Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of San Francisco and Oakland filing their public nuisance lawsuits targeting a handful of energy manufacturers. Since that time, other municipalities and one state have peddled the same misguided legal theories in front of judges across the country in search of headlines, press conferences and ultimately big paydays. To date, three of these lawsuits have been dismissed, setting a strong precedent for the other lawsuits awaiting their day in court.
“The scope of the 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.”
Alsup also noted the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions rests with Congress and the EPA under the Clean Air Act, not with the judiciary:
“…Congress has vested in the EPA the problem of greenhouse gases and has given it plenary authority to solve the problem at the point of emissions.”
Less than a month later, an almost identical lawsuit filed by New York City was also dismissed by Judge John Keenan on similar grounds:
“More importantly, Congress has expressly delegated to the EPA the determination as to what constitutes a reasonable amount of greenhouse gas emission under the Clean Air Act.”
Although the cities in all three cases are appealing the dismissals, there is no reason to believe any of these appeals or any of the other cases will produce a different result, as they all rely on a misguided understanding of “public nuisance” lawsuits. But if just one succeeds, it would have serious consequences for manufacturers.
The allure of a potential large award for trial attorneys means that, despite their many recent victories in the courtroom, manufacturers will likely face more of these baseless lawsuits in the future.
Below is an overview of where each lawsuit currently stands, with Baltimore being the most recent lawsuit removed to federal court.