Dr. James Hansen is the former NASA scientist who first testified to the US Congress about the dangers posed by greenhouse gases. 34 years ago this month, he told that august body he was 99% sure the increase in global average temperatures was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere as the result of human activity.
Of course, nobody listened to Dr. Hansen back then and that’s one of the reasons we are on the verge of a global climate catastrophe today. To make matters worse, the reactionary stooges on the US Supreme Court are poised to send down some judicial thunder this week, ruling that the federal government has no business regulating carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. But Hansen and several of his colleagues have anticipated the court’s forthcoming ruling and have written to the EPA with a proposal they think will save the day.
Together with Donn Viviani, who spent 35 years at the EPA prior to his retirement, Hansen has filed a legal document with the EPA that argues greenhouse gas emissions present a danger to the climate and should be regulated as such under the Toxic Substances Control Act, a law passed in 1976 as part of a suite of environmental regulations in the US.
“Using the TSCA would be one small step for [the US president] Joe Biden, but potentially a giant leap for humankind – as a first step towards making the polluters pay,” Hansen said according to a report by The Guardian. The TSCA, which was amended in 2016, allows the EPA to place monitoring requirements on companies and enforce strict controls on certain substances. It has been used to restrict chemicals including asbestos, lead in paint, and PCBs.
It covers substances that pose “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” Hansen and Viviani believe it can be interpreted to allow for a phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions. “TSCA is like the ruby slippers [in The Wizard of Oz] — it can do just about anything. It can allow you to put a levy on carbon, and can deal with the legacy of carbon emissions. It has nearly international reach, as the US is the biggest market in the world and could apply these measures to imports too,” Viviani says.
To support their claims, Hansen and Vivianid, together with several other people who are part of the petition, have filed “a mountain’s worth” of scientific studies showing the impact of greenhouse gases on weather, which results in wildfires, heatwaves, severe drought, rising sea levels, and increasingly acidified oceans.
The US has a recent history of attempts to regulate carbon dioxide under existing environmental legislation, as Congress has often proved reluctant to consider passing laws to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Barack Obama was unable to get his climate legislation through the Republican-dominated Congress. He tried to use the Clean Air Act — another of the environmental achievements of the 1970s — to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power stations, but under Trump the Terrible, that effort was reversed. This week, the US Supreme Court will decide whether the EPA should have carbon regulating powers at all, but Hansen believes the amendment to the TCSA in 2016 offers a fresh basis on which to present the argument again.
“The TSCA is different,” Hansen says. “It’s better than the Clean Air Act. The CAA was a possible vehicle for a rising carbon fee, because the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs EPA ruled that CO2 was a pollutant. However, there is a very strong suspicion that if the CAA is used that way, the present conservative supreme court will reverse that ruling. They can’t do that easily with the TSCA, which was passed by Congress and reaffirmed [in 2016] with bipartisan support.”
Some climate activists have criticized President Biden for what they see as a lack of action on the climate crisis, despite the fact that he made it a priority in the early days of his presidency. The war in Ukraine and rising energy prices have prompted the White House to emphasize new gas extraction as an alternative to Russian supplies. Obstructionism by Despicable Joe Manchin has been a factor as well.
Viviani tells The Guardian, “President Biden is an empathetic man; we hope he is also a brave man. We hope he will use both his empathy and bravery to pick up this tool he has in the TSCA, and use it to give hope that a solution will be found to the many millions of young people, and in fact all of us.” Under the provisions of TSCA, the EPA has 90 days to consider and act upon the legal petition.
In addition to Hansen and Viviani, the other petitioners include Lise Van Susteren, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, John Birks, an emeritus professor in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, and the Climate Protection and Restoration Initiative.
For more on the petition by Hansen, Viviandi, and others, check out this video by James Hansen and his colleagues, which was brought to our attention by Dan Allard.[embedded content]
How is it possible that the US Supreme Court could even think of ruling against constructive climate action? The answer is simple. The six so-called justices who style themselves as “conservatives” are stooges who were suckled their entire legal careers by the Federalist Society, one of the many tentacles of Koch Industries, the conglomerate headed by Charles Koch.
For 50 years, Koch has funded opposition to the New Deal, government regulation, the civil rights movement, the Woodstock generation, and just about any progressive initiative you can imagine. Much of the money Koch has invested in his nefarious schemes has been spent to protect his God given right to extract and burn fossil fuels.
Those judges were anointed to the bench with the understanding that they would do everything in their power to protect the business model of their benefactor. They aren’t there to serve the constitution or protect democracy. They are there to protect the business interests of Charles Koch first and foremost, and that is exactly what they intend to do.
By the time they are done, America will be a theocracy dominated by white males. Hansen and company may believe the Toxic Substances Control Act will prevent a perversion of climate initiatives, but they must keep in mind that what Congress passes one day can be undone by a future Congress another day.
Elections have consequences. And if the US Congress lurches right after the midterm elections this fall, there will be nothing left of America to preserve as the fires of conservatism sweep through Congress and accomplish legally what the treasonous rioters of January 6, 2021 could not.
We applaud Dr. James Hansen for tirelessly working to keep climate change front and center in people’s minds and pray his efforts and those of his colleagues are enough to keep America from lurching off the rails and becoming a nation that puts fear of gays ahead of effective climate action.
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