme Court’s opinion until after it conducts a lengthy public comment period later this year to examine policy issues raised by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Joining Washington in today’s Petition for Mandamus are:
- Attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
- City of New York
- Mayor and City Council for Baltimore
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Center for Food Safety
- Conservation Law Foundation
- Environmental Advocates
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Friends of the Earth
- International Center for Technological Assessment
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Sierra Club
- U.S. Public Interest Research Group
All of these parties were either petitioners in Massachusetts v. EPA, or joined amicus briefs in support of the petitioners.
Massachusetts v. EPA Mandamus petition - April 2, 2008
Massachusetts v. EPA U.S. Supreme Court ruling - April 2, 2007
Attorneys general letter to EPA - Jan. 23, 2008
EPA's response letter to attorneys general - Feb. 27, 2008
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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432