Azara Blog: US government sued over greenhouse gas emissions

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Date published: 2005/04/09

The BBC says:

Twelve US states, three cities and several prominent environmental groups told a court on Friday that the United States government had a legal duty to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

They said the Clean Air Act mandated the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate all emissions which damaged human welfare.

The hearing was the latest step in a battle dating back to 1999, before George W Bush came to power.

A number of other states, together with bodies representing industry, oppose the case, which would if successful force a policy U-turn from the Bush administration.

In 1999, a coalition of 19 environmental groups petitioned the EPA, asking it to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from motor vehicles, describing them as "pollutants".

Four years later, under threat of legal action, the EPA responded by denying the petition.

"Congress has not granted EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases for climate change purposes", it said at the time.

That interpretation is disputed by the parties behind Friday's court hearing.

"This case is about the EPA ignoring its responsibilities," said Massachusetts Assistant Attorney-General James Milkey, who is leading the plaintiffs' legal team.

"Since September 2003, it has hidden behind this claim that it doesn't have to regulate; in fact the Clean Air Act defines 'pollution' in a way that does include greenhouse gases and includes effects on climate."

Following that EPA decision, 13 environmental groups filed a case in the US Court of Appeals asking for a review; its wording only covers vehicle emissions, but the plaintiffs say that if successful it would automatically be extended to other sources of greenhouse gases.

Those 13 initial groups have since been joined by the authorities of states, cities and US overseas territories; many have submitted written evidence to the Court of Appeals, the second-highest tier in the American judicial system, and on Friday they presented oral arguments and answered questions from the three judges hearing the case.

How American, everything comes down to lawsuits, and as with most American lawsuits, this could drag on for years and years. On the other hand, the courts and the States are the last stumbling block between the Republican extremists governing the country and effective dictatorship. (This is perhaps why a Republican Senator from Texas recently threatened that judges would be killed if they did not tow the Bush line. Political opponents they can deal with otherwise.)

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