Global warming hits high court; Mass. seeks EPA rule
Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General James R. Milkey, representing 12 states and 13 environmental groups, on Nov. 29 called on the Supreme Court to force the federal government to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from new automobiles.
As the court waded into the politically charged issue of global warming for the first time, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia pressed Mr. Milkey to explain when and how greenhouse gases will injure his state.
Mr. Milkey said the state of Massachusetts has 200 miles of coastal land that is being lost to rising seas caused by global warming and that the damage will increase.
“It’s not so much a cataclysm as [it is] ongoing harm,” he said under questioning by Justice Scalia in a courtroom packed for the case’s one hour of oral arguments.
Any reduction to the 6 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions caused by vehicles in the United States would help, Mr. Milkey said, because “once they are emitted, the laws of physics take over” and damage is inevitable.
Although there is “something of a consensus” that global warming is occurring, Justice Scalia said, there is no consensus on how much of the problem is caused by human pollutants.
The states say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to fulfill its role of regulating car emissions under the Clean Air Act of 1970.
The Bush administration has resisted such regulations, contending that the EPA has no such authority under the Clean Air Act. Backers of the administration’s stance say the regulations would put U.S. industry at a com- petitive risk.
Justice Department Deputy Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre — representing the EPA, the car-manufacturing state of Michigan and eight other states — said there is “substantial scientific uncertainty” about global climate change.
He said he knows of no studies suggesting that regulating this “minuscule” percent of greenhouse gases would have any effect.
Justice Steven G. Breyer appeared unimpressed.
“Why is it unreasonable to go to an agency and say, ‘ Now you do your part’?” he asked.
Outside the court, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said the law is clear and that the EPA is refusing to do its job.
“That’s all we’re asking: Do your job,” he said. “Global warming is the most serious environmental problem of our time.”
The Clean Air Act states that the EPA administrator “shall by regulation prescribe [. . . ] standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
At issue before the court isn’t whether carbon dioxide and other emissions are linked to global warming, but whether the government has the authority to limit these emissions.
Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are burned. Scientists think it is the main greenhouse gas, flowing into the atmosphere at a high rate and causing a warming of the Earth and environmental changes.
The court is expected to rule before July, and the decision could have a ripple effect. An- other case involving the EPA’s refusal to regulate greenhousegas emissions from power plants is being debated in federal court.
Regardless of the outcome of the Massachusetts case, Congress may soon tackle the topic. Democrats, who take control of Congress in January, say it’s long past time the administration step up the fight against global warming.
“With the new Congress elected to change Washington, I am hopeful that we can finally go to work on addressing global climate change rather than denying the obvious,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.