Eight states and the city of New York filed suit in July against five U.S. utility companies, saying their power plants are responsible for 10 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for global warming. The lawsuit demands cuts in emissions, but does not seek any monetary damages.
The suit was filed under the common law doctrine of public nuisance, according to a statement from the state attorneys general filing the suit, and it contends that the companies' emissions contribute to harm borne by the public. The suit is the first by state or local governments to try to force companies outside their jurisdictions to curb carbon-dioxide emissions. According to The New York Times, the suit seeks a court order requiring the companies to reduce their emissions by at least 3 percent per year for 10 years.
New York City's top lawyer, Michael A. Cardozo, evoked the possibility that carbon-induced global warming could cause New York City to flood, while Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager warned that global warming could cause respiratory illness, heat-related deaths, decimated forests, catastrophic storms and floods, and lowered water levels in the Great Lakes that would threaten shipping. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has previously sued tobacco companies, mutual fund companies, and coal-burning utilities and who has criticized the Bush administration for not enforcing clean-air regulations, said the scientific link between carbon emissions and global warming is clear.
The states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont also joined the suit. The companies being sued are American Electric Power, Southern Company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy, and Cinergy. Together, the utilities own or operate 174 fossil-fuel burning power plants in 20 states that emit some 650 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.