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Experts Agree: Supreme Court Case Highlights the Flaws in Climate Litigation

On January 19, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the energy manufacturers’ effort to overturn a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling allowing the City of Baltimore’s climate lawsuit to be heard in state court. Though arguments centered around a technical legal question, the hearing represented an important inflection point in the greater climate litigation campaign, as a ruling from the Justices could impact whether, how and where Baltimore’s suit and the others like it can be heard.

Here’s what they are saying about the recent arguments before the high court:

“Climate lawsuits are legally flimsy and impractical. These suits are infused with the inherent danger of targeting the very energy manufacturers who are active and leading participants in reducing carbon emissions to lower global temperatures. Instead of taking us farther down this counterproductive path, public officials should seek real solutions instead of more lawsuits. U.S. Supreme Court justices have an important opportunity in January to pull the plug on unhelpful climate lawsuits and allow us all to focus instead on the monumental challenges that face our planet.” – Guy Caruso, Center for Strategic and International Studies – January 5, 2021

“Ultimately, these lawsuits should be dismissed. Instead of wasting time and resources in court, state and local officials should push the federal government to pursue balanced energy policies that protect communities from climate change while keeping energy affordable and accessible for everyone. And to do this effectively, energy manufacturers should have a seat at the table, not on the other side of the courtroom in a long-drawn-out legal battle. I share my fellow Democrats’ environmental concerns and the need to take action. But lawsuits are not the answer to the problem at hand.” – Charles Stenholm, former U.S. Representative (D-TX) – January 15, 2021

“All [Baltimore] and the other similar lawsuits have to offer … is regulatory chaos. …. Fortunately, [this] case provides the chance to [avoid] that chaos. The court should go further and find that only federal common law applies.” – Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher – January 15, 2021

“The Baltimore case now before the Supreme Court is crucial not because decisions about climate policy belong in federal court, but because shifting such litigation away from state courts is the judicial outcome consistent with preserving the power of Congress to formulate climate policy. Courts cannot do what Congress can: evaluate the relevant tradeoffs between the enormous benefits of fossil fuels and the purported adverse effects of their production and use. It is not the climate that is at stake. Instead, it is the rule of law and the preservation of freedom and self-government.” – Benjamin Zycher, American Enterprise Institute – January 23, 2021

“Although the justices confined their line of questioning to the narrow — rather than broader — jurisdictional issue, their decision will still affect the other ongoing climate litigation. … Climate change is a serious problem requiring prompt attention and the devotion of substantial governmental resources. Although these lawsuits do not advance this effort, they are propelled by a confluence of factors.” – Dr. Jonathan Chanis, New Tide Asset Management, LLC – January 25, 2021

“The sooner the futile legal wrangling winds down, the better. The people of this state care about long-term climate change strategies as well as short-term realities of being able to heat their homes, pay the monthly utility bills and put gasoline in the car. Energy companies are playing a central role in both priorities. Instead of trying to shake them down for tens of billions of dollars, public officials should be working with them and other interests on the solutions we need.” – Gregg F. Paster, Esq. – January 26, 2021

“Climate change is not an issue that can be addressed city by city. It must be done at a federal level with the reach of the federal government, both domestically and abroad. Yet, plaintiffs’ attorneys and localities have chosen to sue select oil companies under state laws. Neither the nuisance laws nor the state reach are sufficient to deal with the global nature of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.” – Ellen R. Wald, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center – February 1, 2021