Massachusetts v. EPA, and answer the three questions that follow.


Massachusetts v. EPA

127 S.Ct. 1438 (2007)

FACTS: On October 20, 1999, a group of 19 private organizations (petitioners) filed a rulemaking petition asking EPA to regulate “greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles under § 202 of the Clean Air Act.” Petitioners maintained that greenhouse gas emissions have significantly accelerated climate change; and that “carbon dioxide remains the most important contributor to [man-made] forcing of climate change.”

Fifteen months after the petition was filed, the EPA requested public comment on “all the issues raised in [the] petition,” adding a “particular” request for comments on “any scientific, technical, legal, economic or other aspect of these issues that may be relevant to EPAs consideration of this petition, including whether there was global warming due to carbon emissions. The EPA received more than 50,000 comments over the next five months.

On September 8, 2003, EPA entered an order denying the rulemaking petition because (1) the Clean Air Act does not authorize EPA to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change; and (2) even if the agency had the authority to set greenhouse gas emission standards, it would be unwise to do so at this time. Massachusetts, other states, and private organizations filed suit challenging the EPA denial as arbitrary and capricious, violative of the APA, and ultra vires because of statutory mandates for EPA action. 

LOWER COURT DECISIONS:  The court of appeals dismissed the appeal from the agency denial and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

ISSUE ON APPEAL:  Did the EPA not follow its statutory mandate in refusing to regulate greenhouse gases?  Was it required to regulate the gases? Was it within its authority to promulgate such regulations?

DECISION:  The court held that greenhouse gases were a form of pollution and that the Clean Air Act required the EPA to take steps to curb those emissions.  The court found that any justification the EPA gave for inaction was not supported by either the statutory construction or the evidence on global warming.  The decision was a 5 to 4 decision in which the dissent maintained that no matter how strongly we feel about global warming, action is left to the executive and legislative branches, not the courts.  The dissent also noted that agencies should be given great deference in making their decisions on whether to regulate certain issues and that the statute did not mandate regulation – it gave the EPA broad discretion and its discretion could include lack of scientific conclusions, deference to the president, or other agencies.

1a.  What authority is given to the EPA by statute? 

  b.  Why does the EPA not want to exercise authority over greenhouse gases?

2.  Why does the majority conclude that “greenhouse gases” are included within that authority?

3a.  List the arguments the dissent makes against requiring the EPA to take action on greenhouse gases.

 b.  What do you learn about the role of the issue of global warming in the dissent’s analysis of the case versus the analysis of the majority?

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