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Inherit the emissions: Industry wants to put climate change on trial

darrow cross examines bryanIn a bid to avoid regulations on the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put the science of global warming on trial. "It would be evolution versus creationism," the chamber's William Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, told the Los Angeles Times.

In other words, the chamber hopes for a "Scopes monkey trial for the 21st century," referring to the famous 1925 court case that determined whether evolution could be taught in Tennessee (a battle that has broken out again in states like Texas). The chamber, which represents millions of U.S. businesses, is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set up a hearing to discuss the science behind that agency's move to declare carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a threat to human health and therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

Should the agency fail to do so, the chamber is threatening to sue in federal court. (On what grounds remains unclear. Any lawyers out there?)

Of course, the chamber is ignoring other pending lawsuits revolving around climate change, such as the suit filed by the eroding Alaskan village of Kivalina against power producers for creating a "public nuisance" by contributing to the emission of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

The Inupiat villagers of Kivalina are also charging that these companies conspired to create a false scientific debate—a conspiracy that seems to continue with fake letters to Congress paid for by coal companies, among other recent activities. And perhaps floating this idea is simply an attempt to gin up opposition to the regulatory move by the EPA via broad publicity.

But the chamber might do well to remember the outcome of the Scopes trial. Although the creationists won the court battle, they lost the culture war for a generation. As defense attorney Clarence Darrow quipped in that case: "We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States," or for that matter its environmental policy.

Image: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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