The U.S. Supreme Court heard a major climate-change case last month that should be getting more attention. It appears that the Justices may rule that the Environmental Protection Agency, rather than the courts, should address greenhouse-gas emissions from major power plants. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had this to say which gives a good indication how she is thinking:
Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and the relief you’re seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case — American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut — which has pitted five major power companies and the federally-operated Tennessee Valley Authority against six states, New York City and a few private land trusts. The states are suing the companies for emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases, arguing the emissions harm public health. The issues before the High Court are:
• whether the states’ lawsuit is overtaken, or “displaced,” by EPA climate regulations; and
• whether the courts should weigh in on the issue at all, or leave it to the executive and legislative branches of government.
The case deals with a series of big-picture issues that have come to the forefront of U.S. politics as the EPA begins to implement climate rules and Republicans and some Democrats in Congress seek to block or limit the agency’s authority to do so. The case comes after the Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that greenhouse-gas emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if the EPA found they endanger public health and welfare. One of the arguments made by a lawyer representing one of the Plaintiffs sounds much like what is being said by some who base their arguments in other arenas on states’ rights. It was said:
This case rests on the longstanding fundamental authority of the States to protect their land, their natural resources and their citizens from air pollution emitted in other States.
It will be most interesting to see how the Court rules. Most Court observers believe Justice Ginsburg’s view will be that of the majority.
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