Catalyst Spring 2016

Taking Science to the Courtroom

Supreme Court

Photo: UpstateNYer/Creative Commons

By Ken Kimmell

UCS President Ken Kimmell

The Union of Concerned Scientists does not usually participate in legal disputes. But given our organization’s leadership role in advocating for and strengthening the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and our strong presence in the Paris climate negotiations, we felt a special responsibility to engage in a court case of great consequence that is now under way. This month, UCS filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Court of Appeals to defend against a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan. In this case, fossil fuel companies and a number of states are trying to undo the nation’s first regulation to cut carbon pollution from power plants, and the case is likely to be ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court.

You won’t be surprised to hear that our brief focuses on science. It marshals the best scientific evidence to show that it is a monumental task to achieve the Paris goal of staying well below a 2°C temperature increase. A delay in cutting emissions from power plants—the largest source of heat-trapping gases in the United States—may make meeting this target all but impossible. We also explain that the Paris agreement depended on US leadership, so sending the Clean Power Plan back to the drawing board could cause other countries to back off their own pledges—and leave the Paris agreement stuck at the starting gate.

As a former litigator, I know that judges do not decide legal issues in a vacuum; they think hard about the practical consequences of their rulings. Our amicus brief will leave the court with no uncertainty about the grave implications of a decision that sides with the carbon polluters to strike down the Clean Power Plan.