New York, NY — June 20, 2011 — The Supreme Court declared today that the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases preempts federal lawsuits seeking to impose emission caps on greenhouse gas polluters.
The Court issued its ruling on a suit that was filed in 2004 by Open Space Institute, its land acquisition affiliate, Open Space Conservancy, New York City and eight states against five of the largest electrical utility companies in the U.S. Together, the electrical utility companies produce a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
While nominally a victory for the defendants in the case, the Court affirmed that judicial standing was proper and that there were no other jurisdictional obstacles to bringing a federal tort case against major greenhouse gas emitters. The Court rejected all of the defenses that had been presented at the outset of the case but, in light of the Court's ruling in 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA has regulatory authority over greenhouse gases, today held that this newly recognized EPA authority displaces federal tort law.
Matt Pawa, an attorney for the three land trusts, said that the ruling "is a vindication of our legal arguments on issues of standing and the political question doctrine.
"We have now effectively prevailed on the major issues in the case," he said.
The plaintiffs believe that the companies' emissions contributed to climate change, causing damage to millions of acres of publicly funded and accessible open spaces.
"We are disappointed that today's Supreme Court decision passes the buck," said OSI CEO and President Kim Elliman. "The decision places the onus now on the EPA to act quickly and responsibly. Not to do so threatens our land, water, air and public health."