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During New York Climate Week, Activists Still Missing the Point on Public Nuisance Lawsuits

This week, New York City plays host to their tenth annual Climate Week. It is likely that discussion will at one point focus on pushing misguided, trial lawyer-driven public nuisance lawsuits against manufacturers. However, it should be noted that these lawsuits are failing while the energy manufacturers they target continue to grow the economy, support millions of jobs and offer meaningful solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The lawsuit scorecard puts the state of litigation in perspective.  Just two months ago, U.S. District Judge John Keenan dismissed New York City’s public nuisance lawsuit, sending a message to other cities and states who might be considering filing their own suits:

“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants,”…“But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”

In the weeks prior to Judge Keenan’s dismissal, U.S. District Judge William Alsup also ruled in California that the federal court is not the proper place to address this issue:

“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case. While it remains true that our federal courts have authority to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming, courts must also respect and defer to the other co-equal branches of government when the problem at hand clearly deserves a solution best addressed by those branches. The Court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches.”

Despite these rulings, appeals have been filed, and other cities continue to ponder lawsuits despite their record of failure. But for those in New York this week who are interested in environmental policy, the discussion should follow the lead of manufacturers and focus on constructive action rather than baseless lawsuits.

Over the past decade, manufacturers have decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent while their value to the economy has increased by 19 percent. One year after public officials in San Francisco and Oakland, California sued over the issue of global climate change, manufacturing is now employing more than 12.5 million workers in America, accounting for 8.5 percent of the total workforce.

While politically attractive headlines are likely to emerge from New York this week, advancing baseless lawsuits will do nothing to improve the environment. These climate lawsuits are themselves becoming a public nuisance, and the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project stands firmly committed to defending this thriving sector of the American economy.