Tough Act to Follow: As the Federal Government Wrestles with Its Role in Controlling Greenhouse Gases, One State Hasn't Hesitated to Attack Global Warming

Article excerpt

Massachusetts is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to force regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in a case that is before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether the Clean Air Act requires EPA to control these gases, which contribute to global warming. States are split on either side of the issue in Massachusetts v. EPA, with 11 states siding with Massachusetts and 10 with the federal government.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to "prescribe ... standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from ... new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in [EPA's] judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." EPA contends that this language does not require it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions because any standards "will not meaningfully address an air quality issue like global climate change, which is caused primarily by ... emissions from outside of the United States."

EPA also argues that the petitioners lack legal standing to sue because they have not suffered a particular injury that can be remedied by the court. The petitioners counter that left unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions will cause global warming that will trigger rising sea levels, reducing states' coastlines and increasing flooding. If the high court determines that there is no standing, it need not consider any other arguments. But if it concludes that the petitioners have standing, it can decide whether or not EPA has the authority to regulate emissions. The final decision is expected in June.

Regardless what the Court decides, several states have taken the initiative and adopted policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions (see April 2006 issue of State Legislatures). The most sweeping new legislation passed in California last session. …