U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Global Warming Case
By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it is prepared to wade into the global warming debate and consider a lawsuit that aims to require the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
The court's decision was hailed by a coalition of states and environmental groups who have long battled for mandatory federal regulation of emissions linked to global warming and who argue the Bush administration's voluntary measures are illegal.
"The Bush administration has continually tried to say that it is not their job to fight global warming," said David Bookbinder, senior attorney for the Sierra Club. "In fact, they have both the legal and moral responsibility to tackle global warming pollution."
The case in question stretches back to 1999, when environmentalists filed a petition calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set motor vehicle emission standards for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Passenger cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles account for more than 20 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
In August of 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the petition on the grounds that the Clean Air Act does not give the agency authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases "for climate change purposes."
The EPA added that it had determined that setting greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles "is not appropriate at this time."
The environmental groups, joined by a dozen states and three cities, challenged that decision. In July 2005 the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 upholding the EPA's position.
After the full bench of the appellate court requested to hear the case, the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court will hear the case during its fall term, which begins in October.
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, whose state is one of the 12 involved in the case, said the Supreme Court "will now have an opportunity to address the most significant environmental issue of our generation."
Neither the EPA nor the White House provided comment on the Supreme Court's announcement.
The decision to hear the case sets up a legal showdown over President George W. Bush's controversial position on global warming and his apparent reversal on the issue of regulating carbon dioxide.
As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush expressed support for regulation of the greenhouse gas, but once elected quickly backed away from that position and withdrew support for the Kyoto Protocol.
Instead, Bush has pursued voluntary agreements with industry to cut the greenhouse gas intensity - the ratio of the ratio of emissions to economic output.
The White House argues that mandatory reductions would harm the economy and does not consider carbon dioxide a pollutant.
The plaintiffs believe that the environmental and economic threats from climate change merit aggressive action by the federal government.
The Clean Air Act gives the EPA ample authority to regulate any air pollutant that threatens human health, they argue, and carbon dioxide - as the leading greenhouse gas linked to global warming - clearly fits into that category.
"Delay has serious potential consequences," the petition states. "Given that air pollutants associated with climate change are accumulating in the atmosphere at an alarming rate, the window of opportunity in which we can mitigate the dangers of climate change is rapidly closing."
In addition, the coalition of states and environmental groups contend that legal precedent precludes the agency from refusing to regulate greenhouse gases because of opposition on policy grounds.
"Today's Supreme Court action offers a ray of hope in the fight against global warming," said Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron. "We hope the Justices will render a decision that requires EPA to follow the Clean Air Act and protect our communities and our planet from these damaging pollutants."
In addition to Massachusetts, the states challenging EPA's decision are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
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