The Supreme Court is set to enter the debate on global warming for the first time next week when 12 states and several environmental groups argue that the Bush administration should regulate the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles.
The states are challenging a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency finding that, under the Clean Air Act, the agency does not have the authority for such regulation.
Government lawyers argue on behalf of the EPA that even if the administration had the authority to regulate, it would decline to do so at this time. They note the administration's policy aimed at global climate change in general does not include setting emissions standards for new cars.
In the briefs the lawyers write, "As ongoing scientific studies provide additional information about the problem and potential solutions, the United States stands ready to take further measures and to work with the rest of the world to address the phenomenon of climate change."
The 12 states believe that the effects of climate change caused by global warming will wreak havoc on coastal properties and increase emergency response costs due to sudden storms and floods.
In their briefs, they argue that the EPA does indeed have the authority to regulate the emissions. The lawyers charge, "The proper approach to discerning the Clean Air Act's meaning reveals that carbon dioxide and other air pollutants associated with climate change fit exactly within the Act's definition of 'air pollutants.'"
The states -- Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia and American Samoa -- accuse the EPA of trying to "ignore" and "distort" the language of the Clean Air Act.
The stakes are high in the case. Environmental groups like the Community Rights Counsel hope the Court will send the case back to the EPA for reconsideration.
Executive director Douglas T. Kendall says, "This would force the agency to finally confront the science of global warning, which points only toward a need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions."
The government is urging the court to reject the case without even ruling on the merits by finding that the 12 states have no right to sue because they haven't shown sufficient proof that they would benefit from the regulations they seek. The government charges, "Nothing in the record suggests that so small a fraction of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions could materially affect the overall extent of global climate change."
The automobile industry fears a ruling against the government could eventually mean severe financial consequences.
William O'Keefe of the George Marshall Institute, which is aligned with the administration's position in this case, says "if the auto industry had to meet some standard for reduced auto emissions it would have to radically alter its fleet." O'Keefe worries that the implications of an adverse ruling would lead to additional regulations in other industries: "It could certainly open the door to other industries with costs not in the millions of dollars, but in the billions."
The case will be decided sometime next year.