Who can force utilities to cut greenhouse gases? Supreme Court to decide.
The Supreme Court hears a case Tuesday about greenhouse gases and global warming. Case could open the way for states and citizen groups to battle the threat of global warming via judicial order.
Fed up with the slow pace of government efforts to address global warming, a group of conservationists and state attorneys general filed lawsuits in 2004 asking a federal judge to order five major US power companies to cap and then reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide.Skip to next paragraph
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Seven years later, the case arrives at the US Supreme Court, where the justices must decide whether concerned citizens and state officials have the legal power to force suspected polluters to cut their alleged level of pollution – though the federal government itself has not yet taken action on carbon emissions.
The 2004 lawsuits were a bold move taken at a time when the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) balked at claiming authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Some in the administration questioned the validity of research warning of the risk of global warming.
Lawyers for the power companies moved to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that global warming was an issue of public controversy that should be resolved by the political branches of government, not the judiciary.
A federal judge agreed and threw the lawsuits out. But an appeals court panel in New York reversed that decision, reinstating the suits.
The case, which comes before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, is important because it could open the way for an array of states and citizen groups to battle the threat of global warming and other environmental causes.
Corporations and business groups are concerned that the case could subject them to open-ended litigation over emissions of greenhouse gases outside any national framework established by Congress and enforced by the EPA.
One of the lawsuits was filed on behalf of six states and the City of New York. The states are New York, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The other was filed by the Open Space Institute, the Open Space Conservancy, and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire.
Both suits accuse the five power companies of causing a public nuisance by operating fossil-fuel power plants in 20 states that emit 650 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That amounts to roughly 10 percent of annual carbon-dioxide emissions in the US, according to the suits.
The power companies are American Electric Power Co., American Electric Power Service Corp., Southern Company, Excel Energy, and Cinergy Corp. The Tennessee Valley Authority is also a defendant in the suits.