Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

PETITIONER:Massachusetts et al.
RESPONDENT:Environmental Protection Agency et al.
LOCATION:United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-1120
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 497 (2007)
GRANTED: Jun 26, 2006
ARGUED: Nov 29, 2006
DECIDED: Apr 02, 2007

Gregory G. Garre – argued the cause for Respondents
James R. Milkey – argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

Massachusetts and several other states petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking EPA to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming from new motor vehicles. Massachusetts argued that EPA was required to regulate these “greenhouse gases” by the Clean Air Act – which states that Congress must regulate “any air pollutant” that can “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

EPA denied the petition, claiming that the Clean Air Act does not authorize the Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Even if it did, EPA argued, the Agency had discretion to defer a decision until more research could be done on “the causes, extent and significance of climate change and the potential options for addressing it.” Massachusetts appealed the denial of the petition to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and a divided panel ruled in favor of EPA.


1) May the EPA decline to issue emission standards for motor vehicles based on policy considerations not enumerated in the Clean Air Act?

2) Does the Clean Air Act give the EPA authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases?

Media for Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 29, 2006 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 02, 2007 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

In case 05-1120, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Stevens has the opinion which will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

As the Chief Justice has indicated this is the summary of an opinion for the court by Justice Stevens.

A group of states, local governments and private organizations petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, to regulate emissions of four greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide.

They call global warming the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.

The EPA Administrator concluded that he lacked authority to regulate those emissions and that if he had authorities to regulate, he would not exercise it.

Those who sought regulation, petitioned for review in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

That court concluded the EPA Administrator properly exercise his discretion under Section 202(a) (1) of the Clean Air Act in denying the petition for rulemaking.

In seeking certiorari here, the petitioners alleged EPA had abdicated its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate the emissions of four greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide.

Specifically, the petitioners asked us to answer two questions concerning the meaning of Section 202(a)(1); first, whether the EPA has the statutory authority to regulate green house gas emissions from new motor-vehicles and second, if so, whether it’s stated reasons for refusing to regulate are consistent with the statute.

In response, EPA, supported by ten intervening states and six trade associations, correctly argued that we may not address those two questions unless at least one petitioner has standing to invoke our jurisdiction under Article III of the constitution.

We now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals denying the petitioners for a review and refer to address petitioners standing.

To insure the proper adversarial presentation, a litigant must demonstrate that it has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant and that it is likely that a favorable decision will redress that injury.

Only one of the petitioners needs to have standing to permit us to consider the petition for review.

We hold today that petitioner’s submission pertaining to the commonwealth of Massachusetts have satisfied the most demanding standards of the adversarial process.

Here the party’s dispute turns on the proper construction of the congressional statute; a question eminently suitable to resolution of federal court.

Congress moreover has authorized this type of procedural challenge to EPA action or rather in this case inaction but this was a petition you recall by these petitioners to the EPA to promulgate rule.

Further, due to their unique status in our federal system, states are not normal litigants for the purpose of invoking federal jurisdiction.

As to Massachusetts’ injury, according to petitioners’ unchallenged affidavits global sea level rouse somewhere 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming.

That rise in sea levels have already begun to swallow Massachusetts’s coastal land resulting in an injury to both Massachusetts sovereign interest and its interest as landowner.

Contributing to that injury is EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases from new motor-vehicles.

Even leaving aside the other greenhouse gases, the United States Transportation Sector emits an enormous quantity of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to petitioners more than 1.7 billion metric tons in 1999 alone.

That accounts for more than 6% of worldwide Carbon dioxide emissions.

Judge by any standard, US motor-vehicle emissions make a meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations enhance according to petitioners to global warming.

The EPA regulation to motor-vehicle emissions moreover stands a reasonable probability of redressing Massachusetts’s injury, while it maybe true that regulating motor-vehicle emissions will not by itself reverse global warming, if by no means follows that we lack jurisdiction to decide whether EPA has a jury to take steps to slow or to reduce it.

On the merits of contrary to EPA’s position, we hold that the Clean Air Act’s sweeping definition of air pollutant unambiguously covers greenhouse gases.

The definition states that an air pollutant is, “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents including any physical, chemical substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air.”

So, on its face the definition embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe and underscores that intents through the repeated use of the word “any”.

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt, physical and chemical substances which are emitted into the ambient air so the statute is clear.

We also reject EPA’s alternative basis for declining petitioners request to regulate greenhouse gases namely that even if it does have statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it would be unwise to exercise that authority at this time.

That conclusion rest on reasoning divorced from the Clean Air Act.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The act requires EPA to regulate whenever it forms a judgment than an air pollutant causes or contributes to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and/or welfare.

EPA has offered no explanation grounded in the statute as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to make such a judgment.

Instead, it has offered a longer list of reasons not to regulate.

For example, EPA said that a number of voluntary Executive Branch programs already provide an effective response to the threat of global warming regulating greenhouse gases might hamper the President’s ability to negotiate with key developing nations to reduce emissions or that curtailing motor-vehicle emissions would reflect an inefficient piecemeal approach to address the climate change issue.

Although we have neither the expertise nor the authority to evaluate these policy judgments, it is evidence that they have nothing whatever to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change.

We need not and do not reach the question whether on remand, EPA must make an endangerment finding, or whether policy concerns can inform EPA’s actions in the event that it make such a finding.

We hold only that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito have joined.

Justice Scalia has also filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Alito have joined.