Climate Change on Trial: Which Way Is the Swing Vote Leaning?

The Obama administration is on trial in the Supreme Court for its greenhouse gas emissions policy, but so far the court has been largely split on the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote for the case, and it’s unclear on which side he’ll fall. Conservatives amongst the nine judges find the the Environmental Protection Agency’s moves problematic, while liberals for the most part back it, Reuters reports.

Kennedy may not be ready to announce his position as of yet, but he did speak critically on the policy and argued with  Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who represents the Obama administration, saying that he “can’t find a single precedent that strongly supports your position,” per Reuters. The specific issue being addressed is the EPA’s threshold on emissions for various industries under the guise of the Clean Air Act.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court finds in this particular case, it will only prevent action on one small front, leaving numerous of pathways open for regulation. Based on the rhetoric from his administration recently, it seems likely that President Barack Obama will be continuing work on an emissions policy.

You really only have to look at the extensive science to understand that climate change is one of the one, two, or three biggest challenges facing this planet,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a talk in Jakarta, Indonesia. “That’s why I raise the issue in nearly every single country that I visit as secretary of state.” And he’s not the only one emphasizing climate change, especially with extreme drought and fire risk in California highlighting the issues.

My administration will work with tech innovators and launch new challenges under our Climate Data Initiative,”  Obama said in his statement on events in California. He went on to explain that the program would be “focused initially on rising sea levels and their impact on the coast, but ultimately focused on how these changes in weather patterns are going to have an impact up and down the United States — not just on the coast but inland as well — and how do we start preparing for that.”

During his State of the Union Address, Obama made it clear that climate change would be a policy priority in the coming year, saying, “We have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

Still, according to a Gallup poll, for many Americans, the environment isn’t a policy priority this year. On a list of 19 policy concerns, the environment falls in 12th place, under items like the economy, education, healthcare, and Social Security. The poll, taken January 5-8, found that “there is a group of issues about which Americans express relatively low dissatisfaction but at the same time low government priority,” meaning that they are “clearly” issues “that Americans believe deserve the least government focus at this time,” a list that includes “race relations, the environment, gay and lesbian acceptance, energy policy, and abortion.”

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