While most of the country was waiting for a court ruling that would affect how many Americans insure their health care, another court was handing down an order that will go a long way to ensure the health of the entire planet.
A panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Tuesday unanimously upheld a series of Environmental Protection Agency rules that are, so far, the most any U.S. government agency has done to deal with the havoc that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide threaten to play with the world's climate.
At issue were not only the specific rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and power plants, but also the EPA's very authority to do anything to designate unnatural levels of CO2 as something that does harm to the environment. A consortium of energy, mining, agricultural and industry groups, along with some individual power generators, challenged all of those points in hopes that the courts would buy into the climate-change denial propaganda that is gospel among some powerful interest groups.
Conspicuously absent from the list of plaintiffs was the U.S. auto industry. The Obama administration had already brought the automakers on board with the idea of such regulations. Officially, the companies prefer a national standard to a patchwork of state rules. Reasonably, it might be assumed that the companies felt some obligation to stick by a federal government that had saved them from bankruptcy only a few years ago.
The chances that the EPA's basic authority would be undermined were slim, given that the U.S. Supreme Court decided back in 2007 that Congress had, in the Clean Air Act, given the EPA the power to regulate CO2 emissions if, in its professional, scientific judgment, it was dangerous. The professional, scientific judgment is that it is dangerous, threatening giant shifts in global weather patterns, drought, range fires, floods, rising sea levels, etc.
That is a different definition of hazard than what the EPA has traditionally dealt with. In the public mind, hazardous wastes and emissions are the things that more directly cause things such as lung cancer, leukemia, emphysema and asthma in individuals, not global shifts in weather patterns and ocean depths.
But that, according to the best brains at EPA and almost everywhere else, is exactly the threat posed by our current and projected levels of CO2 emissions, and why the appeals court ruled that such decisions belong with the experts, not with judges. And certainly not with polluters.