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Vermont Joins Lawsuit To Require EPA To Comply With U.S. Supreme Court Decision

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-0269

April 2, 2009 - Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today Vermont along 16 other states, the District of Columbia, the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, the City Solicitor of Baltimore, and 11 environmental advocacy groups have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond to last year’s landmark ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA. That ruling, which the U.S. Supreme Court issued exactly one year ago today, required EPA to make a decision on whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act. A year later, EPA has not issued a decision. Today’s court filing, known as a Petition for Mandamus, requests an order requiring EPA to act within 60 days.

“It is mind-boggling that we have to sue to force EPA to listen to the Supreme Court,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “The Court gave EPA specific instructions and it is time for action,” he added.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Court also declared that the agency could not refuse to exercise that authority based on the agency’s policy preferences. Instead, the EPA would have to decide -- based on scientific information -- whether it believed that greenhouse gas emissions were posing dangers to public health or welfare.

According to the petition, after last year’s ruling, EPA publicly acknowledged that greenhouse gases were endangering public health and welfare. Once EPA comes to that judgment, it must regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. On multiple occasions, the agency promised that it would respond to the Supreme Court’s opinion by issuing an endangerment determination and then issue motor vehicle emission standards by the end of last year.

The petition asserts that when it recently denied California’s request to set its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, EPA issued detailed findings about the widespread harms that greenhouse gases are causing. For example, the Administrator specifically found that “[s]evere heat waves are projected to intensify in magnitude and duration over portions of the U.S. where these events already occur, with likely increases in mortality and morbidity, especially among the elderly, young, and frail.”

The petition further asserts that the EPA has already prepared an endangerment determination. A Congressional investigation conducted by Congressman Henry Waxman confirmed that the EPA in fact sent its draft endangerment determination and proposed regulations to the Office of Management & Budget in December 2007. According to the petition, an investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform established that consistent with its announced schedule, the EPA implemented its internal process of drafting an affirmative endangerment determination during the Fall of 2007.

The EPA has now declined to issue that proposed endangerment determination, and it last week said that it would delay responding to the Supreme Court’s decision until after it conducts a lengthy public comment period later this year to examine policy issues raised by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Joining Vermont in today’s Petition for Mandamus are: the states of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, the District of Columbia, the City of New York, and the Mayor and City Council for Baltimore, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Center for Technological Assessment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. All of these parties were either petitioners in Massachusetts v. EPA, or joined amicus briefs in support of the petitioners.

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