2nd Circuit Allows Public Nuisance Suit Against Greenhouse Gas Emitters

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Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company Inc., ____F.3d ____, No. 05-5104 (2nd Cir. 2009) by James Rusk

States and private plaintiffs may sue utility operators under the federal common law of nuisance to abate carbon dioxide ("CO2") emissions that contribute to global warming, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held this month. Although the 139-page opinion appears to open a new front in the fight over climate change, its full import is uncertain. The court held only that plaintiffs had standing, that they had stated public nuisance claims under the federal common law and that those claims were justiceable. It did not reach the merits of plaintiffs' claims, and it expressly noted that those common law claims could yet be displaced by federal legislative or rulemaking action. With that in mind, the case could prove more significant as an additional impetus for national greenhouse gas regulation than as a tool for judicial control of emissions.

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