Global Warming Debate Heats Up in High Court

January 1, 2007 – In The News
N.J. State Bar Foundation's The Legal Eagle

The landmark global warming case, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, has come before the U.S. Supreme Court, addressing the issue of who should be responsible for regulating the emission of certain gases linked to global warming.

The Legal Case: A Summary

The case brings to light a broad range of issues surrounding global warming, including the question of environmental protection versus economics.

In other words, David Restaino explains, “What’s better for your people—cleaning the environment or providing them with a decent wage and a decent job?”

What Will the Court Do?

The answer, says Restaino could be one of a number of things.

First, the Court may consider whether the state governments have “standing,” meaning do they have the right to sue for the relief they are requesting. If the Court decides the plaintiffs do not have standing, then the case is closed.

If standing is established, however, the Court would then likely consider whether carbon dioxide is an “air pollutant,” Restaino said. In such instances, Restaino points out that it is not uncommon for the Court to defer the question to an expert, which in this case would presumably be the EPA. Again, if they were to do this, then this particular case would be over, Restaino says.

Regardless of how the Court rules in this particular case, Restaino suggested that the issues raised are probably not going to go away.

For those who may be frustrated by the delays that are inherent in the process, Restaino points out that Massachusetts v. EPA offers a real-life example of our government in action, working in a deliberative manner with checks and balances from the various branches.

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