The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a global warming lawsuit against five big power companies, its most important environmental ruling since 2007 and a victory for the utilities. The utilities — American Electric Power Co Inc, Southern Co, Xcel Energy Inc, and Duke Energy Corp, along with TVA — account for about 10 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions. The justices unanimously overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that the public nuisance lawsuit now involving six states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) can proceed in an effort to force the coal-burning plants to cut emissions of gases that contribute to climate change. In a defeat for environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed with the companies that regulating greenhouse gases should be left to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the clean air laws.
The lawsuit stemmed from a 2004 beginning claiming that five coal-burning utilities have created a public nuisance by contributing to climate change. Its consequences, such as rising seas, reduced crop yields and destruction of some hardwood trees, would harm the states’ citizens.
The Supreme Court in April 2011 began questioning whether a global warming lawsuit against five big power companies could proceed, with several justices saying the Environmental Protection Agency, not federal judges, should deal with the issue.
The high court justices sounded a skeptical note during initial arguments when they asked whether complicated environmental issues, such as how much greenhouse gas pollution is allowable and how it should be curbed, should be left to federal judges.
Global warming is the current rise in the average temperature of Earth’s oceans and atmosphere and its projected continuation. The scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring and was initiated by human activities, especially those that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels.
Writing for the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that Congress concluded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was “best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions. The expert agency is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions.’’
Ginsburg wrote that individual federal judges “lack authority to render precedential decisions binding other judges — even members of the state court.’’
Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for AEP, said that the court’s ruling “ensures that power generators and other companies can continue to operate in accordance with environmental regulations without the threat of incurring substantial costs defending against climate litigation.’’
In 2007 a similar lawsuit ended when California’s attempt to collect billions of dollars in damages by accusing automakers of creating a global warming-related “nuisance” was dismissed.
What this lawsuit has now set up is the next confrontation between Congress and EPA as to what is best to be done on this issue.
Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.