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If you don’t have your eye on this court case, it’s worth reading up on. Several cities and states, including California, will make arguments Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court about why carbon dioxide – a major byproduct of a car engine’s combustion – should be regulated as a pollutant. The states have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking for the increased regulation in light of our planet’s human-induced warming. The case is known as Massachusetts vs. EPA.

In our warming world, this is a landmark case: The first time the Supreme Court has heard arguments about climate change and its human causes.

The Christian Science Monitor gives a descriptive overview of the issues at hand:

Seven years ago, [several states] asked the EPA to get involved – to take an initial step in response to scientific evidence that suggests greenhouse gases are causing global warming.

The agency refused, saying there were too many unresolved questions about the causes and effects of global warming. The state officials took their case to court, charging that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take immediate action.

On Wednesday, the dispute arrives at the US Supreme Court, where the justices must decide whether the EPA is required to take action or whether the agency retains the discretion to decide for itself how best to respond to world-wide environmental threats.

The case will test the authority of special interest groups and state governments to sue federal agencies and force them to adopt certain regulatory policies that they favor. The case could also establish important legal precedents that might help or hinder state efforts to regulate greenhouses gases on their own in the absence of federal action.

The Monitor’s story takes a step back with this context:

On a broader level, the case raises questions about the role of the judiciary in resolving litigation over regulatory policy arguments. Should judges defer to controversial decisions made by administrative agencies on whether or when to pass regulations? Or should judges aggressively enforce what they see as the underlying purpose of statutes that govern agencies?

The San Francisco Chronicle examines whether the court’s finding, which is expected next summer, could lead to a ban of SUV sales in California. The auto industry says it could; environmentalists say it would not.

The Chronicle reports:

The auto industry said Monday that lawsuits over vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions could eventually force manufacturers to eliminate big SUVs from the market in California, an assertion denied by environmental attorneys and the state air quality board.

“If we lost (in court),” said Dave Barthmuss, General Motors’ spokesman for environmental and energy affairs, “certain vehicles could not be offered for sale – vehicles that consume more fuel than others. There would be fewer SUVs and we might not be able to offer them for sale in California. It could spell the end of the big SUV in California.”

At the California Air Resources Board, however, spokesman Jerry Martin said the 2002 law in question cannot force the auto industry to reduce the size of its vehicles or to abandon any models it wants to keep selling.

ROB DAVIS

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