Alaska fights global warming lawsuit

State opposes effort that aims to reduce vehicle emissions

Posted: Monday, January 01, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A dozen states are in court trying to force the federal government to reduce automobile emissions that contribute to global warming, but Alaska, where the effects are most apparent, is not one of them.

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In fact, Alaska has joined Michigan in fighting the case.

The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Led last month by Massachusetts, the states seeking reduced auto emissions argued that the Bush administration has failed to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

Alaska joined seven other states to argue that Congress has not given the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski chose to enter the landmark case on the side of Michigan and the auto industry, even though Alaska, the only state in the Arctic, is seeing the effects, such as melting permafrost, changes in the boreal forest, and disappearing ocean ice that affects polar bears and other marine mammals.

A spokesman for the state Department of Law decline to comment on how the state arrived at its legal position.

"We never talk about the deliberation process," said department spokesman Mark Morones.

The Bush administration argues that global warming is an international problem beyond the reach of existing federal laws. Industry groups such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers take the same position.

Urging greater federal controls were Massachusetts, California, New York, Washington and eight other states, along with several major cities and environmental groups.

The Alaska argument does not dispute the science surrounding global warming.

"In this case, there is no dispute that global climate change is caused by emissions from around the world," Alaska's position said.

But the Alaska-backed legal brief said reducing emissions from new vehicles would eliminate "only a small fraction of global greenhouse emissions," most of which come from abroad.

An important issue in the oral argument in November was whether states have standing to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's decision on carbon dioxide, and whether they could show "tangible and imminent danger."

"I mean, when is the predicted cataclysm?" asked Justice Antonin Scalia of the lawyer representing Massachusetts.

The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council was allowed to contribute a friend-of-the-court brief on the opposite side from the state that spoke to the question. The tribes' brief cited scientific studies showing temperatures increasing in the Arctic at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world, with effects on animals and subsistence.

"While regulating greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles would be only the first step toward addressing potentially catastrophic climate change, it is necessary if the unique traditions and communities of Alaska's Native peoples are to survive this century," wrote Trustees for Alaska lawyer Frances Raskin in a brief for the tribes and other Alaska Native organizations.

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