US Power Giants Face Landmark Climate Lawsuit

Eight states and New York city have launched an unprecedented civil action against five of America’s largest power companies, demanding that they cut carbon dioxide emissions because of global warming.

Eight states and New York city have launched an unprecedented civil action against five of America’s largest power companies, demanding that they cut carbon dioxide emissions because of global warming.

Attorney generals from California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, as well as New York city’s corporation counsel, filed a public nuisance lawsuit yesterday in the federal court in Manhattan.

They contend that carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by increasing efficiency at coal-burning plants, switching from coal to cleaner-burning fuels, investing in energy conservation, and using clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.

The case is part of a growing movement among state authorities in the US to challenge George Bush’s refusal to take action on climate change.

Marc Violette, a spokesman for the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, declined to comment on details of the lawsuit. But he said the action would “for the first time put global warming on the litigation map”, specifically targeting carbon dioxide emissions.

In a statement, Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice Program, an amalgamation of 70 green groups and lawyers including Greenpeace and WWF, said: “This is a historic moment – the world’s first legal action to stop greenhouse gas emissions. The companies being sued are amongst the biggest emitters and they know full well that every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit increases the risk of serious damage.

“Until the huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made, the world will see more of this kind of legal action. ”

The companies being sued are American Electric Power Co, Southern Co, Xcel Energy, Cinergy and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.

They collectively own 174 fossil-fuel-burning power plants which produce 646m tons of carbon dioxide a year – about 10% of the nation’s total, the statement said.

News of the action brought a variety of responses from the targeted firms.

Scott Segal, director of the Washington DC-based Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group which includes Atlanta-based Southern, said the lawsuit was frivolous. “The idea that any one company’s emissions are responsible for global climate change is more political science than environmental science,” he said.

Jeffrey Marks of the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents American Electric, Cincinnati-based Cinergy and Southern, said regulating carbon dioxide emissions would severely depress the US economy, limit the use of fossil fuels and hinder environmental improvements. Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for American Electric, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, said his company had been an industry leader on climate change issues.

“We have voluntarily accepted a cap on carbon emissions and are moving toward a 10% reduction by 2006,” he said.

Echoing the Bush administration’s view, he added that dealing with climate change “will require a global commitment, including developing nations.”

Paul Adelmann, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, and Kathy May, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, based in Knoxville, both said their utilities were already taking voluntary steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

There is a growing movement to use the law to attack the continued promotion of fossil fuels. Some US states, cities and environmental groups are challenging the failure of the US environmental protection agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The agency has a role in limiting pollution but refuses to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Another case takes US export credit bodies to task for failing to take climate change into account in their decisions to support fossil fuel projects overseas.

The German government is facing a similar action. People in the polar regions have also announced their intention to sue the Bush administration over climate change, saying inaction has violated their human rights.

Author: Paul Brown

News Service: Guardian/UK


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