The United States Supreme Court didn’t seem too interested in the idea that states could sue power companies because of their contribution to global warming.
This week the high court heard arguments about the legitimacy of a lawsuit filed by four states, including New York and California, against a slew of companies who emitted high levels of carbon dioxide into the air. The states are essentially filing suit under the “nuisance clause,” saying that the damaging effects of global warming are causing problems worthy of dealing within the court system. The question the Supreme Court is dealing with is whether or not judges can be making decisions about global warming damages on a case-by-case basis. The timing of the case is also interesting, as the Supreme Court has already granted the EPA authority to regulate carbon emission in Massachusetts v. EPA and, as of this year, the EPA has already began implementing its policy. Perhaps it is all these complications that explain the court’s across-the-board prickliness when listening to arguments. Here are some of the highlights:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed her skepticism about the idea of states and environmental groups being able to sue companies over global warming when she told the lawyer representing the states that, “Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions… the relief you’re seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA.”
Ginsberg wasn’t alone. Elena Kagan joined her when she said regulating climate change, “sounds like the paradigmatic thing that administrative agencies do rather than courts.”
But skepticism wasn’t limited to one wing of the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts and Antonin Scalia joined in. Scalia pointed out the logistical challenges of considering every possible victim of climate change along with every possible contributor to climate change. “Suppose you lump together all the cows in the country,” said Scalia. “Would that allow you to sue all those farmers?”
Roberts also went down the logistical path, but his included considerations on the global economy. “You have to determine how much you want to readjust the world economy to address global warming, and I think that’s a pretty big burden to impose on a district judge,” Roberts said.