Wall Street Journal Editorial
Fresh from the fiasco in Copenhagen and with a failure in the U.S. Senate looming this coming year, the climate-change lobby is already shifting to Plan B, or is it already Plan D? Meet the carbon tort.
Across the country, trial lawyers and green pressure groups – if that’s not redundant – are teaming up to sue electric utilities for carbon emissions under “nuisance” laws.
A group of 12 Gulf Coast residents whose homes were damaged by Katrina are suing 33 energy companies for greenhouse gas emissions that allegedly contributed to the global warming that allegedly made the hurricane worse. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and seven state AG allies plus New York City are suing American Electric Power and other utilities for a host of supposed eco-maladies. A native village in Alaska is suing Exxon and 23 oil and energy companies for coastal erosion.
What unites these cases is the creativity of their legal chain of causation and their naked attempts at political intimidation. “My hope is that the court case will provide a powerful incentive for polluters to be reasonable and come to the table and seek affordable and reasonable reductions,” Mr. Blumenthal told the trade publication Carbon Control News. “We’re trying to compel measures that will stem global warming regardless of what happens in the legislature.”
Mull over that one for a moment. Mr. Blumenthal isn’t suing to right a wrong. He admits that he’s suing to coerce a change in policy no matter what the public’s elected representatives choose.
Cap and trade or a global treaty like the one that collapsed in Copenhagen would be destructive – but at least either would need the assent of a politically accountable Congress. The Obama Administration’s antidemocratic decision to impose carbon regulation via the Environmental Protection Agency would be even more destructive – but at least it would be grounded in an existing law, the 1977 Clean Air Act, however misinterpreted. The nuisance suits ask the courts to make such fundamentally political decisions themselves, with judges substituting their views for those of the elected branches.