The US Supreme Court has agreed to decide a dispute over whether
the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate
emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases said to be
contributing to global warming.
The high court listed the case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v.
US Environmental Protection Agency, among five cases it agreed on
Monday to decide in its next term that begins in October.
The action sets the stage for what could be a major ruling on the
scope of federal power to protect the environment. At issue is a
1999 effort to force the EPA to attack global warming with its
The agency balked, saying the Clean Air Act did not grant it
authorization to undertake a regulatory program with such
potentially massive implications for the US economy and foreign
policy. In addition, the EPA said that even if the Clean Air Act did
authorize action on the issue, the agency nonetheless has the
discretion to await the conclusion of ongoing scientific studies
before moving forward.
A divided appeals court panel in Washington, D.C., upheld the
agency's position in a ruling issued last July.
The petition urging EPA action was filed by attorneys general
from 12 states, and lawyers for three cities, a US territory, and
various environmental groups.
"The question of whether and to what extent this nation should be
addressing global climate change is one of the most important public
health and welfare issues of the twenty-first century, with
extraordinary implications for present and future generations of
Americans," writes James Milkey, an assistant Massachusetts attorney
general, in his appeal asking the Supreme Court to take up the case.
"We believe that the science is clear that EPA should act."
The Bush administration disagrees. Administration lawyers told
the high court that the attorneys general and others lack standing
to bring the legal action. They further argue that the Clean Air Act
does not empower the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, and that it
was a reasonable exercise of agency discretion for the EPA to
decline to take up the issue prior to additional scientific study.
"EPA reasonably concluded that the term 'air pollution agent' as
used in the regulatory provisions (of the Clean Air Act) cannot be
interpreted to encompass global climate change," writes US Solicitor
General Paul Clement, in his brief urging the high court to reject
the case. …