Court upholds EPA climate rules

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst  During a week of landmark (some might call “supreme”) judicial rulings at the federal level on issues concerning immigration and healthcare, another pivotal ruling was issued from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that gave legitimacy to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The three-judge panel unanimously denied industry and state petitions that sought to invalidate the federal agency’s position that greenhouse gases pose a health risk and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The court held that EPA’s endangerment finding and tailpipe rules on greenhouse gases are “neither arbitrary nor capricious and found the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to be “unambiguously correct.” Challengers to the EPA rules included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, the National Association of Manufacturers as well as the states of Texas and Virginia. Judges on the panel consisted of two appointees from President Clinton and one (the Chief Justice) from President Reagan. The ruling will in no way slow continued attempts from the legislative branch to prevent EPA from implementing regulations that seek to curb greenhouse gas emmissions. A host of riders included in the House Interior Appropriations bill that would seek to prevent funding a host of EPA initiatives that seek to regulate everything from greenhouse gas emissions and asbestos to pesticide labeling and lead paint. The Republican-controlled House has already passed bills that seek to stifle EPA’s regulatory reach, including a bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who was highly critical of the court ruling. To date, President Obama has not had to wield his veto pen for the bills his administration opposes because the Democratic-controlled Senate’s key leaders have supported EPA’s regulatory efforts.  However, because Senate Democrats lack a strong supermajority, it is difficult to get partisan legislation through the Senate, whose rules often require 60 votes to counter a filibuster whereas the House generally runs under a simple majority rule. For better or worse, the court system is not held by policymakers as the final arbiter over whether an existing law or statute is legal or constitutional. However, there is a consensus that once a court has ruled on a given issue, overturning such a ruling is difficult given the diverse interests (and individuals), which must all be in strong unison among the legislative and executive branch to do so. Photo Credit:...

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Obama issues memo on scientific integrity

President Obama issued a memorandum yesterday about scientific integrity in federal executive offices. The memo calls for the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to conduct a review of the scientific integrity of the executive branch, including policies to ensure thorough scientific review, unbiased scientific reporting, the retention of scientific staff based on credentials and public access to scientific findings. An excerpt from the memo: “The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.  To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking.  The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.” The memo comes on the heels of the president signing an executive order releasing federal funds for stem cell research. This memo should be reassuring to the scientific community. Yet the fact that it was necessary to explicitly state these seemingly obvious expectations is disconcerting. A useful product of this review would be to delineate the instances in which scientific information is used — which is not outlined in the memorandum. Scientific information can have all the integrity in the world, but if it’s not used in policy decisions, then what good is it to the...

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