Environmental Law

New York City can’t use tort law to sue oil companies over climate change, 2nd Circuit says

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Federal law gives the Environmental Protection Agency, not federal courts, the authority to regulate greenhouse emissions in the United States, a federal appeals court ruled as it tossed a climate change lawsuit Thursday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York ruled against New York City in its nuisance lawsuit seeking to hold five oil companies liable for the effects of climate change. The decision affirmed a federal trial judge’s 2018 decision tossing the suit.

The author of the 2nd Circuit’s April 1 decision is Judge Richard J. Sullivan, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. Other judges on the panel are Judge Amalya Lyle Kearse, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter; and Judge Michael Park, a Trump appointee.

“The question before us is whether municipalities may utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions,” Sullivan wrote. “Given the nature of the harm and the existence of a complex web of federal and international environmental law regulating such emissions, we hold that the answer is ‘no.’”

New York City had asserted that it was exceptionally vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by global warming because of its 520-mile coastline. The city sought damages for the cost of constructing seawalls and bolstering storm and wastewater infrastructure.

The city had argued that the case involved only the production, promotion and sale of fossil fuels, rather than the regulation of emissions. The appeals court disagreed.

“Artful pleading cannot transform the city’s complaint into anything other than a suit over global greenhouse gas emissions,” the appeals court said.

“Such a sprawling case is simply beyond the limits of state law,” the court added.

Courthouse News Service, Law.com and Law & Crime had coverage of the decision. A Chevron press release is here.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Lawyers are unleashing a flurry of lawsuits to step up the fight against climate change”

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