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Verdicts & Settlements

Judge Dismisses New York City Climate Change Lawsuit

— July 22, 2018

A federal judge dismissed a climate change lawsuit filed by New York City, saying the onus to end global warming is on Congress and the Oval Office rather than the courts.

While Judge John F. Keenan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York called climate change “a fact of life,” he ruled out the judiciary’s role in environmental regulation.

“The serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate,” wrote Keenan. “Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the other two branches of government.”

The 23-page decision, claims the New York Times, poses a major roadblock to local and state governments hoping to curtail climate change through the courts. Another case was similarly dismissed by San Francisco-based Judge William H. Alsup in June.

Both cases, reports the Times¸ rely on ‘the area of public nuisance under state common law, which allows courts to hold parties responsible for actions that interfere with the use of property.’ Here, global warming and its negative effects on property are often attributed directly to the energy industry and its governing policy.

Keenan’s decision discarded New York’s federal common law claim, saying its relevance is superseded by the Clean Air Act.

State law, according to Keenan, shouldn’t be used to displace matters of national importance.

Image via Dor/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-3.0)

The judge went so far as to call the claim that state law may be relevant “illogical” “when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the executive branch as they require a uniform, national solution.”

Using domestic courts to litigate climate change issues—which are international in scope—would, claims Keenan, “severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. government.”

Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the federal government has taken a nonchalant stance toward climate change. Among the first major environmental policy decisions of the current administration was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement.

Keenan—who called climate change a “fact of life”—seemed disinclined toward New York’s arguments from the get-go.

“I mean, aren’t the plaintiffs using the product that is being the subject of the lawsuit and haven’t they been using it and aren’t they continuing to use it?” asked Keenan, calling into question the tens of thousands of fossil fuel-powered vehicles employed by the city’s public sector.

“If you go out the door and over to Foley Square,” he said, “you’re going to find police cars.”

The energy companies targeted in New York’s suit lauded the judge’s ruling. And their executives, moving away from the position of years past, didn’t try contesting the occurrence of man-made global warming.

Instead, they emphasized the futility of trying to litigate “complex” global problems through the American judiciary.

“Judge Keenan got it exactly right,” said Chevron lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. “Trying to resolve a complex, global policy issue like climate change through litigation is ‘illogical,’ and would intrude on the powers of Congress and the executive branch to address these issues as part of the democratic process.”

New York says it still holds ‘big polluters’ responsible for climate change. A spokesperson for the city said its attorneys intend to file an appeal.


Judge says climate issues the purview of federal government, tosses NYC lawsuit

Judge Throws Out New York Climate Lawsuit

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