ESA Statement on Massachusetts et al. vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) argument in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Massachusetts et al. vs. U.S. EPA et al. that it would not regulate carbon dioxide due in part to scientific uncertainty, Alan Covich, President of the Ecological Society of America, the nation’s premier scientific society of ecological scientists, expressed dismay over the agency’s disregard for the widespread scientific consensus on the facts and effects of climate change. Covich said, “ESA strongly supports the scientific arguments regarding the certainty of climate change made by Massachusetts et al. as legitimate and accurate.”
The case currently before the Supreme Court was brought by a group of states, cities, and nonprofits that argued that, under the Clean Air Act (CAA), carbon dioxide is a pollutant and contributor to climate change and as such, the EPA must regulate carbon dioxide emissions. EPA argues, however, that it does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and even if it had, the agency would not regulate carbon dioxide due in part to scientific uncertainty. The court’s decision will determine whether the CAA mandates that EPA regulate carbon dioxide, which may be a watershed decision for US action regarding climate change.
The CAA states that absolute scientific certainty is not necessary for regulation of a pollutant. Instead, the pollutant must “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” [Section 202(a)(1)] In arguing that carbon dioxide cannot reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare due to scientific uncertainty, EPA chose only the points highlighting the absence of certainty from the 2001 National Research Council Report on climate change, but disregarded a general scientific consensus that climate change is indeed occurring. While certain facets of climate are less certain than others, current scientific understanding verifies and supports the following statements:
Although current scientific understanding, by definition, constantly changes, these statements represent the latest information and are supported by a wide group of climate scientists. Many other scientific bodies, including the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Geological Society of America (GSA), and the joint National Academies of Science (NAS), have issued similar statements:
Said Covich, “Communication and widespread awareness of climate change information remains essential not only to conservation of natural resources, but also to the general well-being of the nation. The recognition of these facts by the Court in Massachusetts et al. vs. U.S. EPA et al. will provide significant support to the certainty of climate change that the administration cannot ignore.”
The Ecological Society of America is the world's largest professional organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United States and around the globe. Since its founding in 1915, ESA has promoted the responsible application of ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress. ESA publishes four print journals and one online-only, open-access journal Ecosphere and convenes an annual scientific conference. Visit the ESA website at www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at www.esa.org/pao/rrt.
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