Who Should Pay for Changing The Climate?
|December 31, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Who Should Pay for Changing The Climate?
Eight States and New York City Sue Big Power-Plants Over Emissions
This annoncement comes from OneWorld United States.
by Jim Lobe
Attorneys general from eight states and New York City have filed a landmark lawsuit against the five largest global-warming polluters in the United States demanding that they immediately reduce the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists say is wreaking havoc with the world’s climate.
The unprecedented lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Manhattan’s federal district court, is directed against five companies that own or operate a total of 174 fossil-fuel-burning power plants in 20 states that are responsible for almost a quarter of the U.S. utility industry’s annual carbon dioxide and about ten percent of the total U.S. emissions. Defendants include the American Electric Power Company, the Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Excel Energy Inc., and Cinergy Corporation.
Plaintiffs in the case include the top legal officers of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, along with the corporation counsel of New York. Instead of demanding monetary damages, they are asking that the court order the companies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by at least three percent each year over the next ten years.
“Our lawsuit is a huge, historic first step toward holding companies accountable for these pernicious pollutants that threaten our health, economy, environment and quality of life now and increasingly in the future,” said Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal. “The eventual effects of CO2 (carbon dioxide) pollution will be severe and significant – increasing asthma and heat-related illnesses, eroding shorelines, floods, and other natural disasters, loss of forests and other precious resources.”
“We must act, wisely and quickly, to stem global warming – and safeguard both our environment and economy. Time is not on our side,” he added.
The plaintiffs’ case is based on the federal common law of public nuisance that provides a right of action to curb air and water pollution emanating from sources in other states or that are not under the direct control of the plaintiffs. The attorneys general take the position that the state governments and the City of New York have the duty to protect their residents and properties from harm caused by the plaintiffs.
In separate statements, the defendant companies denounced the lawsuit and at the same time claimed that they were already trying to reduce their emissions both by making technological improvements and by investing more in renewable fuel sources, such as wind power.
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his association considered the lawsuit “frivolous.” “Given that every human emits carbon dioxide every day, the next thing we anticipate from these attorney generals is a collective demand to hold our breath,” he added.
But Rhode Island’s attorney general, Patrick Lynch, insisted the issue was no laughing matter. “It’s imperative that we confront those responsible for unleashing an invader with the power to wreak unspeakable havoc on our climate and to damage, and destroy, our ecosystems,” he said.
“For those who say we may fail (in the lawsuit), I say, ‘Think tobacco,’” said Blumenthal, recalling that the states have won billions of dollars in damages from tobacco companies due to their responsibility for the ill-health and deaths of millions of people who were addicted to smoking. “As in tobacco, we have a uniquely dangerous public-health threat on our hands,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Since the Bush administration turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that requires developed countries to reduce their total annual greenhouse gas emissions by an average of about seven percent below their 1990 emission levels by the year 2012, states and local communities — many led by Republicans as well as Democrats — have taken the lead in cutting emissions in the United States which, by itself accounts for about 25 percent of global emissions.
Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reaffirmed a growing consensus among scientists that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions are contributing to global warming, a phenomenon that has already produced an increase in average global surface temperatures of about one degree over the last century. The most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that 2003 tied with 2002 as the second hottest year on record, after 1998. The five hottest years over the last century have all occurred since 1997.
Moreover, the rate of increase in global temperatures is accelerating sharply, according to scientists. The most recent estimates by an international panel of experts call for a rise in average global temperatures of between three and ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, an increase that may not only be catastrophic for various species of plants and animals, but that would create major health hazards for human beings and major disturbances in global and regional climates.
Despite the growing scientific consensus about the causes of global warming and the fact that the NAS report was prepared at his request, Bush so far has refused to alter his position that strong federal action that would require industry to reduce emissions would hurt the U.S. economy. He has insisted instead that more research be conducted on the problem and that private industries, including utilities and automobile manufacturers, be encouraged to reduce emissions voluntarily.
The state that has perhaps gained the most attention to date is California, which passed a law requiring sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by new cars and trucks. Because that state has the largest population and economy of all 50 states, it has established a standard which automobile companies are now trying to meet.
Its attorney general, Bill Lockyer, called the lawsuit a “new legal frontier in the fight against global warming” and insisted that a “head-in-the-sand response is not an option.”
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