Supreme Court throws out back-door bid to curb global warming
A coalition of states and conservation groups sought to use public-nuisance law to compel five energy companies to curb greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the case.
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The issue before the court was whether the litigation should move forward in the courts or be dismissed in favor of leaving the thorny issue of regulation of greenhouse gases to the EPA under the Clean Air Act.Skip to next paragraph
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The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the case could move forward.
On Monday, the high court reversed by an 8-to-0 vote. “The Second Circuit erred, we hold, in ruling that federal judges may set limits on greenhouse gas emissions in face of a law empowering EPA to set the same limits,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in the case because she was on the Second Circuit panel that heard the case prior to her nomination to the Supreme Court.
The high court addressed a similar issue in 2007 when it ruled 5 to 4 that states could sue to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. At the time, the EPA, under the Bush administration, had taken the position that the Clean Air Act did not authorize the regulation of greenhouse gases. The high court disagreed, ruling that the law did regulate excessive carbon-dioxide emissions.
Since then, the EPA has taken a more aggressive approach, issuing a final rule on emissions from light-duty vehicles and moving forward on a similar rule for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Ginsburg noted in her opinion that the agency is implementing requirements that the best available pollution-control technology be used at major greenhouse-gas-emitting facilities that are new or modified. In addition, she said, the EPA has begun rulemaking to set new limits for fossil-fuel power plants. A proposed rule is expected by July 2011, with a final rule in May 2012.
An important side issue in the case was whether the states and/or the conservation land trusts have legal standing to bring the nuisance lawsuit. It is a key question because, without standing, the courts would lack jurisdiction to hear such cases. The justices split on that question 4 to 4. The tie vote meant that the portion of the Second Circuit’s decision – that the groups did have legal standing – is affirmed.
The case is American Electric Power v. Connecticut (10-174).