The American Coatings Association (ACA) hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut as a victory for companies opposing public nuisance lawsuits that seek to redress global climate change.
WASHINGTON, DC - The American Coatings Association (ACA) hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut as a victory for companies opposing public nuisance lawsuits that seek to redress global climate change. The Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is consistent with ACA’s position as articulated in an amicus brief submitted for the case in support of the utilities, which forges a persuasive link between "standardless" public nuisance cases and the impact of the lack of prerequisite standards, as well, on the “political question” doctrine. This doctrine suggests that the courts should defer to the legislative and executive branches in broad, unsettled public policy matters like climate change, and not attempt to "legislate from the bench," which is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed.
In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that the federal Clean Air Act and the authority it grants to the EPA displace any such federal claims. But the high court refused to decide whether public nuisance claims could be pursued under state nuisance law since the U.S. Court of Appeals (Second Circuit) had not reached those claims, and sent that issue back to the lower court for further deliberations.
Justice Ginsburg found that the Clean Air Act gave sufficient delegation of authority in this arena to the expert agency, which is then free to employ that special expertise to decide whether and how to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. If plaintiffs in this case are dissatisfied with the outcome of EPA's forthcoming rulemaking, she suggested that their recourse is to seek Court of Appeals review, and ultimately, to petition for (Supreme Court) review. The majority opinion reasons that plaintiffs proposal to have federal judges determine, in the first instance, what amount of carbon dioxide emissions is "unreasonable" and what level of reduction is necessary cannot be reconciled with Congress' scheme.
American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut is an action originally brought by the state of Connecticut (joined by a number of other states, New York City and three environmental groups) against major utilities claiming damages on behalf of the public by alleging that the companies’ carbon dioxide emissions’ contribution to global warming constitutes a public nuisance. Defendants argued that setting emissions standards is an exercise best handled by Congress and the EPA, and not the courts, and that it should be done with a proper basis. The justices took no formal position on whether and how EPA should actually regulate in this arena, noting in a key footnote, “The Court, we caution, endorses no particular view of the complicated issues related to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.”