One year ago yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA must formally declare whether greenhouse gases could harm human health, and if they find that they do, regulate automobile greenhouse-gas emissions. Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson revealed the Bush administration’s response to the Court’s requirement: they’re going to drag their feet some more, using the excuse of more information-gathering.

Eighteen states, led by Massachusetts, have responded by filing a petition in federal court, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to order the EPA to make its determination about greenhouse gases’ harm to human health within the next 60 days. Beth Daley and Stephanie Ebbert of the Boston Globe explain the states’ position:

The states argue that the government has improperly delayed a decision. They cite the findings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which concluded that the EPA’s proposed decision that greenhouse gases threaten health had been sent to the Office of Management and Budget in December 2007. The states’ petition contends that the decision is now being held up by the White House budget office.

Pat Parenteau, professor of law at Vermont Law School, said the states’ case has a chance of succeeding. “If the petitioners can convince the Court of Appeals that there’s some monkey business going on here . . . then I think they get across the goal line,” he said.

If the appeals court orders the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases are a hazard, the agency would still need time to develop, publicize, and finalize regulations for regulating vehicle emissions – a process expected to outlast the Bush administration.

Still, the states and advocates petitioning the court maintained that action should not be postponed for the next administration.

“I want to emphasize: Time is not on our side,” said Assistant Attorney General James R. Milkey of Massachusetts. “Every day that goes by without a solution, the window of opportunity to fix the problem closes a little more.”

Environmental organizations have joined in the suit; NRDC’s David Doniger explains that they’re not content to wait for the next administration because “we’re not going to let this administration play us for fools, run out the clock, and get out of town after eight years of successfully ducking global warming.” He also emphasizes that the EPA had been doing the right thing, until lobbyists intervened:

EPA actually did all its homework and late last year delivered to the White House a fully documented “endangerment” determination.  The agency also prepared proposed emission standards for new vehicles. 

But then, after all the promises, everything stopped.

What happened?  A collection of industries, trade associations, and right-wing think tanks lobbied the White House relentlessly last fall.  Don’t do it, they said.  You can still run out the clock.  Just sit tight, or maybe ask for yet another round of public comments.  That way you can postpone anything until your term is up.

“Running out the clock” might be a sound political plan, but it doesn’t work so well for the climate.