U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Consider Whether Utilities Can Be Sued in Tort for Global Warming

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Corrected: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether states can use the tort theory of nuisance in a global warming lawsuit against four coal-burning power companies.

The Supreme Court agreed to review a ruling allowing the suit, according to SCOTUSblog, Bloomberg and Reuters. Greenwire had a preview of the case.

The suit by eight states, New York City and four land trusts seeks a reduction in the companies’ carbon-dioxide emissions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Obama administration are supporting the utilities.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t take part in the cert decision. She had served on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and heard arguments in the case. She didn’t take part in the panel decision allowing the suit, though, because it was issued after she was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Her recusal raises the possibility of a 4-4 decision in the Supreme Court.

Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal had argued courts should defer to Congress and the executive branch on how to battle climate change. He had asked the Supreme Court to return the case to the appeals court in light of actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency since the original ruling in the case.

The brief by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the 2nd Circuit decision “has staggering economic implications.”

The case is American Electric Power v. Connecticut.

Updated June 21, 2011 to fix a reference to carbon dioxide.

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