Hawkins added, “The import of this ruling is that failure of Congress or EPA to act on GHG will not immunize emitters from legal action to compel reductions in emissions.”
Take that, delayers!
Again, a federal climate bill would be the best strategy for the country — and the world. But if Congress fails to act — and if fiddlers like Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska block EPA action, then the only place left for recourse will be the courts.
Here are more details on the case from Reuters:
The lawsuit against American Electric Power Co Inc, Southern Co, Xcel Energy Inc, Cinergy Corp and the Tennessee Valley Authority public power system, argued that greenhouse gas emissions from their plants were a public nuisance and would cause irreparable harm to property.
The utilities are five of the largest carbon dioxide emitters in the United States. Around 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil-fueled power plants.
Lawyers or representatives of the companies were either not immediately available to comment or could not immediately be reached for comment on the decision.
The top legal officers for Connecticut and New York welcomed the decision.
“Our goal is not money damages, but a change in company practices to stem the pollution and safeguard our environment and economy,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said: “Today’s decision allows us to press this crucial case forward and address the dangers posed by these coal-burning power plants.”
… The states that sued were California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Three land trusts — Open Space Institute Inc, Open Space Conservancy Inc and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire — joined the case.
As Greenwire explains:
The power companies also insisted that federal common law had not been applied to an issue of such sweeping scale that covered all aspects of the U.S. economy. And they warned that the litigation would be a precursor to more global warming nuisance claims — with no end in sight as plaintiffs ticked through other sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
But the 2nd Circuit rejected all lines of the industry’s defense with an opinion that cites the closing lines of a 1972 Supreme Court decision that dealt with similar common law questions concerning air pollution that crossed state lines.
“It may happen that new federal laws and new federal regulations may in time pre-empt the field of federal common law of nuisance,” the Supreme Court wrote in Illinois v. Milwaukee. “But until that time comes to pass, federal courts will be empowered to appraise the equities of the suits alleging creation of a public nuisance.”
After the 2nd Circuit judges finished quoting the Supreme Court decision, they inserted the words “by greenhouse gases.”
Kudos to the states who brought the suit and the federal court who decided the case.