The Supreme Court takes on global warming

This guest post comes to us from Adam Stern (not be confused with our own Adam Stein), who has worked for several national environmental organizations concerned with global warming.

The Jedi CouncilThe decision last month by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its first global warming case offers opportunities and pitfalls for advocates of greenhouse gas regulation.

The court’s willingness to consider the case thrusts global climate change into the legal limelight like never before. The case centers on the Clean Air Act, first passed in 1963 and later amended in 1970 and 1990. The states — including some big ones like California, Illinois, and New York — and a coalition of national environmental groups, are claiming that the law’s imperative to protect the public health and welfare gives the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases emitted from cars.

The Act lists some pollutants by names and leaves others to the discretion of the EPA. In a brief filed in this case, the Bush Administration stated that Congress didn’t intend to address global warming when it passed the clean air law. They may be correct on this point since CO2 wasn’t on the original list, nor was it added in the most recent revision. But now with a worldwide scientific consensus that human activity is altering the Earth’s climate with potentially severe consequences, the Administration’s argument rests on shakier ground.

President Bush continues to push the outdated view that human-caused global warming remains open to debate. Meanwhile, Congress is dilly-dallying over various forms of CO2 emissions legislation that it probably won’t consider seriously until after the mid-term elections. That leaves our third branch of government, the Supreme Court, with an opportunity to lead in confronting global warming.

While the current make-up of the court suggests that the justices will interpret the Clean Air Act narrowly, it’s worth speculating for a moment on what would happen if a court majority formed in favor of CO2 regulation. Such a decision would be to the environmental movement what “Brown v. Board of Education” was to civil rights. In the aftermath, progressive elected officials or corporate leaders who had already moved to reduce carbon emissions would be hailed as far-sighted heroes. And the laggards in government and business would be scrambling to buy carbon offsets before the prices went too high.

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  1. Gary - July 19, 2006

    President Bush continues to push the outdated view that human-caused global warming — Bush believes in an outdated view? Surely you jest.

  2. Garth - July 19, 2006

    Its interesting that I just read an article (Ode magazine) about how lawyers may actually be the saviours of the environment… They are approaching the problem much like the problem of big tobacco, drawing a line between the effects of pollution on the health of citizens, and trying to hold the major offenders responsible. I’m not sure it will work, but it sounds interesting.

  3. Jessica - July 19, 2006

    Note that human-caused global warming is about as open to discussion as is evolution – and by the same parties.

  4. 1985 Gripen - July 19, 2006

    Playing devil’s advocate here, I don’t believe that it’s the Republicans in general who are the global warming deniers. It’s just this particular Administration. Republican John McCain is very realistic as far as climate change issues.
    Wait a couple of years. Bush will be termed-out and I don’t think ANY of the predicted Presidential candidates (of both parties) deny humans contribute to global warming. Things’ll get better. We just have to wait for Bush’s reign to end.

  5. pradwastes - July 19, 2006

    California at one time, not long ago, was able to regulate mobile sources of air polution as well as static sources. The EPA under Greorge W. took this to court and California is now only able to regulate static souces of polution. The amount of CO2 produced buy a car or truck is directly proportional to the amont of fuel that this vehicle uses. Only recently has this been a concern thanks to Al Gore and his movie. As Jessica Posted there there are many that believe Global Warming is an inconvenient lie.
    I only hope they are not most of the Supreme Court Justices.

  6. Adam - July 20, 2006

    While I am a big fan of environmental issues and would love to see a political and popular shift in this country’s oil dependency, I would be shocked if this lawsuit were to have any impact on policies or the law. It brings attention to the issues, but if the petitioners lose, then it will be a signal to politicians that there is nothing to be gained by backing a bill calling for the U.S. to become energy-independent, or less dependant upon petroleum and other carbon-based fuel. I see this lawsuit as high-risk and marginal-reward.

  7. Josh - December 20, 2006

    Well, personally i think it’s about time that this, our country gets out of it’s 100+ Year old slavery on oil dependency once and for all. After all, much of the funds that were used to plan and execute the 9/11 attacks came about through countries with high output of Oil such as Iran and ofcourse Osama. I personally live in one of the two most poluted cities in all of the U.S. a town called Bakersfield, near L.A. and it sickens me that a “normal” day for people in this town is day in which you can’t even seen the near by mountaines do the the metric tones of Corbon Dioxcide produced by Highway 99 and 178, as well as the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Oil rigs in kern County. I don’t know about you guys but i trully wouden’t want to leave a world to my children were Ashma, Lung and Skin Cancer are seen as an every day result do to our stupid dependency on foreign as well as domestic oil.