NYC Climate Change Suit Sinks in Federal Court

MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City cannot litigate its way out of the climate change crisis, a federal judge ruled Thursday, dismissing a lawsuit against oil giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during his election night victory gathering, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in New York. A federal judge dismissed the city’s climate change lawsuit, finding that the problem should be addressed by the legislative and executive branches. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by defendants,” U.S. District Judge John Keenan wrote in a 23-page opinion. “But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”

With those branches now under the control of President Donald Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress, the U.S. government’s political branches have been moving in the opposite direction.

Judge Keenan appears to acknowledge that fact in his ruling.

“This type of claim is the subject of international agreements, including — although the United States has expressed its intent to withdraw — the Paris Climate Accords,” the judge noted, referring to the agreement former President Barack Obama signed with 195 other nations in 2016.

“The court recognizes that the city, and many other governmental entities around the United States and in other nations, will be forced to grapple with the harmful impacts of climate change in the coming decades,” Keenan said. “However, the immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms. To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. government.”

Chevron’s attorney Ted Boutrous, from Gibson Dunn, said that the judge “got it exactly right.”

“Trying to resolve a complex, global 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,” Boutrous said in a statement. “The court relied on bedrock Supreme Court precedent to reject these baseless claims.”

One of the U.S. Supreme Court precedents cited in the lawsuit was American Electric Power v. Connecticut, which found that the Clean Air Act displaced federal common law claims similar to nuisance counts the city filed.

Over in California, U.S. District Judge William Alsup cited the same precedent to boot a suit filed by San Francisco and Oakland on similar separation of powers grounds.

“The issue is not over science,” Alsup wrote late last month. “The issue is a legal one – whether these producers of fossil fuels should pay for anticipated harm that will eventually flow from a rise in sea level.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesman Seth Stein said Thursday the city has not given up the fight to make those producers pay.

“The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City,” Stein said. “We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change.”

The New York City Panel on Climate Change found that the city’s average annual temperature has increased at the rate of 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit per decade over the last 30 years.

The panel found that the continuation of this trend would lead to an estimated 30 to 70 percent spike in heat-related deaths citywide by 2020, and that the coastal city would continue to be battered by a sea-level rise that is 60 percent driven by climate-related factors.

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