By Susan Jones
Supreme Court Addresses Tailpipe Emissions
Fri Dec 1, 2006 01:50

Supreme Court Addresses Tailpipe Emissions
By Susan Jones Senior Editor
November 29, 2006

( - The Supreme Court on Wednesday is hearing oral arguments in a "global warming" case involving vehicle emissions, but critics warn it should be up to Congress, not the courts, to decide whether the federal government must limit those emissions as part of an effort to reduce "global warming."

The Environmental Protection Agency says there's nothing in the Clean Air Act that requires it to regulate vehicle emissions, but environmental groups and a dozen states disagree.

They're asking the Supreme Court to decide whether the EPA must limit heat-trapping gases under the nation's clean air laws.

Landmark case

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, this may be the most important environmental case the Supreme Court has ever considered.

"The court's decision could settle questions over EPA's authority and duty to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act," the group said in a posting on its website.

The EDF says the case could have "far-reaching implications" on efforts to address the "urgent problem of global warming and the timing of solutions."

Even groups with opposite views agree there's a lot at stake: "If the petitioners win, American carmakers may face the equivalent of Kyoto global warming standards, imposed by judicial fiat, despite Congress's umpteen rejections of the Kyoto regime," said Mark Moller, a senior fellow and co-counsel for the Cato Institute, which has filed two legal briefs supporting the EPA's position.

"Complex regulatory decisions of this magnitude should be made by Congress, not federal judges," Moller said.

What's at stake

The case has been moving through the lower courts since 2003, and in June, the Supreme Court agreed to hear it.

Those urging the EPA to regulate "global warming pollution" include leading climate scientists, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, several former EPA administrators, the National Council of Churches of Christ, various numerous health and conservation organizations, and some corporations.

Those opposed to EPA "global warming" regulations include the National Automobile Dealers Association, other lobbying groups for cars and trucks, and the nation's major power companies and nine states.

The case centers on one section of the Clean Air Act that says the EPA administrator "shall" set emission standards for "any air pollutant" from 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."

But the EPA argues that global warming pollution does not constitute an "air pollutant" under the federal Clean Air Act.

The federal government also claims that the 12 states and various environmental organizations have not been injured by the adverse effects of global warming pollution -- and therefore, they lack the legal "standing" to bring the case before the Supreme Court.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, point to a "body of evidence [that] demonstrates the serious, direct and immediate impacts of global warming pollution on human health and the environment."

As examples, the Environmental Defense Fund lists heat-related deaths and illness; deaths and illness due to ozone "smog" increases; and the risks of more outbreaks of infectious diseases such as hanta virus, mosquito-borne diseases and fungal diseases.

According to environmentalists, the suit addresses three key questions:

-- Do the parties that brought the lawsuit have the legal standing to challenge the EPA's refusal to regulate motor vehicle emissions?

-- Does EPA have the authority to regulate "global warming pollution" under the Clean Air Act?

-- If EPA does have that authority, does it have the right to refuse to regulate such emissions?

A debate is raging in this country over mankind's influence on the climate.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, "The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that man-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are causing global warming."

But there are naysayers, too -- including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who speaks for many skeptics of human-caused global warming: "The idea that the science (on global warming) is settled is altogether wrong," Inhofe told a news conference earlier this month.

Inhofe admits that the planet is warming, but he and other skeptics question whether it's due to human-caused activity or to natural cycles.

Scholars at the Cato Institute also question the notion that global warming has a negative impact on human health and welfare -- since "no comprehensive analysis" has ever been performed.

"Regulation without a commensurate basis in scientific fact is hardly what our founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, would have wanted," said Cato senior fellow Patrick J. Michaels in a science-oriented brief filed on behalf of the EPA.

Cato filed a second friend-of-the-court brief touching on the legal issues of the case. That brief argues that federal law provides no mandate for global warming regulation and that the Constitution requires petitioners to direct their broad complaints about global warming to Congress, not courts.

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