08/29/2011 11:10 am ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011

Fossil Fuels v. EPA: Europeans Join the Fray

Today I'm writing about one of the most important cases before the U.S. courts this year. Called Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, it is being argued before the federal Court of Appeals in Washington. It will decide whether the U.S. Government can regulate greenhouse gases.

Because Congress has failed to act, U.S. climate policies are now often determined in court. Although these cases have so far involved domestic interests, their outcomes affect the rest of the world.

Europe, with the world's largest market economy, is a leader in addressing climate change. Injecting a European perspective into U.S. courts could help convince U.S. judges that climate change is an urgent priority and that greenhouse gas reductions are compatible with sustainable economic growth.

In 2007, the Supreme Court said in Massachusetts v. EPA that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. This was an epochal ruling. Because no new climate change legislation will get through Congress any time soon, this power provides the only route for the federal government to act against climate change.

The EPA has now proposed greenhouse gas rules. Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry (represented by the Coalition for Responsible Regulation) sued to have the rules struck down.

On August 25th, my organization ClientEarth took the historic step of bringing the European perspective to the U.S. courts. Supported by Friends of Earth Europe, Birdlife Europe, and Transport & Environment, we submitted the first ever amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief by European organisations in a U.S. environmental case.

The key question in the case is: do greenhouse gas emissions threaten U.S. human health and welfare? The science clearly points to a 'yes'. If the court agrees with the EPA on this answer, the power of the agency to act will be affirmed.

However, the issues at stake here have truly global implications. Climate change will have similar impacts in the U.S. and Europe -- rising sea levels, acidified oceans and declines in marine life, altered weather and related impacts to food production, and health impacts. European information on and studies of these impacts strongly back up the EPA endangerment finding. The court's decision will affect Europe's citizens, along with everyone else. We're submitting our brief to make sure the courts hear that all people outside of the U.S. have an interest in the case's outcome.

A second issue concerns the economic impacts of reducing carbon emissions. While the EPA has been careful to base its finding in the science of climate change, rather than the economics, the fossil fuel interests present a consistent drumbeat of dire economic predictions if greenhouse gases are regulated. Europe demonstrates that these predictions are false and overblown.

The European Union began regulating greenhouse gases in 2005 and put in place an emissions trading system. During this period the average annual growth rate of EU GDP has been about 1.05% and eco-industries are one of the most dynamic sectors of the European economy, growing at around 5% per year.

Reducing greenhouse gases is and will be a source of jobs and economic growth in the EU and the U.S. We are allies whose differences and similarities have historically complimented one another.

A shared response to our common experience of climate change will only serve to make us stronger and more prosperous in the future. And this is what we are telling the Court of Appeals.