Land Trust Case Parallels State, NYC Action Against Five Utility Corporations; Private Groups Seek Court-Ordered Cuts in Carbon Dioxide Emissions
NEW YORK (July 21, 2004) - America's largest global warming polluters find themselves in the legal crosshairs today with the filing of two pioneering lawsuits demanding court-ordered reductions in the companies' heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. This morning the Audubon Society of New Hampshire joined the New York-based Open Space Institute (OSI) in the first private legal action ever to seek direct corporate cuts in the emissions responsible for global warming.
The two land groups are represented in the action by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
The case parallels a similar case filed today in the same court by eight states and the City of New York targeting the same five electric utility companies: American Electric Power Company, the Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy Inc., and Cinergy Corporation. Together the corporations control 25 operating companies and 174 fossil fuel power plants in 20 states, with yearly carbon dioxide emissions totaling more than 650 million tons (10 percent of the U.S. total).
"Our mission as land trusts is to protect and preserve unique landscapes for the enjoyment and benefit of the American people. That mission is severely jeopardized by global warming," said David Houghton, of New Hampshire Audubon. "We don't want monetary damages. All we're asking is that these companies clean up the pollution responsible for the problem."
In addition to the City of New York, the public action involves the states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
"These cases represent a new frontier in the fight against global warming pollution," said David Doniger, NRDC attorney and an expert on the cases. "Today both public and private plaintiffs are asking the court to hold corporate polluters legally accountable for the health and environmental consequences of their emissions. It is a bold, but simple action."
The basis for the suit is the federal common law of public nuisance, which guarantees parties affected by air or water pollution the right to act against responsible sources across state lines. It is a doctrine of long legal standing, and is the historical underpinning of many current environmental regulations. The case was filed federal district court in Manhattan.
Options for reducing emissions include greater use of clean technologies like wind and solar energy; improving efficiency of generating plants; using cleaner plants more and dirtier plants less; using cleaner fuels more, and dirty fuels less; and replacing aging plants over time with modern plants that capture and remove carbon dioxide pollution.
Scientists say the Earth is warming faster today than at any time in history, and far more rapidly than natural forces can explain. The most recent government data show that 2003 tied 2002 as the second hottest year on record, following 1998. All five hottest years have occurred since 1997.