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SCOTUS: Clean Air Act Trumps Emissions Lawsuits 303

Posted by Soulskill
from the laying-down-the-law dept.
schwit1 writes "The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a global warming lawsuit against five big power companies, its most important environmental ruling since 2007 and a victory for the utilities and the Obama administration. The justices unanimously overturned a ruling by a US appeals court that the lawsuit now involving six states can proceed in an effort to force the coal-burning plants to cut emissions of gases that contribute to climate change. In a defeat for environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed with the companies that regulating greenhouse gases should be left to the Environmental Protection Agency under the clean air laws. The ruling stemmed from a 2004 lawsuit claiming the five electric utilities have created a public nuisance by contributing to climate change. The lawsuit wanted a federal judge to order them to cut their carbon dioxide emissions."
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SCOTUS: Clean Air Act Trumps Emissions Lawsuits

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  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by God'sDuck (837829) on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:39PM (#36505510)

    Green types who want to cripple our lifestyle and economy in the name of reducing CO2 emissions will have to convincingly win an election with a clear mandate to do so.

    Change != cripple.

  • Well well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CCarrot (1562079) on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:40PM (#36505530)

    ...sometimes they actually get it right. Sort of.
    Go figure.

    Now if they could only figure out that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and therefore does not fall under the Clean Air Act either...

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RazzleFrog (537054) on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:43PM (#36505556)

    Right or wrong - the courts shouldn't be making laws - that's congress's job.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:48PM (#36505612)

    This is an interesting ruling to me in that it is more about the balance of power between the three branches of government than it is about the subject of the lawsuit, greenhouse gases in this case.

    It has become fairly common for activists to seek court orders to impose their pet issues rather than go through the incredibly slow sausage-making process of legislative reform. This ruling is a smackdown from the Supreme Court saying "no, you six states cannot get a judge to rewrite environmental policy for you. If you want a policy change, you have to do it the old-fashioned way, by getting Congress to tell the EPA what to do. That's why you states have representatives in Congress in the first place."

    Regardless of how one feels about CO2 emissions regulation, I think it is none the less a Good Thing that SCOTUS has blocked off this back channel to overriding the normal policy-making process. It's not a sweeping ruling but it is a precedent. Also interesting is that here we have a clear case of the judiciary ruling to limit the power of ... the judiciary. Kind of. How often do you see something like that?

  • by RazzleFrog (537054) on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:54PM (#36505664)

    Well said. Some people may react strongly because it is something they believe in but we never want to let the court system override the legislative process because next time it might not be something that we all like so much.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 20, 2011 @04:58PM (#36505718)

    Great, except that the courts were essentially the last place anyone who isn't a massive corporation could go to fight this kind of shit. What the SCOTUS continues to do with rulings like this is exactly what they were bought and paid for by big business to do (and probably what you are paid by big business to say here): eliminate every opportunity for individual citizens or non-corporate entities to affect public policy. The idea that environmentalists simply need to go through the legislative process is astonishingly naive, and assumes that there exists some kind of legislative process that anyone who isn't a multi-billion dollar corporation can actually participate in.

    This is just another decision favoring big business over individuals, and every politician, libertardian and business executive across the country is celebrating today because it means they will continue to enjoy many more years of socializing the external costs of their businesses, while privatizing the profits.

  • Re:Whelp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:00PM (#36505726)

    Oh for crying out loud. While I'm sure that breathing crap is bad for you cancer and/or lung disease is not inevitable. Just like smokers that inhale 3 packs a day and live into their 80's and 90's and some die in their 40's it's all pretty much up to the physical ability of the individual's body to resist the poison. Meanwhile continuing to run the price of electricity out of sight affects everyone right now. I haven't read the actual figures on how much pollution we're talking about here but I know in the last 30 to 40 years that pollution in general where I live has pretty much been stable. Population has gone up but pollution controls have about kept pace with the growth. I'd like it to go lower, who wouldn't, but I'm not prepared to pay another 2 or 3 hundred dollars a month in electric bills to do it.

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ninetyninebottles (2174630) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:01PM (#36505738)

    Releasing CO2 isn't illegal as long as it falls within current regulations. Suing the power companies is like me suing smokers (who are smoking in legal places).

    Sure, that's a fine analogy. Say you're in one of the few counties that still allows smoking in jail cells. Say you have severe asthma and the guy in the next cell is smoking. You tell him about the condition and ask him to stop and he tells you to fuck off and that it's legal and he doesn't care if it harms you. Yeah, you should absofuckinglutely have the right to sue him. That's what lawsuits are for, resolving conflicts where a crime is not being committed, but where the rights of two people or corporations are in conflict. You'll note I made the analogy a bit more specific, since we are all pretty well trapped in the prison cell called Earth. In the same vein, if you grow up with your parents smoking, knowing the health problems, yeah you should be able to sue your parents for forcing you to be subject to second hand smoke and if you can demonstrate it is because of the smoking, you should win and they should pay your medical and compensate you for the pain and suffering and reduced lifespan. Just because it is legal does not mean you're free from responsibility for your actions when they hurt others.

  • by CCarrot (1562079) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:02PM (#36505744)

    But would you be willing to breath an atmosphere that was 100% carbon dioxide? No?
    g=

    Er, no, however one that was 100% oxygen (or pretty much any gas) would be just as toxic for you and me...should the Clean Air Act cover oxygen emissions as well?

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blair1q (305137) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:03PM (#36505746) Journal

    I haven't read the law that created the EPA, but,

    Either the plaintiffs didn't read that law and it clearly states that anyone is exempt from being sued as long as they follow EPA regs, or the Supreme Court inferred that anyone who follows EPA regs is indemnified but it doesn't actually say that in the law.

    With woo-woo plaintiffs and a classic Alice-in-Wonderland Supreme Court, I give it a 50-50 shot that it went either way.

    Except that this was a unanimous decision, and I know at least 3 of these justices know enough to read the law before voting on it.

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:04PM (#36505758)

    Change = Cripple when you don't have a solid plan, or expect 300 million to change there ways very quickly.

    "Oh I am sorry you need to leave you house now because it is too far of a commute for you, we want you to move to a crowded, noisy and full of crime city. I don't care if you own the house, that makes it worse that means you are rich and therefore must give up more, I don't care how much harder you worked to get the money you must all live like us"

    If you want Green you will need to come up with ways that would not cause people to change their way of life that they worked hard to obtain.

  • Re:Well well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by matty619 (630957) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:07PM (#36505806)

    Now if they could only figure out that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and therefore does not fall under the Clean Air Act either...

    Well, anything is a pollutant in high enough quantities, but sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. The climate WILL change. If not from AWG, then from something else. Perhaps a meteor strike, or a massive volcano, or decreased/increased solar activity. Better to focus on creating an upwardly mobile society that can more easily adapt to these inevitable changes than to risk making society poorer and therefore less able to adapt. Within reason of course. Not to advocate for slash and burn in the name of economic expansion, but we're not ready to run our economies on windmills and horse manure yet.

  • Re:Whelp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JDAustin (468180) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:09PM (#36505818)

    ...and I would love to see nuclear provide 75% of our power but the same environmentalists who hate coal also hate nuclear. To them, cheap energy (no matter the source) is the problem. Of course cheap energy has done more to lift civilization out of poverty then anything else.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:19PM (#36505922)

    If companies were dumping enough oxygen into the air for it to be a threat to our quality of life, then yes.

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ninetyninebottles (2174630) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:25PM (#36505984)

    Unfortunately, if its legal to smoke in the jail cell you would lose.

    You're not very familiar with US law are you? Let me be real clear here. Legal != you'll win a lawsuit. It's not illegal to serve scalding hot coffee, but McDonalds lost. It's not illegal to own a trampoline or pool and have it in your backyard unattended, but a great many people have lost lawsuits over doing just that. It's not illegal to own animals, but if one of your animals escapes and hurts someone, you better believe you're going to lose a lawsuit. Maybe you need to look into the phrase "civil law".

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:29PM (#36506042) Homepage

    I am confused by the article. It could mean one of two very different things:

    1) The states passed laws requiring the corporations to cut their emissions even further than what the EPA required. The companies did not comply so the states sued. The Supreme Court ruled that the state laws do not trump the federal law, so they cannot be enforced.

    -- OR --

    2) The states sued the companies for damages, even though the companies complied with the federal law.

    The implications are very different. The first one would surprise me: it seems like a states rights issue. States often times impose local environmental restrictions that may be beyond the federal requirements. If it was the latter, then I am not surprised. This happens all the time with anything where there is any form of regulation or standard practice. If the entity is following the regulation or best practice, they are generally immune from suits. Ex: Suppose a boat captain requires everyone to wear a life jacket, properly maintains the boat according to all the rules, has coast guard inspections, training, certificates, etc.... the captain is probably not liable if the boat catches fire and kills someone . Often times the regulatory body gets sued instead. In the above example, the coast guard may be sued for having lax rules.

  • Re:Whelp (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shark (78448) on Monday June 20, 2011 @05:56PM (#36506332)

    Of course cheap energy has done more to lift civilization out of poverty then anything else.

    Read 'Ecoscience' co-authored by John P. Holdren (science Czar) and you'll understand that you hit it right on the nail. It has nothing to do with the environment, cheap energy is a very serious problem to these guys. They started at the forefront of the eugenicist movement (Holdren is a self-proclaimed malthusian) and now they're at the forefront of the global warming hysteria. If one is to believe what's in that book, the solution is de-industrialization of the world so that we can no longer sustain as large a population as we have now. According to the book, a billion is the magic 'sustainable' figure.

    'Think of the environment' is the new 'think of the children'. Yes, there are very serious environmental issues but sadly, these issues are way too useful to our leadership as excuses to push an agenda to warrant implementation of any real solutions.

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by presidenteloco (659168) on Monday June 20, 2011 @06:00PM (#36506384)

    You know, I think when it comes down to it, I think the problem is we're not teaching people HOW to believe.

    I don't mean WHAT to believe.

    I mean HOW. As in, how to arrive at justified levels of belief in a rational and consistent manner.

    I've pretty much come to the conclusion that most people are not that good at believing properly, or
    anywhere arguably even close to properly. The wrong conclusions being in the majority most of the
    time are then something of a foregone conclusion, given that when you don't know how to believe
    rationally, you typically just believe whoever you think is trustworthy, and charismatic slime-ball
    manipulators (overly self-interested leaders) sure know how to fake trustworthiness when there's
    something in it for them.

  • Re:Whelp (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Monday June 20, 2011 @06:21PM (#36506580) Homepage

    1) What is wrong with hydrocarbon-driven peaking, where needed? The point is not ideological purity; the point is getting our carbon emissions down. And it that equals geographically-distributed wind + solar + NG where needed for peaking..... so? What matters is that the coal comes off the grid and most of the energy comes from low or no carbon sources.

    2) Conventional hydro is more than sufficient for peaking in the west, although in some places you need to uprate plants (but that's pretty cheap).

    3) Storage can also act as peaking. At present, the most cost effective method is pumped hydro, which only adds 1-2 cents per kilowatt hour. It's so cheap that it's already extensively used in China -- not to balance out supply variation, but to balance out *demand* variation. I would not be surprised at all to find direct electrochemical or electrostatic energy storage dominating in 2-3 decades.

    4) EGS/SWEGS can also act as peaking, or baseload.

    But I'll jot down a note that you'd much rather make fun of your ideological foes with straw men than sit down to a serious debate.

  • Re:Whelp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 20, 2011 @06:51PM (#36506884)

    Why am I condescending? Final point...

    Name ONE energy source the environmentalists will approve!

    Wind, kills birds, it's ugly
    Solar, alters the desert echo system, the chemicals are too bad in the manufacture process
    Hydro, Destroys too much land creating the reservoir
    Coal, natural gas, oil, --- CO2
    Nuclear --- Radiation
    Geothermal, destroys the echo system...

    Oh I almost forgot... These wackos won't even let us build power lines between the power generation and the location the power is used...

    And On and On...

    No matter what the source is, those wackos find something to complain about.

    Bottom line, coal isn't that bad... The hype about CO2 is just that, hype... So you want to find an alternative to get rid of CO2. But while you have all of these great ideas of other sources, the environmentalists WILL NOT let you build them in sufficient quantities to actually meet the demand. So, this continued discussion is just a WASTE of time because there isn't an environmentally friendly solution. Therefore, the only environmentally friendly solution is for us to live in caves sucking slime off the walls for nourishment. WHEN the ENVIRONMENTALISTS come forward with an energy source that can meet the nations needs then we can discuss alternatives... You know when that will happen? NEVER!!!

  • Re:Yes, the EPA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Monday June 20, 2011 @08:44PM (#36507910) Homepage Journal

    The problem is, Congressional Republicans are trying to remove any authority for the EPA to do so. Or at the very least, remove any funding for any actions that would (which should be unconstitutional).

    Yea that threat is pretty toothless, since the Obama administration and all of his bureaucracies routinely ignore the law and courts these days. All the nuclear power plants are required to spend the money for packing and shipment of their nuclear waste to Yucca Mt., congress voted on the rules and decided that's where it's going, and the courts have all upheld that decision. Nevertheless, the DOE has unilaterally decided not to maintain Yucca or accept any spent fuel there.

    The FCC has done the same thing, with congress telling them they did not authorize them to regulate any "neutrality" rules, and the courts telling them they didn't have that authority, but they went ahead with their rules anyway.

    Now congress has told Obama that he needs authorization for the use of force in Libya, and all he did was write them a letter that basically said "fuck you I'll do what I want. Besides, you told Bush he could respond to the World Trade Center attacks, so I'm just following that rule."

    So congress, the courts, all worthless. Might as well just crown Obama the King and be done with the charade.

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