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CLIMATE: Groups file briefs in support of auto emissions lawsuit



May 15, 2006

Lauren Morello
Greenwire reporter

A lawsuit aimed at forcing U.S. EPA to curb automobiles' greenhouse gas emissions gained support today from prominent climate scientists, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and groups representing Alaska Natives.

The groups filed amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. The attorneys general contend that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate air pollution from motor vehicles if they threaten public health or welfare.

Ten states, led by Michigan AG Michael Cox (R), have already filed a brief in support of EPA.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department faces a deadline today for filing its reply brief with the court, which has not yet decided whether it will hear the case during its fall term. A decision is not expected until mid-June at the earliest.

In December, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied, in a 4-3 decision, the states and city's motion to reverse an earlier ruling issued by a three-judge panel of the court (E&ENews PM, Dec. 2, 2005).

The Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the American Planning Association and the city of Seattle write in their friend-of-the-court brief that the decision was "as badly fractured a judicial ruling as one can possibly receive," in which the two affirming judges relied on very different reasoning to reach the same conclusion.

The case deserves an airing by the Supreme Court because EPA has offered "an utterly incoherent explanation" for declining to state whether it believes GHG can be expected to endanger public health or welfare as defined by the Clean Air Act, the brief continues.

Moreover, the groups note, "greenhouse gases threaten a potential public-welfare catastrophe. The leading voices of concern come from within the scientific community, whose overwhelming consensus position is that we must act now before the window of opportunity closes."

That view is supported by a separate amicus brief filed by several notable climate scientists, including NASA climatologist James Hansen and University of California-Irvine professor Sherwood Rowland, who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for discovering the destructive effect of aerosols and coolants on the ozone layer.

In their filing, the scientists argue that the D.C. court based its ruling on a faulty understanding of the state of climate science. "There is reasonable scientific certainty that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from mobile sources and other anthropogenic sources have already had an effect on the Earth's climate and will continue to affect climate in the future," they write.

That was a conclusion of the 2001 National Research Council report on climate change written at the request of the Bush administration, the scientists add.

And nowhere are the effects of climate change felt as severely as in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, according to the third amicus brief -- filed by lawyers for Amici Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, and Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands.

Among the effects already seen in their state, the Alaska Natives say in their brief: declining health of caribou, kelp, sea lions, and other native species; recession of sea ice; and melting of permafrost.

"This dramatic destruction of the Alaska Arctic is an early warning for the rest of the world of the devastation that will likely occur if industrialized nations and the industries that drive them fail to significantly curb their emissions of greenhouse gases," the Alaskans write. "The longer the federal government delays regulation of greenhouse gases, the more severe and long-lasting the effects of global warming are certain to be."

Click here to view the amicus brief of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties.

Click here to view the amicus brief of the climate scientists.

Click here to view the amicus brief of the Alaska Native groups.

Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report


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