State AGs hail ruling in greenhouse gas case

Chris Rizo Sep. 21, 2009, 11:58pm

Jerry Brown (D-Calif.)

Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.)

Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline)--States may sue power companies over carbon dioxide emissions, a federal appeals court panel ruled Monday, drawing praise from at least two state attorneys general.

The two-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that in addition to states, land trusts may also sue coal-burning utilities over the greenhouse gas emission that some scientists blame for global warming.

The decision overturns a 2005 District Court ruling, breathing new life into a lawsuit by filed by eight states -- California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin -- and New York City and three land trusts -- Open Space Institute Inc., Open Space Conservancy Inc. and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire.

They sought to bring public nuisance lawsuits against American Electric Power, Southern Corporation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy and Cinergy Corporation.

The lawsuits sought to force the power companies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions 3 percent annually for 10 years.

The lawsuit was tossed out by U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska, but the appeals court said Preska erred when she said the issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions was a political one rather than an issue for the courts to decide.

"It is error to equate a political question with a political case," the court wrote. "Given the checks and balances among the three branches of our government, the judiciary can no more usurp executive and legislative prerogatives than it can decline to decide matters within its jurisdiction simply because such matters may have political ramifications."

In a statement, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said the decision marks a "critical milestone" in terms of states being able to pursue global warming cases in the courts.

"It's highly significant that the federal court has affirmed the right of states to challenge the greenhouse gas emissions generated by coal-fired power plants," he said. "The time has now come for Congress to enact long overdue climate protection legislation."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, also welcomed the appeals court decision.

"Our goal is not money damages, but a change in company practices to stem the pollution and safeguard our environment and economy," Blumenthal said in a statement.

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