Photo via City Pages
In a surprising turn of events, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with a coalition of US states, New York City, and environmental groups who filed a lawsuit against the biggest coal-burning utilities in the country. The lawsuit charged that the utilities' heavy greenhouse gas emissions were a public nuisance--and the conservative, Bush-appointed court agrees. Now, experts are saying this opens up a whole new way to fight climate change: by suing the pants off polluters.It's a landmark case for both environmentalists (happily so) and industry groups (not so much), and court watchers have said that this will certainly herald many more similar public nuisance complaints. And, while nobody believes this will have far-reaching ramifications in the way that cap and trade legislation would, many are gearing up to capitalize on a newly established useful tool.
Suing to Stop Climate Change
From the New York Times:
"This is the first time this kind of cause of action has been recognized,"[Steve Jones, chairman of Marten Law] said. "This really opens the door for a lot of potential claims to be brought by other kinds of plaintiffs. You're a coastal community, you spend money to adapt and you've got to raise your waterfront and put in extra infrastructure to deal with rising sea levels. You'd have a claim under this ruling."
According to Greenwire, the lawsuit "creates a new judicial remedy, holding greenhouse gas emitters responsible for causing a 'public nuisance' in the form of global warming." It puts yet another form of pressure on both polluting industries to start cutting emissions and Congress to pass a climate bill: if your company contributes to climate change by emitting too much carbon, you're liable to be sued.
The Pressure's On
Now both the Judiciary and the Executive (through the EPA, which ruled that it has the power to regulate greenhouse gases as a harmful pollutant) branches are showing that they're willing and able to deal with contributors to climate change even if Congress isn't.
Which in theory should cause some climate bill opponents to reconsider their stance--broad legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions should seem far preferable to opening up polluting industries to lawsuits and/or case-by-case inspection and regulation by the EPA. Conservative congressmen who oppose climate action in general should see legislation as the lesser of three evils.
And with the Senate's version of the climate bill debuting today, perhaps this new development will spur the sluggish Senate into taking it seriously.