Spurred by environmental activists -- who feel Congress or the Bush administration has failed to act on global warming -- the state of Massachusetts told the court that its coastline would be threatened by EPA inaction, and California, New York and several U.S. states backed Massachusetts' suit to force the EPA to regulate vehicle exhaust emissions.
The EPA claims that, under federal law, it does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. If it did have that authority, the agency said it would not do so because unilateral regulation across the United States would weaken the nation's bargaining position during international emission reduction negotiations, and the science that backs global warming is in doubt. A Bush administration official defended the EPA's position.
A federal appeals court issued a ruling on the case, but it was not unanimous. According to some conservative justices, Massachusetts had insufficient proof that the danger to its coastline was pressing and that limiting exhaust emissions would have a significant enough effect to justify the suit. The majority of the judges upheld the EPA's position, but one judge found that the EPA had the authority to refuse greenhouse gas regulation and another judge found that Massachusetts had no right to bring the lawsuit in the first place. The Supreme Court case is centered on this latter question, with several liberal justices supporting Massachusetts' suit.
Justice Anthony Kennedy has the swing vote, but has yet to reveal his position on the case. The court also stands divided over whether the EPA's reasons for refusing greenhouse gas regulation were legitimate and whether it had the authority to refuse responsibility in the first place. A ruling is expected sometime next year.
"It depends what happens across the globe," said Chief Justice John Roberts, adding that China's rapid, coal-fire-driven economic growth might counteract any reduction in U.S. emissions.
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