Global warming in the defendant's seat
KATRINA: Homeowners say their property was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, which was likely brought on by global warming. (Photo: Leonard Porcano/Citizen Image)
Indeed, the Mississippi case is among a number of other cases that are testing the role of the courts in the climate change discussion. In Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., the courts in September sided with eight municipalities, including New York City, in a suit against a coal-burning utility accused of emitting gas emissions that became a “public nuisance.” The court gave an injunction capping emissions from the companies.
In Mississippi, the homeowners’ case is also a long shot. In legal documents, attorneys for the coal companies named in the suit say the homeowners’ claims are political, not legal. "The judicial branch of government is not equipped with a better set of 'manageable standards' than the political branches for resolving the challenges presented by the scientific theory of global warming," they wrote.
And that’s just the beginning. "Let's just assume for a moment that the court accepts global warming as being caused by various emissions. You then have to say that emission caused, in a legal sense, Hurricane Katrina and was the primary cause of the actual injury," said William Walsh, a private practice lawyer who formerly worked at the Environmental Protection Agency. "There are numerous hurdles here."