Bush Administration Filed Brief in Supreme Court Seeking to Prevent Meaningful Action on Global Warming

On October 23rd, the Bush administration filed a major legal brief in a historic Supreme Court case about global warming (Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, et al., No. 05-1120). The brief argues that global warming pollution may not be addressed under the nation's clean air laws (see brief at http://www.environmentaldefense.org/content.cfm?contentID=5565), taking a position opposite 18 states, leading climate scientists, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, several former EPA administrators, including Carol Browner, William Reilly, Douglas Costle, Russell Train, the National Council of Churches of Christ, Entergy and Calpine Corporation, and numerous health and conservation organizations.

New analysis by Environmental Defense, a party in this case, shows how the nation's clean air laws have delivered historic benefits for the American people while our economy has briskly expanded. It also shows that if dangerous air pollutants like lead and sulfur dioxide had been regulated under the Bush administration's current approach to global warming instead of protected under the nation's Clean Air Act, the pollution in the air today would be devastating.

"It is deeply disappointing that the Bush administration is preventing efforts to protect the nation against the urgent problem of global warming that threatens human health and welfare," said Vickie Patton, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense and a former attorney in the EPA's General Counsel's office. "For over three decades the nation's clean air laws have protected American's health while our economy has grown. The United States government should be using the nation's time tested clean air tools in the fight against global warming, not derailing legal protections."

What if EPA Had Approached Lead Pollution the Same Way it is Approaching Global Warming Pollution?

When the U.S. Congress passed the modern Clean Air Act in 1970 through bipartisan leadership, it recognized that growth in air pollution needed to be reversed. As a result, since 1970, the country has reduced: smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 24%, particulate-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 49%, and toxic lead emissions by more than 98%, while Gross Domestic Product has increased by 160%. As shown in the figure above, EPA estimates that the nationwide emissions reductions achieved just from 1970 to 1990 prevented 206,000 deaths each year, along with hundreds of thousands of cases of serious respiratory or cardiovascular illness. See U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Final Report to Congress on Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1990 to 2010, EPA 410-R-99-001, available at http://www.epa.gov/air/sect812/1990-2010/fullrept.pdf.

This landmark commitment to clean air stands in sharp contrast with the administration's approach to global warming pollution. Rather than working to lower emissions of greenhouse gases through binding limits, the administration has proposed only to try to slow their rate of growth through voluntary measures to reduce "greenhouse gas intensity," specifically, the quantity of pollution released per unit of economic activity.

Environmental Defense examined what pollution levels would be like today if Congress in adopting the Clean Air Act had used a similar economic intensity approach for lead and other major air pollutants. If the Bush administration's intensity targets had been pursued in 1970, emissions of NOx, SO2, and lead would have been 160%, 310%, and 13,200% higher in 2000 than they actually were with the reductions achieved under the mandatory protections of the Clean Air Act. The actual pollution levels of lead, NOx, and SO2 in 2000 are compared below with the dramatically higher pollution levels that would have been allowed in 2000 under the emissions intensity metric that the Bush administration is employing as part of its flawed policy for global warming pollution.

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