Our Work

VNRC, NWF & Others Join Supreme Court Battle

WASHINGTON, DC (Aug. 31, 2006) — The National Wildlife Federation filed an amicus brief today on behalf of itself, VNRC and 72 other sporting and conservation organizations, state fish and game departments, professional fish and wildlife societies, zoos and aquariums and religious organizations in a first-ever case involving global warming to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

The case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, et al v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, centers on a 2003 EPA decision not to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles as pollution.

The case is the first global warming lawsuit to be argued before the nation’s highest court, and the ruling could have far-reaching implications for how the United States addresses its contribution to global warming. The crux of the case involves whether or not greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks should be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act due to their contribution to global warming.

“The government has a responsibility to regulate pollution, and scientific consensus is clear that global warming pollution from tailpipes is threatening wildlife and people,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We have a moral responsibility to future generations to address global warming now.”

“Vermont’s healthy ecosystems and wildlife habitats are the foundation of our economy,” said Elizabeth Courtney, Executive Director of Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and former Chair of the Vermont Environmental Board. “ Greenhouse gasses threaten the health of our communities, the maple industry, ski industry, hunting, fishing and agriculture. If we do not act now to address this problem, we will lose a generation of work to protect Vermont’s natural resources.”

The long list of wildlife and conservation groups involved in the case is unprecedented. Forty-three National Wildlife Federation state affiliates joined the brief, as did fish and game departments in California and Washington, the American Fisheries Society and The Wildlife Society, among others.

“This may indeed be the most diverse coalition ever to file an environmental amicus brief with the Supreme Court,” said John Kostyack, lead National Wildlife Federation counsel. “And we’re just one segment. Briefs in support of the petitioners are being filed by climate scientists, Alaska natives, energy technology companies, ski resorts, state and local governments, religious groups – you name it, and they’re probably weighing in on this case.”

The National Wildlife Federation brief highlights EPA’s Clean Air Act responsibility to regulate any air pollutant that may endanger public health or welfare, including wildlife.

The National Wildlife Federation brief outlines some of the most relevant scientific research to date on how global warming already is affecting wildlife and is expected to affect wildlife in the 21st Century. Some species, like the golden toad, already have gone extinct from changes in climate; others, like the polar bear, could be victims if current climate trends are not changed. In 2004, research published in Nature estimated that as many as one-third of species in some places are likely to go extinct due to global warming within about 50 years.

Fisheries, too, are represented in the brief. “Our coastal fisheries, in particular, are in jeopardy from sea-level rise caused by global warming,” said Jack Schempp, vice president of development for the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, another NWF affiliate. “Many coastal communities depend on the health of their commercial and recreational fishing industries. If the fisheries go away, so will generations of fishing families and the sport fishing industry that are the backbone of the local economy.”

“Wildlife species are often the early indicators of what’s happening to the planet,” Kostyack said. “We believe the court will benefit from the mounting body of research on the effects of global warming on wildlife. It’s clear that global warming pollution is harming the environment, and in turn will harm the economy. The EPA has a responsibility to regulate the pollution that is causing global warming. The good news is, the technology to make low-emission vehicles exists now, so auto manufacturers should be able to make them widely available.”

The Supreme Court agreed in June to hear the case during its next session, which begins in October. The court has not yet announced its schedule of oral arguments.

For a copy of the amicus brief and a complete list of the organizations, state agencies and professional societies that have added their names to it, go to www.vnrc.org or call:

VNRC at 802-223-2328 or NWF at 802-229-0650.