COMMENTS: Greenhouse Gas Ruling

Global warming was the Story of the Day as the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency was obliged to assess whether carbon dioxide emissions are exacerbating the greenhouse effect. All three networks had a correspondent file from the court, with CBS and NBC leading their newscast with the ruling. ABC too gave global warming pride of place--with a special six-minute feature. This was the first of a series of limited commercial World News newscasts, with Pfizer's Celebrex as its single sponsor. The extra editorial time was spent on the fate of the Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati, which expects to disappear within 50 years as global warming causes sea levels to rise.

The Supreme Court majority was a narrow one, with the Justices splitting 5-4, the losing four being "the most conservative Justices," as CBS' Wyatt Andrews put it. Ever since President George Bush came to power, his EPA "has refused all regulation of global warming gases...saying it lacked the authority." Andrews called the ruling "a hard slap." NBC's Pete Williams presented the conflict as being state-v-federal rather than liberal-v-conservative. Coastal states, with Massachusetts in the lead, had sued Washington because of fear of losing property to rising waters. Even the majority was hardly alarmist about the threat: they called the risk of catastrophe "remote" yet "real." ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg (subscription required) pointed out that although the EPA had lost the case, "the regulatory process moves slowly" so it could be well into the next President's administration before any changes actually appear.

Some Democrats in Congress told NBC's Williams that they doubted that this EPA would impose controls despite the ruling, so they argued that it is "more important for Congress to set greenhouse gas limits for new cars." Williams added that some automobile manufacturers want federal mandates too, to avoid a "patchwork" of state-level controls. CBS' Anthony Mason was less optimistic about the impact on the automobile industry: its "campaign to fight off stricter emissions rules may be running out of road." A Detroitwatcher told him that future regulatory limits on greenhouse gas from the tailpipe will hit sales of big vehicles--large pick-ups and SUVs--hardest and they are the lines that are most profitable for Detroit.

The day's other major Supreme Court ruling, that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have no right to challenge their detention in federal court, was not covered by any network reporter. Only CBS' substitute anchor Russ Mitchell even mentioned it in passing.


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