Supreme Court Case Spurs Dialogue on Global Warming

The decision in Massachusetts v. EPA may eventually be seen as a landmark and a key turning point in our national debate on global warming. The decision will likely spur new legislative action, but the core result of the decision is simply that EPA can’t ignore the Clean Air Act. This decision is particularly important for planning because it acknowledges the role and responsibility of planning in addressing global warming.

The ruling may help solidify for policymakers and the public two vital prerequisites to any policy solution: one, this problem incontrovertibly exists and two, it demands a national response. The American Planning Association’s (APA) amicus brief urged the court to take the case and force EPA to apply existing law because local officials and planners are already increasingly dealing with real impacts of warming.

New studies have specifically noted that the development and building sectors can play a role in combating global warming. We should not limit our policy options strictly to emission standards. Any realistic solution should incorporate policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled and encourage land use patterns that we already know are more energy efficient and environmentally beneficial.

APA is encouraged by the broad view Congress appears to be taking on this issue. Our land use and transportation decisions – and consequently our planning processes – are an essential part of any legislative or regulatory solutions. Green buildings, transit, renewable energy, energy efficiency, redevelopment tax incentives, and transportation emissions should all be part of the mix.

Planning has to be part of solution. As we argued in our brief, planners will have to deal with many of the physical realities of global warming. At the same time, better design and development achieved through good planning is essential to reducing greenhouse gases and moving the nation toward energy independence.