Legal Challenges Pile Up Against EPA Climate Regulation

Legal Challenges Pile Up Against EPA Climate Regulation

Power plant -- image CC licensed by Flickr user Elite PhotoArt

A group of states, trade groups, politicians and companies have headed to court in a bid to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the greenhouse gas emissions most scientists blame for climate change.

The states of Alabama, Texas, and Virginia have filed lawsuits in federal court arguing that the EPA used flawed science when it concluded that greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change endanger public health. They also contend such regulations will wreak havoc on an already fragile economy.

Joining them in additional lawsuits are plaintiffs that include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Motor Trucking Association, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, Peabody Energy Co., the National Mining Association, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to the New York Times, a total of 16 lawsuits have been filed asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the EPA's endangerment finding. Parties have also petitioned the agency to ask that it reconsider the finding.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gas emissions could be considered air pollutants under the Clean Air Act definition, forcing the agency to reconsider its decision not to regulate emissions, as was the policy during the presidency of George W. Bush. The EPA formally declared greenhouse gas emissions a threat to public health in December.

The petitioners argue the EPA used the scientific findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the basis for the endangerment finding, rather than conducting its own assessment. 

"With billions of dollars at stake, EPA outsourced the scientific basis for its greenhouse gas regulation to a scandal-plagued international organization that cannot be considered objective or trustworthy," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in a statement Tuesday. "Prominent climate scientists associated with the International Panel on Climate Change were engaged in an ongoing, orchestrated effort to violate freedom of information laws, exclude scientific research, and manipulate temperature data. In light of the parade of controversies and improper conduct that has been uncovered, we know that the International Panel on Climate Change cannot be relied upon for objective, unbiased science,so EPA should not rely upon it to reach a decision that will hurt small businesses, farmers, ranchers, and the larger Texas economy."

Advocates counter the individual mishaps don't offset the sheer volume of scientific evidence that supports the hypothesis that human activity, mainly the combustion of fossil fuels, is causing the climate to change in potentially catastrophic ways.

"I think what you do see sometimes is that people who have an agenda that is directed toward undermining action on climate change grab whatever tidbit they can find and say, 'Look, there’s no climate change, it snowed last week in Washington, there’s no climate change.'" Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, said during a press briefing last week. "That kind of stuff is nonsense. And the exploiting of this or that mistake that might have occurred in some part of long reports that pull together a lot of scientific data, again, I think it needs to be seen for what it is, which is a deliberate attempt to undermine. The fundamentals haven’t changed."

President Barack Obama has repeatedly maintained his preference that Congress, rather than the EPA, take the lead in climate regulation. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate bill in June, but a separate bill introduced in late 2009 is stalled. At the same time, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are trying to hammer out a bill that will draw bipartisan support.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Elite PhotoArt.