Global Warming Debuts on Supreme Court Docket

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For the first time in history, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up a case on global warming. This latest version of the lawsuit (Massachusetts v. EPA) was filed by a coalition of states, cities and environmental groups in an effort to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set mandatory limits for greenhouse gases emitted from automobiles. The first iteration of the lawsuit originated in U.S. District Court back in the summer of 2003, but subsequent conflicting judgments mean that its trip to the Supreme Court later this year or in early 2007 will represent the case’s third and final opportunity to mandate car emissions limits.

At issue is whether the EPA is shirking its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from dangerous amounts of emissions that could "reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The crux of the issue, then, is whether EPA officials—and now Supreme Court justices—consider carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be serious threats to the health and well-being of Americans. Massachusetts and its long list of co-petitioners (see below) cite hundreds of studies linking greenhouse gas emissions to droughts and flooding throughout the U.S., as well as myriad other impacts.

EPA lawyers counter that the health impacts of climate change are uncertain and that there"s no way to differentiate between the effects of human activity and natural climatic cycles. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has refused to mandate any greenhouse gas emission curbs due to the impact it would have on the U.S. economy.

Given the right-leaning nature of the Supreme Court these days, environmentalists aren"t optimistic.

STATES: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.
CITIES: District of Columbia, New York City, Baltimore.
PROTECTORATE: American Samoa.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS: Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

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