Supreme Court grills Massachusetts, EPA in global warming case

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman is on-site for two important cases being argued at the U.S. Supreme Court today. He phoned in his quick take on the EPA case:

The first, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is a lawsuit brought by a group of state attorneys general, trying to force the EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The AGs aim to have CO2 emissions reduced and thus impede global warming.

Massachusetts went first. They got a lot of questions on standing from the justices: the states must show specific harm to themselves (from CO2 emissions) and that the harm would be redressed by the relief sought by the states. I don’t think Massachusetts did all too well under questioning. They were getting hammered with questions. An old case called SCRAP (United States v. SCRAP (1973)) is used by courts to establish standing in environment cases. One judge called that case “the far margin” of their standing cases. It’s possible the court will use the current case to re-address standing in environment cases and possibly cut back on it (if they rule against Massachusetts). The state was also questioned on why the EPA should not be able to prioritize issues and decide to address other matters before dealing with risks associated with CO2 emissions. There were also some questioning concerning the scientific uncertainty surrounding global warming.

When EPA got up, the agency had the same science questions thrown at them as well. One justice asked whether some scientists have engaged in selective citing of only certain portions of global warming reports. The EPA attorney referred to the amicus brief filed by CEI on behalf of a group of scientists with expertise in climate sciences. The brief disputes claims of global warming catastrophe made by Massachusetts and the other states involved in the case.

EPA got hammered quite a bit, as some justices spent time talking about issues that weren’t relevant. EPA argued that Congress never gave it authority to regulate CO2, and, even if it had, it would not be appropriate for the EPA to exercise that authority now. The justices queried the EPA on its shift in position since the Clinton administration, but agencies are probably within their right to change their mind.

I would predict that the EPA will win on the basis of Massachusetts not having standing. Moreover, even if EPA were to act on regulating CO2, the result would only be a minor reduction in emissions over the coming years. After all, it would take years to manufacture and sell new cars that have reduced CO2 emissions.