Federal court rejects Virginia attorney general's effort to block climate action
A federal court has rejected Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that unregulated greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to human health and safety.
In an opinion issued yesterday, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously upheld the EPA's legal authority to limit industrial carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Cuccinelli and other challengers had questioned the science behind the action.
"EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question," the judges wrote.
The endangerment finding was challenged by more than 60 lawsuits brought by companies, business groups, and states including Virginia and Texas. Cuccinelli played a leading role in the states' action.
Cuccinelli (in photo) told the Daily Press that he plans to petition the Supreme Court to review the case.
The appeals court ruling came just two days after the release of a U.S. Geological Survey report finding that sea level is rising much faster along the East Coast than elsewhere -- particularly in Virginia, where residents are dealing with more frequent flooding as a result. Climate change causes seas to rise through thermal expansion and melting ice.
As part of the same ruling, the appeals court also upheld EPA's clean car standards and its permitting requirements for industrial facilities that are major emitters of greenhouse gases.
The EPA issued its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases in December 2009 following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.
In February 2010, a month after taking office as Virginia's Republican Attorney General, Cuccinelli filed a request with the EPA asking it to reconsider its finding. He also filed for judicial review, stating, "We cannot allow unelected bureaucrats with political agendas to use falsified data to regulate American industry and drive our economy into the ground."
Cuccinelli was referencing the so-called "Climategate" affair that came to light in November 2009 with the unauthorized release of thousands of emails and other documents through the hacking of a server used by a climate research center at the University of East Anglia in England. Climate science deniers claimed the documents showed scientists -- including former University of Virginia professor Michael Mann, now at Penn State -- manipulating data. However, multiple investigations confirmed the soundness of the science and exonerated the accused scientists of any wrongdoing.
In April 2010 Cuccinelli continued his crusade targeting climate science, serving a civil investigative demand on the University of Virginia seeking documents related to Mann. Cuccinelli targeted the scientist under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act -- a move that was widely criticized and that an attorney for the American Association of University Professors said had "echoes of McCarthyism." A Virginia judge dismissed the investigation, but Cuccinelli appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Cuccinelli has been joined in his attack on Mann by the American Tradition Institute, a conservative group that was the target of a Facing South investigation, which documented the organization's financial ties to fossil-fuel interests.
Cuccinelli, who served in the Virginia Senate from 2002 to 2010, is seeking the Republican nomination for Virginia governor in 2013. His campaign website promotes his fight "against constitutional and illegal overreaches" by the EPA and other federal authorities. Among the industries that were major contributors to his campaign for attorney general were mining, energy, and oil and gas -- all of which have a financial interest in blocking greenhouse gas regulations.
Norfolk, Va.-based Wetlands Watch submitted a friend-of-the-court brief defending the EPA's endangerment finding, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“We can’t afford to debate this any longer," Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, said following the ruling. "We hope today’s decision will put a rest to Mr. Cuccinelli's attempts to undercut the efforts of many communities in his own state to address this growing challenge."
(Photo of Ken Cuccinelli by Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia.)
Sue is the editorial director of Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies.