December 7, 2010

Regulation of climate emissions heads to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider a key global warming case over the right of US states to regulate carbon emissions as a "public nuisance."

In a move that could significantly impact the US approach to fighting climate change, the top court in the coming months will consider a lower ruling that allows states and environmental groups to sue utility companies under federal public nuisance law to make them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

US federal law already provides a system to regulate greenhouse gases, but the appeals court ruling in favor of the lawsuit filed by environmentalists, eight states and New York City would allow an additional avenue to pursue emitters.

The power companies lobbying for an overruling contend the lower court created a "regime for setting caps on greenhouse gas emissions based on 'vague and indeterminate nuisance concepts.'"

The potential compensation, the companies argue, for the impact of climate change impacts "would make the tobacco pay-outs look like peanuts."

In their view the move would allow an individual court's assessment "of what is 'reasonable'" compensation to the potential damage their output caused.

According to one of the environmental groups that brought the case, Open Space Institute, the appeals court's ruling set a "major precedent in that it gives citizens -- in the absence of climate change legislation -- the right to take action against big business pollution."

The lawsuit was brought by the groups, New York City, and the states of Connecticut, California, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

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