Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California handed manufacturers and our legal system a significant victory yesterday with the dismissal of the climate lawsuits filed by San Francisco and Oakland. In his ruling, Judge Alsup acknowledged the problem of climate change but ruled that the courts were not the proper place to address such a global issue. Below is a compilation of some of his notable comments.
On the potential broad reach of the plaintiffs’ theory:
“The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking. It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming. While these actions are brought against the first, second, fourth, sixth and ninth largest producers of fossil fuels, anyone who supplied fossil fuels with knowledge of the problem would be liable.”
On how a patchwork of judicial rulings will not solve the problem:
“[Q]uestions of how to appropriately balance these worldwide negatives against the worldwide positives of the energy itself, and of how to allocate the pluses and minuses among the nations of the world, demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate. Nuisance suits in various United States judicial districts regarding conduct worldwide are far less likely to solve the problem and, indeed, could interfere with reaching a worldwide consensus.”
On deferring to the legislative and executive branches:
“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.”
Finally, on the importance of fossil fuels to the nation:
“Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?”
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which launched the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP), immediately responded to the ruling with NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons noting, “From the moment these baseless lawsuits were filed, we have argued that the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge.” The statement garnered significant media coverage, including from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and San Francisco Chronicle.
Rather than move forward with their baseless litigation, the remaining jurisdictions in California, New York City, Colorado and Washington State should pledge to work with manufacturers on viable solutions. Because as Judge Alsup so bluntly put it, “No plaintiff has ever succeeded in bringing a nuisance claim based on global warming.”