Thursday, August 31, 2006

Powerful Coalition Petitions Supreme Court to Order EPA to Obey the Law

Sierra Club, Nineteen States and Cities, and Numerous Others

File Opening Briefs Seeking Enforcement of Clean Air Act

(Washington, DC)--Today a vast coalition of the Sierra Club, states, cities, political leaders, other environmental groups, and utilities filed opening briefs with the Supreme Court in the most far-reaching global warming case to be heard by the nation’s highest court. The Court’s decision in the case, Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al., could have a potentially decisive impact on federal, state, and local efforts to tackle global warming. The Sierra Club, the twelve states involved, and the numerous other petitioners have taken this case to the high court to force EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act’s provisions requiring it to regulate any air pollutant that "endanger[s] public health or welfare."

"For six years, the Bush administration and its friends in Congress have fought tooth and nail to avoid doing anything to fight global warming," commented Carl Pope, Sierra Club’s Executive Director. "We cannot wait for EPA to start following the law and take the important steps it must to fight global warming. We are confident that the Court will tell EPA to stop making excuses and rewriting the law as the administration sees fit and start working to protect the American people."

A Wide Coalition of Groups Come Together to Fight EPA’s Refusal to Protect the Public

This case has brought together a powerful coalition that is committed to compelling EPA to follow the law. Because the case includes a challenge by the auto industry and others to the strict clean car laws enacted by California (and subsequently adopted by eleven other states), those states (Ore, Wash., Conn., Ill., N.M., Maine, Vt., N.J., N.Y., R.I., and Mass.) are also party to the case. Joining those states are New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The Sierra Club, International Center for Technology Assessment, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have been leading the coalition of thirteen environmental groups that are also parties to the case.

"The City of New York is proud to have joined in this appeal as part of my commitment to heed science - not political science - and try to counteract global warming," said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "Climate change, rising sea levels, and increased storm surges attributable to growing greenhouse gas emissions put New Yorkers and New York's infrastructure at risk and pose serious challenges for our City's future. Global warming threatens New York City and every city, and it is our duty to use this case and every other opportunity we have to prevent the situation from getting even worse."

A similarly impressive coalition has also joined the case as amici/friends of the court. Six additional states (Ariz., Iowa, Minn., Wis., Md., and Del.), as well the U.S. Conference of Mayors are part of this group. Understanding that market uncertainty represents a significant threat to their business, two utilities--Calpine and Entergy--have also joined. The other amici include a diverse array of groups and individuals, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, four former EPA administrators, Alaska tribal groups, hunter and angler groups, religious groups, the Aspen Skiing Company, and many others.

EPA Plays Word Games with the Clean Air Act

The case hinges on EPA’s specious claim that the Clean Air Act does not give it the authority to regulate global warming pollutants like carbon dioxide--and, as a backup, that even if it did that it would not be a good idea. As the petitioners’ brief states, this argument is clearly contradicted by the plain language found in the statute. The statute explicitly states that effects on "weather...and climate" are two of the many criteria that define a negative impact on the public’s welfare. The petitioners’ brief also assails the EPA for attempting to rewrite the law by misdefining or redefining various terms within the statute, including simple words such as "any," "including," and "climate."

"Global warming clearly poses an extraordinary danger to public health and welfare," said David Bookbinder, Sierra Club Senior Attorney. "The Clean Air Act makes it quite clear that greenhouse gases are pollutants and that EPA must take steps to protect the public’s health and welfare from air pollutants. We are not asking for radical action by the Court; we are simply asking it to make EPA to live up to its obligations under the law."

History and Background of the Case

This case has been working its way through the courts since 2002. In 1998, the EPA’s General Counsel found that it had the authority to regulate CO2 as an air pollutant. The CTA, Sierra Club and a coalition of groups then petitioned the EPA in 1999 to set emissions limits for CO2. The EPA failed to respond after 3 years, resulting in the 2002 lawsuit. After the EPA issued a decision denying the petition to regulate CO2, the case moved to the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. An odd 2-1 decision in favor of the EPA--with one judge concurring simply because since global warming impacts everyone, the Sierra Club et al. could not establish standing due to "particularized injury"--was issued in July 2001. The Sierra Club and the other parties to the case appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case June 26, 2006.

In addition to EPA, a group of the usual suspects and some laggard states make up the respondents. Groups fighting to prevent action on global warming include: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealer’s Association, a coalition of electric utilities, and ten states (Texas, Mich., Utah, Idaho, N.D., S.D., Alaska, Kan., Neb., and Ohio).

Following today’s filings, oral arguments will likely be heard in December. A decision is expected in the spring.

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