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Case Potentially Impacting Climate Change Issues To Be Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument on April 19, 2011in a case having potentially far reaching impacts on climate change issues. In American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut several states brought an action claiming that emissions from coal burning power plants cause a public nuisance by contributing to global warming and that there is a right to seek relief in the federal courts. As outlined in a previous post on this Blog, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court and reinstated the action.

According to the Supreme Court Site the “Question Presented” is as follows:

“The court of appeals held that States and private plaintiffs may maintain actions under federal common law alleging that defendants – in this case, five electric utilities – have created a “public nuisance” by contributing to global warming, and may seek injunctive relief capping defendants’ carbon dioxide emissions at judicially-determined levels. The questions presented are: 1. Whether States and private parties have standing to seek judicially-fashioned emissions caps on five utilities for their alleged contribution to harms claimed to arise from global climate change caused by more than a century of emissions by billions of independent sources. 2. Whether a cause of action to cap carbon dioxide emissions can be implied under federal common law where no statute creates such a cause of action, and the Clean Air Act speaks directly to the same subject matter and assigns federal responsibility for regulating such emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency. 3. Whether claims seeking to cap defendants’ carbon dioxide emissions at “reasonable” levels, based on a court’s weighing of the potential risks of climate change against the socioeconomic utility of defendants’ conduct, would be governed by “judicially discoverable and manageable standards” or could be resolved without “initial policy determination[s] of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion.” Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217 (1962).”

-Steven Silverberg

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