A federal appeals court today upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health, rejecting challenges filed by Virginia, several other states and industry groups.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals sided unanimously with the EPA, which has come under fire from Republicans and industry groups for its rules limiting emissions from vehicles and stationary sources. The appeals court ruled that the federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set emissions limits once the agency determines that the emissions are harmful.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The court said it would allow the EPA to move forward ‘even if the degree of regulation triggered might at a later stage be characterized as ‘absurd,’” said Cuccinelli, who has challenged the science behind global warming. “In doing so, the court evidently believed it was compelled to arrive at that decision because of the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA.”
The Massachusetts case led to the EPA’s endangerment finding that Cuccinelli has challenged. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was Massachusetts’ governor when the 2007 case was decided, but he now rails against the regulatory policies of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Cuccinelli contends that the appellate court’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act goes beyond what the Supreme Court intended in its 2007 decision.
“I do not believe the Supreme Court intended to compel such a destructive interpretation of the Clean Air Act,” Cuccinelli said. “And because only the Supreme Court can clarify its prior ruling, Virginia intends to petition the Supreme Court to review the case.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented Norfolk-based Wetlands Watch in the case, hailed the court’s decision as a victory for “sound science.”
“This decision means Virginians can move past the ginned-up ‘Climategate’ controversy and refocus on how to solve the serious harms that are already underway from rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change,” said SELC senior attorney Morgan Butler. “Taking actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions will not only benefit our vulnerable coastal communities, but will also promote energy independence, a healthier environment, and new jobs.”
Cuccinelli noted that the appeals court also upheld the EPA’s use of United Nations-generated climate data that he considers suspect. The court ruled that the EPA “is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”
“Given the uncertain nature of the scientific evidence to begin with, a number of plaintiffs contended that when the Climategate scandal threw the science further into question, the EPA was required by law to reconsider its endangerment finding and reopen the record for additional public comment,” Cuccinelli said. “Instead, the EPA rejected reconsideration and unilaterally changed its finding without public participation. Virginia intends to appeal that, as well.”
Cuccinelli earlier this year lost a lengthy court fight with the University of Virginia over his demand for records dealing with the work of former university professor and climate scientist Michael Mann. The attorney general sought the documents under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Cuccinelli did not have the authority to issue a “civil investigative demand” to a state agency under the fraud statute.
Cuccinelli tied his demand for records to a controversy that erupted in 2009, when emails stolen from a British university were used by global warming skeptics to argue that climate change research had been manipulated. Multiple inquiries have produced no findings that Mann manipulated data.
– Michael Sluss