For the first time in its history, the U.S. Supreme Court has waded into the political debate on global warming.
Under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has argued that carbon dioxide and the like aren't pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and therefore, the agency has no power to regulate them.
In a sweeping 5-4 decision released Monday, the Supreme Court rejected that position, declaring that Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
The Supreme Court majority decided US motor-vehicle emissions make a "meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations" and hence, to global warming.
"A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related," Justice Stevens wrote.
Environmental groups applauded the Court's decision.
"It's an important signal that the Bush administration cannot continue to ignore the problem of global warming for political reasons when the science is so clear and there's such clear pressure from the public to move forward," said Josh Dorner, spokesperson for the Sierra Club in Washington D.C.
"An enormous victory for the fight against global warming," declared Doug Kendall, whose group Community Rights Counsel filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
"The Supreme Court has recognized both the importance of the problem and the need for the federal government to act on the solution," Kendall said, arguing the decision is a major victory for states who want to rely on the congressional Clean Air Act.
"The Supreme Court's decision, in Massachusetts v. EPA, repudiates the Bush administration's do-nothing policy on global warming," said David Doniger, Natural Resources Defense Council's attorney in the case.
Greenpeace, the well-known environmental group, viewed the decision today as a political victory against the Bush administration's policy on climate change.
"What this ruling shows is the degree to which the Bush administration just continues to be out of step, not only with the science, but with congress and public opinion," said Chris Miller, director of global climate change at Greenpeace.
"All of these years that the Bush administration has been in office, instead of trying to find out ways that they can combat global warming, they've been denying the science, they've been fighting lawsuits ... so this is a big defeat for them, and it's also a big defeat for the automotive industry that spent a lot of time energy and effort trying to beat this back," said Miller.
The automotive industry, which stands to be affected the most by any change in government regulation, reacted favorably today, arguing the ruling may be good for automakers in the long run.
"The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers believes that there needs to be a national, federal, economy-wide approach to addressing greenhouse gases," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.