It’s “kooky” and “trivializes a serious problem”, editorializes the Los Angeles Times: “California shouldn’t be in the business of filing meritless suits to gain leverage in other cases“. “It’s not his job to make law through frivolous lawsuits,” opines the San Jose Mercury News (via Wilson). It’s “reprehensible… little more than a political stunt,” adds the Orange County Register. Veteran political columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee terms the suit “Lockyer’s bid to become the champion of cheesiness“. One who does like the suit, curiously enough: an environmental adviser to Gov. Schwarzenegger named Terry Tamminen. And the San Francisco Chronicle investigates: what do state lawmakers drive? More here, here and here (cross-posted from Point of Law).
In a first-of-its-kind suit, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is demanding damages from automakers for the impact of global warming. “Because, after all, the California attorney general is the one who should be deciding national policy on the global warming controversy,” notes Ted at Point of Law. Even accepting Lockyer’s contentions at face value, autos sold in California contribute less than 1 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (David Shepherdson, “Calif. sues over auto emissions”, Detroit News, Sept. 21).
Is Lockyer making it up as he goes along with the new suit, legal-theory-wise? It would seem so. His theory that autos constitute a nuisance have never been enacted as law even by the California legislature, yet he’s asserting it retroactively to punish past behavior by Detroit and Japan worldwide. His views clash strongly with those held by elected officials in many other states, which is one reason our system gives the U.S. Congress, rather than the California attorney general, the right to set national environmental policy. His notion that internal combustion engines might not be unlawful in themselves, but constitute nuisance in this case because manufacturers could be doing more to minimize their impact, makes as much sense (which is to say, no sense whatever) as if he sued California’s own drivers on the grounds that they contribute to the problem by taking unnecessary trips.
Prof. Bainbridge has quite a bit more to say about the abuse of power involved in using this type of litigation as an end run around the political branches of government which are the proper locus of authority on policy matters of this sort (Sept. 21).
Reader Earl Wertheimer writes: “I would rather see the automakers simply agree to stop selling cars in California. Let them walk & bicycle for a while. This would promote better fitness and also reduce future obesity lawsuits.”
Reader Loren Siebert writes: “I wonder if the discovery process will include how many motor vehicles the state of CA has purchased and operates.” And Nick Fenton at DTT Buzz has suggestions for more litigation (Sept. 20).
More: Lockyer “is unlikely to win” the suit, according to legal experts interviewed, especially since “a similar case brought by California and other states against utilities companies in 2004 failed in the courts”. “Even with a small chance of success, environmental advocates say the new legal action is useful and necessary”, one reason being “to pressure carmakers”. “I hope that automakers realise this will be the first of a series of lawsuits,” says Jim Marston of Environmental Defense. (Roxanne Khamsi, “California faces uphill battle on car emissions”, New Scientist, Sept. 22). EconBrowser (Sept. 24):
…the key question in my mind is not the extent to which reducing greenhouse emissions from vehicles may be a good idea, but rather whether, under previously existing U.S. law, it has been lawful to manufacture cars that emit carbon dioxide. I submit that it has, and if a judge somewhere now creatively determines that a company can be punished for such perfectly lawful behavior, then I fear that America is no longer a nation ruled by law, but rather ruled at the whim of whatever those currently wielding power happen to think might be a good idea.
Yet more: Brian Doherty, Reason “Hit and Run”, Sept. 21.
“For no apparent reason, the state of California, Environmental Defense, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have dragged [MIT’s Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology Richard] Lindzen and about 15 other global- warming skeptics into a lawsuit over auto- emissions standards. California et al. have asked the auto companies to cough up any and all communications they have had with Lindzen and his colleagues, whose research has been cited in court documents.” (Alex Beam, “MIT’s inconvenient scientist”, Boston Globe, Aug. 30).
Can you sue over something that you claim will affect everyone in the planet in the distant future, even if that means that everyone on Earth can file a similar lawsuit now? The Supreme Court may address a similar question soon. The Supreme Court agreed today to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat potential global warming, in Massachusetts v. EPA.
Twelve states had sued the EPA to force it to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. Although carbon dioxide is an integral component of the atmosphere, and does not contaminate or cause cancer, the states argued it constitutes air pollution covered by the Clean Air Act, because it may cause global warming over the long run.
A splintered three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-to-1 to reject the lawsuit, but the judges in the majority didn’t agree on why. Judge Sentelle would have rejected the suit for not complying with the Constitution’s requirement of standing, under which a plaintiff must allege particularized injuries, not a “generalized grievance” shared by much of the public at large (much less the entire planet). Judge Randolph, by contrast, was unsure of whether the plaintiffs had standing, but concluded that even if they did, and the EPA had jurisdiction to regulate carbon dioxide, the lawsuit should still be dismissed. He pointed out that regulating carbon dioxide on a state-by-state basis, as the Clean Air Act would do, made no sense, since global warming is a planet-wide concern. Thus, the EPA’s decision not to regulate carbon dioxide was sensible. By contrast, Judge Tatel’s dissent argued that the plaintiffs did have standing, since although everyone might be affected by global warming, they might be affected by it in different ways, with a coastal state being flooded while an arid state might become more arid.
In another lawsuit, attorney generals from seven states have sued out-of-state utilities under state nuisance laws, alleging that power plants, by generating carbon dioxide, are causing global warming. New York federal judge Loretta Preska dismissed their lawsuit in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co. She, too, held that the plaintiffs lacked standing, since they complained of a generalized injury that would be better handled by the political process than by the courts.
If state attorney generals can sue power plants in distant states, that may lead to an explosion of interregional litigation, regional conflict, and judicial micromanagement of out-of-state utilities.