Thursday, July 2, 2015

More Legal News About Climate Change

The court case in the Netherlands resulting in a court order for the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse emissions is stirring things up in the legal world. Other countries may now be faced with similar lawsuits. This has led me to speculate on the feasibility of such a lawsuit here in the U.S. The linked article discusses this very question. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound promising. The EPA is authorized to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and this, ironically, works against lawsuits. The article states that in 2011,
the Supreme Court rejected an effort by California and five other states to seek a cap on emissions from the utilities sector. The states argued that greenhouse gases are a ‘public nuisance’; however, the court countered that the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions prevented federal judges from using the public-nuisance argument. Attempts by others to claim liability against polluters and seek damages under civil law have also been unsuccessful.
There is no Constitutional right to environmental protection and the courts are not likely to order the government to act. Michael Oppenheimer, who studies geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey said a court would be likely to do so only if there were a large gap between public safety and existing regulations.

What this means is, in order to be successful with a lawsuit, you would have to be able to demonstrate the danger to public safety far exceeds what government actions are addressing. As a scientist, I believe that would be an easy thing to do. But, science doesn't always win out in the court room.

The conclusion I reach from this is that we will have to wait before we see legal action on behalf of the public safety in the U.S.

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