Chief Judge David Sentelle.

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

In 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for the “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” to question the scientific fact of human-made climate change.

Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia began consideration of a landmark case that consolidates a series of challenges to Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and welfare and its related rule-makings. The cases, brought by energy companies, industry front groups, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), and others, seek to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse pollution. Their legal argument is that climate science is a hoax.

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But the three-judge panel’s questions and comments during the first day of oral arguments showed enormous skepticism of the industry arguments. Acknowledging that by law, the panel must show deference to the EPA’s finding, the chief judge told one of the challenger’s lawyers: “You seem to be asking us to determine that the EPA is incorrect, but that is not the standard,” and even that “would not be enough to win the case for you.” Other arguments were similarly pooh-poohed by the panel.

Perhaps more significant for the EPA — and the Earth’s climate — is the fact that the chief judge is hardly a liberal lion. David B. Sentelle, a Ronald Reagan appointee, was a protege of the late arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Best known as the person who installed Ken Starr as the independent council to investigate the Whitewater scandal (and President Clinton’s sex life) and who wrote the opinion overturning the conviction of Oliver North, Sentelle has a reputation [sub. req.] as one of the most right-wing judges in the federal court system. The other two judges on the panel were both appointed by a Democrat, President Bill Clinton.

The comments are not, of course, a formal ruling, but are certainly a strong indicator that the panel is unlikely to reject the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases are a threat.

The challengers involved with the cases include:

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Industry front groups and trade associations
–Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc.
–Industrial Minerals Association – North America
–National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
–National Mining Association
–SIP/FIP Advocacy Group
–Utility Air Regulatory Group

Coal and energy companies
–Alpha Natural Resources, Inc.
–Peabody Energy Company
–Great Northern Project Development, L.P.
–Rosebud Mining Company

Republican-led state governments
–State of Texas
–State of Wyoming

Perhaps realizing that the law is not on their side, some of these industry groups have simultaneously taken a legislative approach to fighting EPA regulations, pushing for enactment of HR 910, the “Energy Tax Prevention Act.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would take away the EPA’s regulatory power over greenhouse gases. The Republican House endorsed the proposal last April, mostly along party lines, but the measure has stalled in the Democratic Senate. The Industrial Minerals Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Mining Association, and Peabody Energy Company all reported lobbying on the bill in 2011 — part of their combined $9.8 million lobbying efforts on this and other subjects.

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