It's risky to predict what the U.S. Supreme Court will do, but a broad consensus in the media last week concluded justices are likely to dismiss a case brought by California and five other states seeking to use "public nuisance" lawsuits to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That would be the proper decision.
The issue is which arm of government is appropriate for the task. Questions by several justices as the case was argued this week "signaled" that the court will throw out the lawsuit because the issue is too complex and unwieldy to be handled by a single judge, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The high court isn't considering whether emissions should be regulated, or to what extent, only whether states can use public-nuisance lawsuits to do so. We agree with many scientific experts who question whether greenhouse gases pose a danger that warrants government intervention.
A decision is expected by June.
The case pits the states against utility companies and the Obama administration, which maintains that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is the appropriate regulatory body.
Justices appeared receptive to that argument. "Asking a court to set standards for emissions sounds like the kind of thing that EPA does," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.
Setting and enforcing detailed regulations is a political and administrative process, not a matter for judges. Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe, who believes manmade greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, is among those calling for judicial restraint.
"Congress, through the Clean Air Act and other measures, has empowered the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, and that agency has begun to do so," Mr. Tribe recently wrote.
"The courts should reject the political and administrative roles that would be thrust upon them by litigants dissatisfied with Congress's decision to entrust the EPA with this challenging mission."
On this we agree. If the court also agrees, then this political issue can be resolved where it should be, in Congress. And we hope new Republican control of the House, which seeks to trim the EPA's authority on greenhouse gases, can prevail.