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ICYMI: Experts Agree — Lawsuits Against Manufacturers Shouldn’t be Heard at the State Level because Climate is a Global Issue

In January, oral arguments were heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit over the future court jurisdiction of Baltimore’s lawsuit attempting to make manufacturers pay for infrastructure improvements the city claims are needed to address climate change. The pending issue before the Fourth Circuit is whether state or federal courts are the proper venue for Baltimore’s climate lawsuit. More recently, the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments for the City and County of Honolulu and the County of Maui in similar litigation against manufacturers. The plaintiffs in both cases want their lawsuits to land in state court, in an attempt to avoid federal court where similar cases have repeatedly been dismissed.

In response to these hearings, experts from the American Conservation Coalition, Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and other organizations have weighed in, explaining why the climate lawsuits should be heard at the federal level rather than in state courts. These experts agree that climate change is a global issue. Given this reality, these claims are inherently beyond the scope of any state.

Here’s what experts are saying about climate litigation cases, the global nature of climate change, and the case for federal court jurisdiction:

  • ”Regardless of what happens in the Baltimore case, the debate is much larger than simply deciding the appropriate legal venue. If we are serious about tackling climate change — and we must be — we must pursue innovation and collaboration. We don’t have time to waste on what amount to frivolous lawsuits that are likely little more than political stunts.” – Christopher Barnard, national policy director at the American Conservation Coalition
  • “The reality behind greenhouse gas emissions is that, like all gasses, they spread unabated around the globe. The impact from greenhouse gas emissions is necessarily global in scope and affects the entire planet. Its impact is the antithesis of localized effects caused by specific companies. As the Second Circuit said in an April 2021 decision dismissing New York City’s lawsuit, ‘global warming—as its name suggests—is a global problem that the United States cannot confront alone.’” – Dr. Ellen Wald, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center Senior Fellow
  • “As a matter of both law and policy, it would be best if this case stays in federal court and is not remanded to state court. But what really should happen is that parties should realize the courts aren’t the right place to make climate policy anyway. In fact, the continued pursuit of these lawsuits is affirmatively harmful to climate action: they create false hope that effective climate solutions and responses can be fashioned by the courts, and they take pressure off elected officials who rightfully bear responsibility for putting in place this nation’s climate policy.” – David Hill, attorney and adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, general counsel of the U.S. Department of Energy during the George W. Bush administration
  • “The climate activists are doing this by filing lawsuits against energy companies to try and make them pay for local climate change impacts. These lawsuits want to use state laws to obtain compensation for damages related to sea level rise and extreme weather such as more intense hurricanes. It is faulty logic to suggest these companies “caused” climate change and should have to fix it. The effort to use state law is significant because federal courts have already said that there is no legal or factual foundation for these lawsuits.” – Jonathan Chanis, who manages New Tide Asset Management and worked at financial firms including Citigroup and Goldman Sachs
  • “The dismissal of New York City’s case was significant. First, the court held that “federal common law, not state law” should prevail in these cases because they involve a “uniquely international concern” such as climate change. Second, it saw the litigation as trying to impose national and international policies on carbon emissions through the courts.” – Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich, Co-Director, George Mason University’s Center for Energy Science and Policy