For Immediate Release
Environmental Groups Go to Court to Counter Virginia Attorney General's Effort to Block Action on Climate Change
WASHINGTON - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's
challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that
greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare is an unwarranted
stall tactic, and a dangerous distraction from grappling with the
damaging impacts of climate change already in evidence in coastal
Virginia, said two environmental groups in a filing with the
U.S.Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Norfolk-based
Wetlands Watch, late yesterday filed a motion to intervene on the side
of the EPA in the attorney general's lawsuit against the agency, filed
last month. The overwhelming body of scientific evidence going back
several decades supporting EPA's determination that carbon dioxide and
other greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health, coupled with the
long-standing practice of courts deferring to agencies on matters
within their areas of expertise, render the legal merits of
Cuccinelli's challenge highly questionable, said SELC senior
attorney Morgan Butler.
"It's disturbing that our state attorney general chooses to challenge
the mountain of evidence, considering the number of Virginia
businesses and residents experiencing firsthand the consequences from
rising sea level and other impacts of a changing global climate,"
"Ask anyone trying to get insurance on their home or business in
tidewater if something is changing. Ask long-time residents how
high the floodwaters rose in their grandparents' time, and where the
last floods reached," said Skip Stiles, executive director with
Wetlands Watch. Stiles said that over the last century, Virginia has
had the highest rate of sea-level rise of any Atlantic coast state,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Virginia stands to lose 50-80% of its remaining tidal wetlands, much
of its oceanfront, and hundreds of square miles of low-lying land from
predicted rates of sea level rise, he said.
Clay Lory, a long-time owner and resident of tidal waterfront property
on a peninsula surrounded by the waters of the Lafayette River in
Norfolk, is a declarant in the motion. "The scientific calculations of
the rise of water levels this century does not bode well for my
property, Norfolk, or for eastern Virginia. I am very concerned about
the actions of Attorney General Cuccinelli in his attempt to stall and
prevent the EPA from taking immediate action to reduce the levels of
manmade greenhouse gases."
Following a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases meet
the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants, the EPA began the
process of determining whether they endanger public health and
welfare, as required by the law. The agency reviewed a voluminous
amount of scientific data and considered some 380,000 public comments
on the issue, and in December announced a final determination that
greenhouse gases contribute to a changing climate, with consequences
such as severe flooding from sea level rise, more intense storms, and
increased ground-level ozone that threaten public health.
At his press conference last month, Cuccinelli made much of being
among the first states to file a legal challenge against the federal
government on this issue, and cited the controversy over leaked emails
of a handful of climate scientists as his reason for questioning the
EPA's endangerment finding. In so doing, Cuccinelli is undercutting
his own state's effort to examine how climate change is affecting
Virginia's citizens and economy, and to identify actions the state and
localities should take to address it.
"Mr. Cuccinelli is taking a politicized, polarizing position, when we
should be focusing on solutions," said Trip Pollard, director of
SELC's Land & Community Program and a member of the 2008
Governor's Commission on Climate Change. "We may not know every detail
about climate change, but the evidence we have makes it clear we must
act-especially since reducing these emissions will also promote energy
independence, a healthier environment, and new jobs."
The last time Virginia took EPA to court to challenge its authority
under the Clean Air Act, it lost, at taxpayers' expense. In the
1990s, the state attorney general sued EPA in an attempt to preserve
unlawful restrictions on citizens' right to challenge certain state
permitting decisions. The attorney general's office lost in the
4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and its petition for U.S. Supreme Court
review was denied. Such legal fights can cost between
Prior to Cuccinelli's lawsuit on February 16, the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and others had already challenged the EPA finding, and more
than a dozen states and several environmental groups have moved to
intervene on EPA's side. Texas and Alabama also filed challenges the
same day as Virginia, and now numerous states have asked to intervene
on that side. Yesterday was the deadline to file motions to intervene.
The cases have been consolidated by the DC Circuit. If granted
intervenor status by the court, SELC and others will be full parties
to the litigation.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using
the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the
Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and
Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent
more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy,
air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands,
transportation, and land use.