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Supreme Court to Take First Look at Genetically Modified Crops in Case Involving Monsanto

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday involving a federal judge's temporary ban on a breed of pesticide-resistant alfalfa, setting the stage for the court's first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops.

Legal experts do not expect a blockbuster decision on the merits of regulating modified plants such as Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready alfalfa, but the case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, has drawn widespread interest because the justices could issue a ruling that would raise or lower the threshold for challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Environmental groups, which frequently use the statute to bring lawsuits against government agencies and industry groups, "don't expect anything good" to come from the Supreme Court's eventual decision, said David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club. It seems that some of the justices are "on a kick to gut NEPA remedies," he said earlier this year during a panel discussion on environmental law at Georgetown University.

That sense of foreboding is compounded by the fact that the case comes from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a frequent source of environmental cases struck down by the Supreme Court. Last year, when the Supreme Court overturned five decisions favoring environmentalists, four had come from the 9th Circuit (Greenwire, June 25, 2009).