Supreme Court Upholds EPA’s Power to Regulate Emissions

A federal United States court stood with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a ruling issued this week, upholding the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases and gases from vehicle exhaust and factories present a risk to public health – a conclusion referred to as an endangerment finding. The court’s decision not only upheld this endangerment finding, but allowed the EPA to impose limits on carbon emissions from vehicles, factories, and power plants.

Three judges from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously issued the decision that the EPA is right to enforce rules under the Clean Air Act that decrease harmful greenhouse gas emissions. With the ruling, the court rejected arguments from polluters that claimed that scientific research in climate change is unfounded and unreliable. In this week’s case, fourteen states, including Virginia and Texas, filed a lawsuit to strike down the EPA’s claims and regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the New York Times, the energy industry is “divided on regulating climate-changing gases, with the oil, gas, coal and most of the electricity sectors opposing emissions limits and automakers supporting them. In a statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers noted that car companies had made huge investments to improve fuel economy and thus reduce carbon dioxide emissions and that a unified emissions standard was among its ‘top national priorities.’”

However, predictable dissent from large industrial polluters has arisen following the decision. EPA opponents argue that regulating carbon hurts job growth and economic recovery and leads to higher energy prices.

Despite debating carbon emissions limits in 2009 and 2010, Congress has yet to agree on whether to issue laws enforcing emissions regulations. This week’s court ruling, though, will ensure that the EPA’s emissions regulations, as outlined in the Clean Air Act, are enforced regardless of whether Congress reaches a decision on the matter.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release, “Now that the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the reality of the climate crisis and EPA’s duty and ability to address the problem, it’s time for the agency to aggressively combat the most serious social and environmental threat of our age. All parties need to put politics aside right away and work toward the solutions that are so readily available — because the moral case for action could not be stronger.” The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a Clean Air Cities campaign and has rallied support for the Clean Air Act from 28 cities across the nation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is among a large group of supporters for the Clean Air Act and the EPA, including fifteen states and environmental organizations such as Clean Air Watch and the National Wildlife Federation. The states, which included California, New York, and Massachusetts, defended the EPA in court and fought to uphold emissions reduction laws. In 2007, twelve states (including California and Massachusetts, whose governor at the time was current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney) won a Supreme Court case that confirmed that the EPA has the authority to regulate vehicle emissions. This decision, declared one of the most important environmental actions in recent history, led to EPA research that found that vehicle emissions are a danger to public health.

The Clean Air Act, which was passed by President Nixon in 1970, has prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to air pollution-related illnesses and has decreased the incidence of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma. Besides endangering public health, particle pollution damages the environment, sickens wildlife, and is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/virovets/4860875578

On-Duty Police Officer Beats Cat to Death with Baton: Should He Lose His Job?

On January 12, Harrisonburg, Virginia police officer J.N. Snoddy was charged with a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, after allegedly beating an injured cat to death in order to “euthanize” it.

Snoddy, who responded to a man’s call claiming the cat had been hit by a car, reportedly struck the animal up to twenty times with his baton. His actions not only left a neighborhood in shock, but showed utter disregard for the law; Harrisonburg PD protocol states that an officer may only shoot a “mortally suffering” animal to euthanize it after calling a supervisor for permission. Officer Snoddy ignored both parts of the procedure, neither asking for permission nor using his gun to put the cat out of its misery.

Witness Wayne Meadows, who watched the beating from his front porch, says he was “relieved” to hear that Snoddy had been charged.

“I still have my moments. The memory is never gonna go away, but it sorta does bring a little closure to it,” he told reporters.

Meadows took time off work after the incident, and the siding on his house remains damaged from the beating.

But even as the charge brings an end to the investigation, some are demanding that Snoddy, who has currently been placed on administrative leave, be removed from his position.

“If this man is brutal and callous enough to use a weapon in that way on a suffering animal, can we trust him to show good judgement and restraint when dealing with citizens?” writes ForceChange.com contributor Katy Gillivan, who began a petition to fire Officer Snoddy. (http://forcechange.com/11546/police-officer-who-killed-cat-with-baton-should-lose-his-job/)

Several comments on Gillivan’s story and other news postings on the case agree, with outraged animal lovers questioning Snoddy’s morals and calling for his resignation.

Yet, others argue that Snoddy’s actions say little of his character and ability to serve as an officer.

“The more important thing is that he protects citizens,” said a twenty-one-year-old college student who has been following the case, but has requested that her name be withheld. “It’s not the kind of thing you’d want to happen, obviously, but people tend to get angry, and then what? Should we fire all officers for minor infractions? [Snoddy] didn’t deal with it the way he should have, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad cop or deserves to lose his job.”

For now, the Harrisonburg PD has pledged to remain neutral.

“We’ll wait until the court process is complete. From now until then, the officer will remain on administrative leave,” said Mary Hope, Public Information Officer for the Harrisonburg Police Department.

In the meantime, Snoddy, along with his supporters and opponents, awaits his trial.

If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Kitten%27s_friend_barnstar.png

Buyer Beware (Of Citizens United)

The adage, “buyer beware” has never been as true as it is today…

If you have followed the Republican Primaries at all, chances are you have probably heard something about the Citizens United Movement.  Though the movement has received a great deal of publicity in association with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the primaries, many may not understand where the movement originated.  Citizens United ultimately boils down to an incident of controversy over corporate personhood.

In 2008, the non-profit group Citizens United attempted to run advertisements for a slanderous campaign documentary about Hilary Clinton entitled Hilary: The Movie.  The District of Columbia District Court ruled that the commercial violated the McCain-Feingold Act (AKA the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) because the documentary was seen as a direct attempt to try to discredit Clinton and sideline her Democratic Presidential candidate bid.

However, in June of 2009, the Supreme Court issued an order to reargue the case on the grounds that the previous Supreme Court cases (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission) which were used to reach the District of Columbia Court decision may need to be overturned to reach a proper judgment.

In the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, both Supreme Court cases used to reach the original verdict were overruled in a 5-4 vote under the argument that the cases violated corporation’s and union’s first amendment rights.  Not only did this validate Citizens United attempt to derail Hilary Clinton’s campaign but it also lifted almost all corporate campaign finance restrictions. 

Here’s what the decision did: corporations are permitted to give unlimited funds to any official running for a public office; additionally, the receiving campaign no longer needs to disclose their donation amount or the donator.  Basically, corporations were granted the same campaign donation rights as an individual.

This brings us back to the beginning; under the Supreme Court ruling, corporations may use corporate shareholder money or profit from sales to fund campaigns.  Consumer dollars may be directly funding a candidate’s campaign for office; the candidate may be someone the consumer supports, or they may be someone they oppose, but the consumer has no way of knowing.  The onus falls on the consumer to make conscientious purchases from companies with like-minded political leanings to avoid inadvertently supporting a candidate the consumer sees as unfit.

Even though the contributions from a single purchase are minuscule, they add up over time; and even though a company may opt not to make any campaign contributions at all, it is best to assume that they will.

As consumers, we have a plethora of choices, but the ramifications of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission are so monumental that citizens are essentially voting every time they buy a product or service.  Consumers have more responsibility than ever, and we must make a concerted effort to stay informed.  We must know which corporations are making an honest attempt at protecting the environment because those companies will support the candidates with an environmentally minded agenda.  Additionally, consumers must boycott any company, and their subsidiaries, who knowingly aids in the destruction of the environment.  Buyer beware.

Photo Credit: farm4.static.flickr.com/3113/3144788688_8e756e9a10.jpg

Supreme Court Strikes Down States’ Lawsuit Against Power Plants

Earlier today the Supreme Court voted unanimously to block a lawsuit brought against five major power companies by six states, New York City, and several other land trusts.  The plaintiffs sought to force the companies to limit their greenhouse gas emissions by categorizing the pollution they create as a public nuisance according to common law.  However, the court ruled that it was not the duty of the court to set greenhouse gas emissions standards because that responsibility has previously been delegated to the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA has not yet created regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants but plans to later this year.  This case could be revisited if the plaintiffs (or other parties) are not satisfied with the regulations that the EPA will eventually set or if congress votes to revoke the EPA’s power to regulate such emissions.

The lawsuit originated in 2004, in a very different political and regulatory environment.  At that time, Republican President George W. Bush and his administration was arguing that the Clean Air Act, which was originally passed in 1963, did not give the Environmental Protection Agency the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  Eight states were originally involved in the case: California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.  New Jersey and Wisconsin dropped out of the lawsuit earlier this year after electing republican governors.  Their targets were five of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the country: the Tennessee Valley Authority and four members of the Edison Electric Institute (American Electric Power, Southern, Xcel Energy, and Duke Energy).  The plaintiffs in the case asserted that the defendants collectively accounted for one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from domestic power plants and for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions for the United States.

Because former president George W. Bush was actively attempting to strip the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 when the lawsuit was originally filed, the states felt it was necessary to find another path to regulate them.  The plaintiffs ultimately invoked traditional federal common law which gives state governments the power to intervene when something is creating a public nuisance.  In their eyes, pollution was a public nuisance.

Judge Loretta A. Preska, a judge for the Federal District Court in Manhattan, originally dismissed the suit for reasons similar to those cited by the Supreme Court earlier today.  She believed that the task of regulating greenhouse gas emissions was “consigned to the political branches, not the judiciary.”  Preska’s ruling was later reversed on appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  Ultimately the case was brought to the Supreme Court, but the political landscape had drastically changed between 2004 and now.

One of those changes resulted from the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in the case of Massachusetts versus EPA.  In a 5-4 decision the court ruled that the Clean Air Act did give the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to the EPA.  George W. Bush’s attempt to take this responsibility away was thus unsuccessful.  The precedent set by the decision made in that case all but determined the decision handed down by the court today.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision on behalf of the court and declared that “The critical point is that Congress delegated to EPA the decision whether and how to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants the delegation is what displaces federal common law.”

Clearly, the decision handed down today has upset many environmentalists.  However, just as many are partially relieved that this case did not prompt the court to revisit the decision made in 2007 in the Massachusetts v EPA case.  Going back to the days where the EPA was deemed powerless to regulate power plant emissions would have been a step backwards in their eyes.  However, when the EPA will set standards is yet to be seen.  The Obama administration assures that limits will be set soon, but with numerous bills aimed at crippling the EPA circling around congress, environmentalists know that the issue is far from resolved.

Click here to read the court’s full ruling.

Photo credit: whitehouse.gov/our-government/judicial-branch

Ecuadorians Suing Chevron For Spilled Oil Win Small Victory in Court

Ecuadorians mounted a small victory in Manhattan last week.  After a brusque hearing in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, two of the three presiding judges ruled that the plaintiff (a group of Ecuadorian citizens) and their legal team would be allowed to meet to strategize and that the plaintiffs could continue to raise funds to enforce the $18.2 billion verdict in question at a later time.  Both courses of action had been previously barred by a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction handed down by Judge Lewis Kaplan in March, 2011.  The plaintiff’s legal team, which includes lawyer John Tyrrell, celebrated this win despite failing to delay the early trial which has been set to determine if the plaintiffs can collect the $18.2 billion in question from Chevron Corporation.

This decision is just the latest development of an epic 18 year legal battle whose roots date all the way back to 1964.  It was then that Texaco, now a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, first entered Ecuador and began an oil drilling operation.  In 1972 Texaco began exporting oil and officially became the operator and minority partner in the operation, owning 37.5%.  PetroEcuador, the state owned oil company, was the majority partner and owned the remaining 62.5%.  Texaco worked in conjunction with PetroEcuador through 1992 when PetroEcuador took full operational control and ownership; Texaco then left the country.  Until Texaco left the country, they were in charge of all operational designs and decisions.  In all, over 440 wells were drilled and the operation was yielding about 220,000 barrels of crude oil each day.

During this time it has been reported that that 16.8 million gallons of oil spilled from the main pipeline and that 18 billion gallons of polluted formation water were dumped into waterways.  The toll taken on the region cannot be denied:  this part of the amazon is terribly polluted and thousands of inhabitants and their offspring have developed a range of critical health problems.  Birth defects and cancer have run rampant in this region where the long-term, disastrous effects of the operation remain visible today.  In 1993 local residents of Shushufindi, the oil producing region in northern Ecuador, filed a lawsuit for damages in a New York federal court.  Eventually, after an independent environmental audit of the effected area, Texaco struck an agreement with the government in Ecuador and PetroEcuador to conduct a 3 year cleanup program costing $40 million.  This remediation concluded in 1998, and under the agreement the Ecuadorian government granted Texaco a full release from any future environmental liability.

In 2001 Chevron Corporation acquired Texaco while litigation was still pending.  However, Chevron holds that because the Ecuadorian government had already released Texaco from any future related litigation, all subsequent allegations are illegitimate.  Chevron also reports that PetroEcuador never provided remediation for their share of the pollution that has been released since they became 100% owners and operators in 1992.

Despite Chevron’s efforts, war has continued to rage as Ecuadorians feel that the $40 million clean up program was completely inadequate.  In 2009 a landmark decision was handed down by an Ecuadorian court: Chevron was responsible to pay over $18.2 billion in damages.  Chevron argued that the Ecuadorian legal system was fraught with corruption and brought its case back to New York to Judge Lewis Kaplan.  Kaplan’s decision earlier this year prevented the plaintiffs from attempting to collect any of Chevron’s assets outside of Ecuador, where Chevron has no assets.  However, due to complicated issues of international law and sovereignty, it remains unclear if a U.S. court actually has the authority to bar the Ecuadorians from litigation outside of the U.S.

Now that the plaintiffs have been granted the ability to meet with their counsel, both sides will be looking to prepare for what may be the ultimate showdown in this long and complicated battle.  Unless the Ecuadorians and their counsel are successful in their quest to push back the date, a trial to determine the legitimacy of the damages is set to begin this fall.

Photo credit: mcgovern.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=15&sectiontree=4,15&itemid=169

TVA to Close Dirty Coal Plants

Millions of Americans can hope to breathe cleaner air in the future, now that the a settlement has been reached between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority, ending the dispute over clean air regulations at 11 different T.V.A. coal-fired power plants.

The new settlement will look to reduce emissions caused by the plants, emissions that have damaged the Great Smokey Mountains National Park by causing acid rain.  The provisions on the settlement also call for the T.V.A. to spend between $3 billion to $5 billion to install state-of-the-art pollution control systems in three dozen of their power plants, another $350 million on renewable energy projects and energy efficiency, and for them to close 18 of their oldest and dirtiest boilers in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

According to EPA estimates, the agreement will cause nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions to be cut by 70%, which will prevent 21,000 asthma attacks, 2000 heart attacks, and 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths annually.  With the closing of their old coal-fired plants along with the implementation of their energy efficient systems, the company’s emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, will inevitably be reduced. 

Though the T.V.A. has been undeniably important in bringing electricity to some of the poorer areas of the nation, it has also been a major polluter as well.

The authority reached a settlement thirty years ago to cut back on emissions and develop and invest in emission control systems, but further reductions since have been hard to come by, due to favorable court decisions and the lack of initiative from the George W. Bush administration to vigorously enforce the Clean Air Act.

Photo credit: tva.gov/power/images/cumberland.jpg

Appellate Court Ruling Allows Federal Funds to Stem Cell Research to Continue

[img_assist|nid=192997|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=160|height=159]Sept. 9, 2010 (GreenAnswers) – A U.S. court of appeals on Thursday temporarily lifted the ban on federal funding of stem cell research. The Appellate decision overturned an injunction imposed by district court judge Royce C. Lamberth, who is presiding over the lawsuit.

The Appellate Court disagreed with Lamberth’s holding that the injunction would not create a “parade of horribles” and irreparable harm. The court instead ruled in favor of the Obama administration, which had argued the ban would severely injure researchers, taxpayers and scientific progress.

The result of this ruling is that federal funding of research with embryonic stem cells may continue during the course of the trial over its legality in front of Judge Lamberth.