States, NYC Sue Energy Companies Over 'Global Warming'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - Eight states and the city of New York this week sued five major energy companies, alleging that the companies contributed to "global warming." The energy companies collectively operate 21 plants in the United States, but only one of the states suing, Wisconsin, has a plant inside its borders.

The attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin are joined by the New York City Office of Corporation Counsel in targeting the energy firms.

The American Electric Power Company, the Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy Inc. and Cinergy Corporation are the defendants in the suit filed Wednesday.

The suit is being brought on the grounds of public nuisance under federal common law and does not accuse the companies of violating existing emissions standards.

Tom Dresslar, spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, told that the suit was necessary "because global warming is a severe threat to our states and their people." He called the public nuisance argument "an ancient legal document," saying it is "well established, including in environmental cases." However, he acknowledged that "this is a first attempt to use public nuisance law to fight global warming."

Lockyer, in a statement on the matter, said the lawsuit "opens a new legal frontier in the fight against global warming."

Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency do not recognize carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs up that view by pointing out that carbon dioxide is a "naturally occurring part of the atmosphere."

Furthermore, America's energy and environmental policies "should be made by elected officials, not lawyers and judges in a courtroom," Chamber President Thomas Donahue stated in a release.

Brian Elwood of Xcel Energy agreed. "We believe that any carbon dioxide policy should be developed by the U.S. Congress and should not be done through litigation." But, he said, Xcel is already committed to reducing emissions.

"In April 2004," Elwood told , "we announced a voluntary carbon management plan which will result in a 7 percent reduction in our carbon dioxide intensity."

Melissa McHenry of American Electric Power said the lawsuit is not a constructive way of dealing with the controversy. "Climate change is a global issue that cannot effectively be addressed by any individual company, small group of companies or even a single country," she said.

Dresslar denied that the states are trying to legislate through litigation. "We have a federal government which says [carbon dioxide] is not a pollutant. We don't agree with that," he said. And in light of the federal government's refusal to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, he continued, "we've got to do something."

Dressler also said the fact that none of the states except for Wisconsin has the energy plants in question within their borders is irrelevant. "Global warming is exactly that, it's global," he said. "I don't know specifically which states we tried to contact. But we have Iowa in there. They're another Midwest state closer to [Wisconsin]."

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