Will it Be the Big Chill at the US Supreme Court?

Washington State in 2003  joined with a coalition of other state attorneys general to sue the Bush Administration for its failure to regulate CO2 emissions from automobiles and other sources of CO2 contributing to global warming. The case was heard Wednesday before the US Supreme Court.

The question now is whether the Supreme Court will respond to the almost uniform scientific consensus that global warming is real and agree that the US Government has the authority to act, and needs to act to act now to protect the public, or whether it will instead respond to the political whims of the Bush corporate mantra and dump cold water on the EPA’s doing anything.

Democratic Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, speaking in 2003, noted that “Washington State has shown its commitment by investing heavily in clean sources of power and strong pollution controls to provide the healthiest air possible for our citizens, crops and businesses. We need to see the same kind of commitment on a national level.” Christine Gregoire is now the Governor of Washington State.

Earlier this year Rob McKenna, the current Republican Attorney General for Washington State choose not to participate in a similar lawsuit with most of the same plaintiffs challenging the EPA’s not acting to raise Federal vehicle fuel efficiency standards. I guess he must have consulted with Republican Congressman Dave Reichert first. Reichert in his campaign for re-election this year said he didn’t think global warming had been proved. I’ll bet neither of them have gone to see Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth“.

The current case now before the Supreme Court was the one started by then AG Gregoire.

According to the Environmental News Service

The (current)case originated in 1999, when various environmental groups filed an administrative rulemaking petition requesting that EPA set motor vehicle emission standards for four greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. In August of 2003, the EPA denied the pending rulemaking petition. At that time, EPA also stated that, as a policy matter, it would not set motor vehicle emission standards even if it had authority. In October of 2003, this decision as challenged. On July 15, 2005, the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 to let the EPA’s current position on greenhouse gas pollutants stand. In August, the full bench of the appeals court for the D.C. Circuit was asked to hear the case. The court denied that request with a 4-3 decision, paving the way for the Supreme Court appeal.”

Nina Totenberg of NPR notes that

The first question facing the justices is whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant at all. The administration claims it isn’t, and is backed by the auto and energy industries in that claim..

“We’re talking about carbon dioxide,” says former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who is representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “It’s necessary for life. A pollutant is something that fouls the air, a contaminant. No EPA administrator in history has ever considered carbon dioxide a pollutant.”

We’ve commented on this argument before – “CO2 is life.” That’s why we all love to be in a room full of CO2. Who needs O2. Trace elements are also important to life. So are vitamins. But its all a matter of proportion. Just like injesting too many of some vitamins can be fatal, so can too much CO2 in the atmosphere – which contributes to global warming.

I guess this argument of CO2 is life made sense to Bush. That’s probably why he didn’t respond very quickly to Hurricane Katrina. I guess someone told him water is necessary for life. If a little is good for you, more is better. So what was the matter with those people in New Orleans? Didn’t they know that H2O is life?

Then Olson says it also a question of standing or the right to bring a case. Saying that just because Massachusetts will lose shoreline because of global warming that is not an adequate reason to bring suit.

Again from Totenberg of NPR

The states contend that they are suffering significant damage because of the EPA’s failure to act. They claim they are losing shoreline because of melting ice and rising oceans, that floods and storms are more severe, causing greater damage, and that controlling smog is getting more difficult. And the Western states say their snow pack is melting, jeopardizing their water supply.

Olson says that sort of generalized damage is not adequate to make the legal case: “If it does exist, it is damage to humanity in general, not to Massachusetts,” he says. “Courts need concrete particularized cases before they can constitutionally render a decision. Otherwise, anybody with a grievance can say ‘Gee, the ocean’s too high this year. I think we should have a lawsuit against the EPA.'”

Of course these are these same people that refuse to join with other nations to reduce CO2 pollution. They refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement or seriously explore and work for other international solutions.

These are the Bush people. The Democrats winning control of the House and the Senate is only a first step to bringing sanity back to public policy because the EPA is still run by Bush. And Bush with his Supreme Court appointments has swung the US Supreme Court further to the right. And it seems that many on the right really don’t understand what is happening.

USA Today said

“Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservatives questioned whether states’ environmental problems truly would be helped if the U.S. government changed its decision not to regulate emissions from new cars and trucks.
Roberts suggested that economic development in China, for example, could produce pollution that would offset whatever “marginal benefit” states hope to win through federal limits on tailpipe emissions. Justice Antonin Scalia also seemed skeptical about warnings of looming harm from so-called greenhouse gases, asking, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”

It is wonderful to have such forward insightful and forward thinking people on the US Supreme Court. I guess if we left it to Scalia to have building codes to protect buildings from falling down during an earthquake we would have no earthquake proof buildings because we can’t predict when the next earthquake will come.

Likewise, because any measure we take is only part of fixing the problem, we should do nothing? But what is nothing? The Seattle Times says that “Together, US power plants and vehicles account for some 15% of global CO2 emissions.

As the NY Times aptly argues, the case is rather simple.

“A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A.”shall” set standards for “any air pollutant” that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The word “welfare,” the law says, includes “climate” and “weather.” The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it “shall” do

The Seattle Times in a lengthy article last year entitled “The Truth about Global Warming”summed up part of the reality.

“…atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are increasing at a rate that precisely tracks man’s automotive and industrial emissions.
“The process is 1,000 times faster than nature can do it,” Battisti said. Climate reconstructions show that average global temperatures for the past 2 million years have never been more than 2 to 4 degrees higher than now. That means if greenhouse emissions continued unchecked, temperatures would likely be higher by the end of the century than any time since the human species evolved.”

Why is there still a controversy? In the Seattle Times article Eric Steig of the University of Washington says that

“…a handful of skeptics has dominated public debate.””Many of us have felt our voices are drowned out by the very well-funded industry viewpoint.”
He and several colleagues set out this year to bridge the gap between science and popular perception with a Web log called
RealClimate.org. Researchers communicate directly with the public and debunk what they see as misinformation and misconceptions. By giving equal coverage to skeptics on the fringe of legitimate science, journalists fuel the perception that the field is racked with disagreement.
You get the impression it’s 50-50, when it’s really 99-to-1,” Steig said. Over the past decade, coal and oil interests have funneled more than $1 million to about a dozen individual global-warming skeptics as part of an effort to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact,” according to industry memos first uncovered by former Boston Globe journalist Ross Gelbspan.
From 2001 to 2003, Exxon Mobile donated more than $6.5 million to organizations that attack mainstream climate science and oppose greenhouse-gas controls. These think tanks and advocacy groups issue reports, sponsor briefings and maintain Web sites that reach a far wider audience than scholarly climate journals.”

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