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Supreme Court

Court to hear cases involving Clean Air Act, huge punitive damages

by Cheryl Hogue
October 9, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 41

In the next six weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on two key environmental cases and a lawsuit over punitive damages against a company.

The Court, which last week started its second term under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., will decide whether EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. A dozen states, including some with laws to limit CO2 from vehicle emissions starting with the 2009 model year, argue that the Clean Air Act grants EPA such power. The Bush Administration, backed by a number of industry groups and several states, argues that the agency lacks the authority to limit emissions of CO2 (C&EN, July 3, page 7).

A second Clean Air Act case before the Court revolves around determining what sort of emissions increase resulting from renovations requires a facility to install modern pollution control equipment. Electric utility Duke Energy, backed by a broad swath of industry and a federal appeals court, says only an increase in hourly emissions should count. Environmental groups argue that an increase in annual emissions is what matters (C&EN, May 22, page 8).

Meanwhile, chemical and pharmaceutical companies are part of a business coalition challenging an Oregon jury's $79.5 million in punitive damages against a tobacco company. Businesses say the huge punitive award sets a troubling precedent for future liability cases.

The Court is expected to decide these cases in 2007.


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