The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments on Tuesday, January 25, in the City of Baltimore’s climate tort lawsuit against energy manufacturers. The issue at hand in Tuesday’s proceedings in Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. BP plc—whether the case will proceed in federal or state court—is largely procedural but will have implications for the future of the case.
Here are three things to know ahead of oral arguments:
1. The case is part of a national coordinated campaign to circumvent Congress and federal agencies by setting federal and international energy policy in state courts.
As the National Association of Manufacturers explained in its amicus brief in this case last August, “the climate change issues in [this] case has unique federal significance.” How we mitigate climate change—both globally and locally—are national energy policy matters.
As the NAM brief further explained, these lawsuits “are not about any specific company or unique to any particular community. They are interstate and international in scope. To adjudicate these claims, state courts must create new rules governing the international production, sale, promotion, and use of fossil fuels.” As a result, “[t]his climate litigation will undermine national energy objectives, including federal efforts on the climate, energy independence, the stability of the electric grid, and energy affordability.”
2. The plaintiffs are trying to direct these lawsuits to state courts, where they think they will be better able to undermine U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence on climate lawsuits.
The federal courts have already rejected efforts to address climate change through the courts. In 2011, the Supreme Court dismissed a climate claim in American Electric Power v. Connecticutand cautioned against such litigation. It stressed that to adjudicate these claims, courts would end up deciding climate public policy, which cannot be done “by judicial decree.” Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency are “better equipped to do the job.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed New York City’s case—a case very similar to Baltimore’s case here—stating these cases “ignore economic reality.” Just like in AEP v. Connecticut, this round of climate lawsuits, while packaged differently, are functionally no different and should similarly be dismissed. It is in this context that the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Baltimore case to the Fourth Circuit to consider all of the grounds for removal.
3. Baltimore’s lawsuit—and the others—will do nothing to address climate change, its impacts or its root causes.
At the end of the day, innovation—not litigation—is the only way to meaningfully address climate change, both globally and locally. As the U.S. Supreme Court said back in 2011, ad hoc rulings in local courtrooms around the country are not the proper way to address this important global challenge. These lawsuits are a costly distraction from real efforts to solve climate change. Manufacturers are hard at work developing the innovations that allow us to continue to meet the world’s energy needs while protecting the environment. Lawsuits are not the answer, regardless of whether they are litigated in federal or state court.