The justices agreed to review a US appeals court ruling that the US Environmental Protection Agency does not have to regulate the vehicle emissions blamed by most scientists for global warming.
The ruling could be one of the court’s most important ever on the environment and could determine how the nation addresses global warming.
Spurred by states in a pollution battle with the Bush administration, the court says it will decide whether the EPA is required under the federal clean air law to treat carbon dioxide from automobiles as a pollutant harmful to health.
Bush favours new technologies
President George W. Bush has rejected calls by environmentalists and some lawmakers in Congress to regulate carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping “greenhouse” gas going into the atmosphere.
Mr Bush favours voluntary actions and development of new technologies to curtail such emissions.
But a dozen states argued that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping chemicals from automobile tailpipes should be treated as unhealthy pollutants.
The appeal involved Baltimore, New York City and Washington DC, along with California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The Bush administration, ten other states and a group representing electric generating companies opposed the appeal.
The EPA said the agency “is confident in its decision” not to regulate the chemical under the federal Clean Air Act and plans to argue its case vigorously before the high court.
High court review ‘encouraging’
Critics argue that carbon emissions have continued to increase – though the rate of increase has declined – and only regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will stem the amount going into the atmosphere.
“It is encouraging that the high court feels this case needs to be reviewed,” said Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who has campaigned in Congress to regulate carbon dioxide.
“It is high time to stop relying on technicalities and finger pointing to avoid action on climate change.”
The Bush administration maintains that unlike other chemicals that must be controlled to ensure healthy air, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is not a dangerous pollutant under the federal law.
Officials argue, even if carbon dioxide is a pollutant, the EPA has discretion over whether to regulate it, considering the economic costs involved.
The Supreme Court agreed to take the case after a divided lower court sided with the administration. Arguments will be late this year, with a ruling by next June.