Justices Thwart Bush Team on Environmental Policy The Supreme Court rejects two Bush administration plans — one on global warming, the other on coal-fired power plants. The decisions are the latest in a string of setbacks the administration has suffered in the courts.
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Justices Thwart Bush Team on Environmental Policy

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Justices Thwart Bush Team on Environmental Policy


Justices Thwart Bush Team on Environmental Policy

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Count the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court among those who say President Bush's environmental policies went too far. The court ruled against the Bush administration twice yesterday, a. And those rulings are part of a series of defeats.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports on what happened to an effort to change how the government oversees the environment.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: For six years, Bush administration officials have been rewriting environmental regulations. And for almost as long, environmental groups and states have been suing to try to block the changes. Buck Parker is the executive director of Earthjustice, a law firm that's opposed the administration in many of these suits.

Mr. BUCK PARKER (Executive Director, Earthjustice): Here at Earthjustice(unintelligible) just, we've noticed that in the last three weeks in particular we've had an almost unprecedented string of wins.

SHOGREN: He says these Bush administration rule changes benefit industry at the expense of the environment. But last week, one federal court rejected changes governing what kind of logging, mining, or other activities could be allowed in national forests.

Another court blocked plans to permit coal-mining companies to remove the top of mountains in Appalachia and deposit leftover rock in valley streams. And just yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected two Bush administration policies -one on global warming and another on coal-fired power plants.

Mr. PARKER: I don't think that there is a very complicated explanation as to what's happening. Simply, the current administration has violated environmental laws more frequently and probably more egregiously than administrations in the past. And you have environmental law groups like Earthjustice willing to haul them into court.

Ms. LISA JAEGER (Deputy General Counsel, Environmental Protection Agency): That is not fair to say. The administration has been a champion on the environment.

SHOGREN: Lisa Jaeger was appointed by President Bush to be EPA's deputy general counsel. Now she's an industry lobbyist.

Ms. JAEGER: Every administration has its environmental issues to deal with in court, and it takes some wins and it takes some losses.

SHOGREN: Sometimes the administration's score depends on who's keeping track. In one of yesterday's rulings, the Supreme Court said old coal-fired power plants must install new pollution controls if they make big repairs and increase the pollution they pump out each year.

It rejected Duke Energy's argument that it doesn't have to install new equipment unless it also increases the amount of pollution it pumps out each hour. The EPA claims this as a win. It did argue against Duke in the case.

But John Walke from National Resources Defense Council points out those Bush administration officials are in the process of rewriting clean air rules to embrace Duke's argument. He says that makes the court decision a clear loss for them.

Mr. JOHN WALKE (Director, National Resources Defense Council's Clean Air Project): The Bush administration did not even want the Supreme Court to hear this case.

SHOGREN: An EPA spokeswoman says the court's decision doesn't change the agency's plan to rewrite the rule. Walke says this is a Bush administration's pattern. It can't get Congress to change the laws, so it rewrites the rules to change the impact of the laws.

Mr. WALKE: Unfortunately, the Bush administration's environmental and public health agenda has been based upon stretching the law past the breaking point. And thankfully, we have courts in this country that have stopped them across the board - clean water cases, clean air cases, global warming, endangered species.

SHOGREN: Lisa Jaeger, the former EPA official, sees things differently.

Ms. JAEGER: I don't think that's true at all. I think that what the administration has done is in each instance when they've confronted obligations to regulate or desire to regulate, they've interpreted the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act, any of these laws, as appropriate. And in some instances, courts just disagree.

SHOGREN: In the Supreme Court's other big environmental decision yesterday, it decided that the EPA was wrong when it said it didn't have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. States had sued the EPA, arguing that it has that power and should use it.

Lisa Heinzerling, a law professor at Georgetown University, represented the states. She says the court have rejected the Bush administration policies on this and other environmental issues for good reason.

Professor LISA HEINZERLING (Law, Georgetown University): Well, I think it suggests that the Bush administration has taken extremely adventurous interpretations of statutes that the courts aren't willing to condone.

SHOGREN: Many of the Bush administration policies overturned initiatives launched by the Clinton administration. Carol Browner headed the EPA for eight years under President Clinton.

Ms. CAROL BROWNER (Former Director, Environmental Protection Agency): As dreadful as the Bush administration has been with respect to clean air and the forests and all of these environmental issues, the court have been really our savior, and have time and time again in the last several years stepped in.

SHOGREN: White House officials wouldn't comment on the recent court decisions. They say they haven't had time to interpret them yet.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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