A wide array of states, cities, and various public health and environmental organizations filed an opening brief today in one of the biggest clean air cases ever to come before the Supreme Court. The states and groups are asking the Court to require that the Environmental Protection Agency reconsider its refusal to limit harmful greenhouse gases from cars and other motor vehicles, which are contributing to global warming.
Global warming is the biggest environmental issue facing humanity. According to a 2001 National Research Council report cited by EPA itself, “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.” Impacts of this warming include inundation of coastal lands, increased incidence of severe weather conditions (including storms as well as drought), spread of infectious diseases, and disruption of ecosystems.
Despite mounting evidence of global warming and its impacts, the EPA under the Bush administration has consistently refused to set any limits on the pollutants responsible, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydroflourocarbons from motor vehicles. In particular, EPA in 2003 denied a petition by several public interest groups to limit these greenhouse gases. The agency claimed that the Clean Air Act did not authorize such limits, and even if it did, the agency would refuse to set them.
“Congress gave EPA its marching orders in the Clean Air Act, which requires EPA to protect us against dangers to ‘climate’ and ‘weather,'” said Earthjustice attorney Howard Fox. “By ducking its clear duty to take on the premier environmental issue of our time, EPA disrespects both the law and the people it is supposed to be serving.”
Fox and a Massachusetts assistant attorney general argued this case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2005. Following that court’s adverse ruling, Fox assisted Lisa Heinzerling and other co-counsel in preparing today’s Supreme Court brief. Earthjustice’s client in the case is Sierra Club, which is also represented by David Bookbinder (202-548-4598).
Beyond this case, Earthjustice also filed litigation earlier this year on behalf of Sierra Club and Environmental Defense, challenging EPA’s refusal to limit carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants from power plants and large coal-burning industrial facilities. Motor vehicles and power plants are the two largest contributors to global warming.
The Supreme Court case in which today’s brief is being filed is Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. USEPA, S. Ct. No. 05-1120. Petitioners include Massachusetts; California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maine; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont; Washington; the District of Columbia; American Samoa, New York City; Baltimore; the Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Food Safety; Conservation Law Foundation; Environmental Advocates; Environmental Defense; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; International Center for Technology Assessment; national Environmental Trust; Natural Resources Defense Council; Sierra Club; Union of Concerned Scientists; U.S. Public Interest Research Group.