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Supreme Court Blocks Global Warming Lawsuits Against Power Companies

Obama Administration Sided With Polluters

Court Has “No Particular View” on Emissions and Climate Change 

In the most pro-corporate and worst decision since the Citizens United case where the Court struck down limits on corporate political campaign contributions, today the US Supreme Court slammed the courthouse doors on states and citizens seeking to hold major polluters accountable for the damages they cause by emissions of global warming pollutants.

The Supreme Court case is American Electric Power v. Connecticut, No. 10-174. (read the decision) [Update: footnote #2 on page 3 might be the Court’s most irresponsible statement ever made, bordering on know nothing global warming denial:

The Court, we caution, endorses no particular view of the complicated issues related to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.  

This case was not just about states’ rights to sue – it also involved common law nuisance and private citizens’ access to the courts.

Instead of allowing citizen and state enforcement of ancient common law rights, the Court found that EPA regulations – which are not even proposed yet – are the only vehicle to address global warming harms under the Clean Air Act and hold polluters accountable. 

To provide an example of common law and illustrate just how bad this decision is, consider that NJ advocates now are opposing the Christie Administration’s coastal public access rules.

Advocates rely on ancient common law known as “The Public Trust Doctrine“. Regardless or DEP regulations, there are parallel independent common law rights and remedies that must be considered, including enforcement via lawsuits.

Just think if the NJ Supreme Court ruled that DEP regulations eliminated any posibility for citizens or Towns to enforce the Public Trust Doctrine!

The Supreme Court just did that for common law nuisance claims related to global warming harms.

You can read the NY Times and Washington Post coverage of the decision – but I’d like to add a few observations:

1. We wrote about this case on March 17 and March 18.

While I am not surprised but deeply disturbed by the Court’s decision, at least the coverage cleary states that the Obama Administration sided with the corporate polluters.

That is NOT a criticism you heard much from environmental groups or media editorials.

2. I am equally pleased that some coverage notes that the States of Wisconsin and NJ, who were original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, left after Republican Governors were elected. The Court’s decision recognized and noted this fact in footnote #3. Not only did this move undermine other states’ arguments, this is proof positive of the power of Big Oil, Koch Brothers, and Tea Party influence in the Republican party, and on NJ Governor Chris Christie:

Eight states initially banded together to sue. They were California,Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. New Jersey and Wisconsin withdrew this year after Republicans replaced Democrats in their governor’s offices.

3. While the Supreme Court deferred to EPA to impose regulatory solutions, EPA has been backing away from regulation for many months now.

In fact, the Obama brief went so far as to say EPA may never effectively regulate global warming emissions. The NY Times story included that fact:

“The agency has said it will act by May 2012, although the government’s brief said it is possible EPA ultimately could find “imposition of such standards inappropriate.” 

The political system is broken – we are being denied solutions in Congress, the Executive Branch (EPA), and now the Courts.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

~~~ JFK, 1962

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