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Supreme Court takes up global warming case

The US Supreme Court took up the charged debate on the dangers posed by global warming today, as several justices questioned a Massachusetts lawyer on whether a lack of federal standards for new auto and truck emissions posed an imminent danger to the Commonwealth and other states.

James R. Milkey, chief of the environmental division at the Massachusetts attorney general's office, told the justices that carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles contributed 6 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and those emissions threatened Massachusetts's 200 miles of coastline along with shores around the world.

The high court was hearing a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts and 11 other states against the Environmental Protection Agency for its 2003 decision not to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles. But the justices' detailed questions, challenging both Milkey and Gregory G. Garre, the deputy solicitor general who argued on behalf of the EPA, expanded to include the science of climate change, the politics of the Bush administration's decision, and even the foreign policy implications on what would happen if the EPA regulated vehicle emissions.

Garre argued that forcing the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions would require the agency to venture into an "extraordinarily complex area of science," creating unpredictable results. He said that Massachusetts could not argue that EPA's regulation of emissions would save specific areas of coastlines from rising sea levels caused by global warming.

Much of the close questioning yesterday centered on whether Massachusetts and other states had "standing" to challenge the EPA's decision. The legal definition requires a show of injury and that a court decision could help fix the problem.

After the one-hour arguments ended, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly stood on the steps of the court and said he had no doubt that his state and others have the right to bring the case.

"We are losing coastline," he told reporters. "We are already suffering from a loss of property. It's happening today and it's going to get worse in the future." John Donnelly can be reached at donnelly@globe.com

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