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Tuesday
Apr192011

Global Warming Comes to the Supreme Court

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court took on the issue of global warming Tuesday in a case regarding whether a coalition of states can sue five of the country's largest power companies to force them to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

The states argue that the companies' plants emit 650 million tons of carbon dioxide each year -- 10 percent of the entire country's emissions. They seek to sue the power plants under the common law of public nuisance and are asking a district court judge to set standards for emissions.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the states have the legal right to bring the suit and whether the issue would be more properly handled by the political branches of government.

Peter D. Keisler, representing four of the power companies, argues that the states can't sue the companies for contributions to global climate change because "billions" of other independent sources have contributed to "more than a century of emissions."

"Every sector of the economy worldwide produces greenhouse gases," Keisler said in court.

He also argued that the state cannot sue under the doctrine of common law (the body of judge-made law that exists in the absence of statutes) because Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency are already working to address the issue.

But New York State Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, who argued on behalf of the states, said there is a firm basis for their effort to take action against the companies.

"This case rests on the longstanding fundamental authority of the states to protect their land, their natural resources and their citizens from air pollution emitted in other states," she said.

The states involved in the case are New York, Connecticut, California, Rhode Island, Iowa and Vermont.

The Chamber of Commerce filed a brief in support of the power companies, which include American Electric Power Company and Cinergy Corporation.

"The Chamber believes that common law suits such as this one, which seek to impose caps and reductions on carbon dioxide emissions in a piecemeal fashion on an arbitrary subset of U.S. industry are an especially ill-conceived and constitutionally illegitimate response," the brief said.

The court is expected to decide the case by this summer.

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