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Second Circuit Rules Carbon Emissions a ‘Public Nuisance’

September 28, 2009

In a significant development for litigation targeting GHG emitters, the Second Circuit court ruled last week that greenhouse gas emissions amounted to a public nuisance, a decision that will allow states to sue emitters to force them to reduce their emissions. The suit – American Electric Power v. Connecticut – was brought by 8 states as well as New York City and environmental profits against four large producers of coal-powered energy. As the legal questions at stake are beyond my expertise, I’ll give you some more informed commentary:

  • Jonathan Zasloff of Legal Planet says the ruling “gave the environmental plaintiffs virtually everything they wanted.”
  • At Grist, Hannah McCrea outlined the positives and the potential negatives of the ruling. Essentially, she views it as an important victory for those trying to reduce emissions but warns of a potentially undesirable outcome if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case.

From my limited perspective, the ruling appears to be a home run for the states and the environmentalists. Still, the most important and likely the most effective way to regulate and reduce emissions would be through national legislation. So we should still keep our focus on the upcoming deliberations in the Senate and hope Harry Reid finds the backbone he left in Nevada during the health care battle this summer.


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