All posts tagged 'Clean Air Act'

Whatever Happened to State Law Carbon Dioxide Liability Claims? Still No Music After Bell

October 27, 2013 07:30
by J. Wylie Donald
“Therefore, the Court declines to assert supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims which are dismissed without prejudice to their presentation in a state court action.”  So ends the last analytical paragraph in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 663 F. Supp. 2d 863 (N.D. Cal. 2009).  Thus, while plaintiffs’ federal common law carbon-dioxide-liability claims were extinguished on standing and political question grounds, state law claims could go forward should the plaintiffs choose to re-file.  Then, the Supreme Court decided American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. __ (2011), and held a set of different plaintiffs’ federal common law claims were displaced by the Clean Air Act.  The Court specifically declined to rule on state law claims of the type at issue in Kivalina:  “None of the parties have briefed preemption or otherwise addressed the availability of a claim under state nuisance law. We therefore leave the matter open for consideration on remand.” Last fall we relied on Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, 903 F. Supp. 2d 314 (W.D. Pa. 2012), out of the Western District of Pennsylvania as support for the proposition that state law nuisance claims were futile – preemption by the Clean Air Act doomed such claims.  The Third Circuit's recent review, while reversing the trial court, has not upended our conclusion. In Bell, 1500 neighbors of the 570 megawatt coal-fired Cheswick Generating Station operated by GenOn Power Midwest, L.P. became annoyed by ash and other contaminants allegedly settling on their property.  And so they brought a class action under Pennsylvania state tort law.  GenOn defended based on the comprehensive regulation of the Clean Air Act, which, it was asserted, preempted state law tort claims; the trial court agreed. On appeal, however, broad preemption by the Clean Air Act was not accepted.  The Court of Appeals acknowledged the comprehensive program established by the Act.  But it also recognized that Congress had specifically provided for a citizens suit provision, 42 U.S.C. § 7604, and that the Act contained two "savings" clauses.  The first, the "citizen suit savings clause," provided:   "Nothing in this section shall restrict any right which any person (or class of persons) may have under any statute or common law to seek enforcement of any emission standard or limitation or to seek any other relief (including relief against the Administrator or a State agency)."  42 U.S.C. § 7604(e).  The second, the "states' rights savings clause," stated:  "Except as otherwise provided ... nothing in this chapter shall preclude or deny the right of any State or political subdivision thereof to adopt or enforce (1) any standard or limitation respecting emissions of air pollutants or (2) any requirement respecting control or abatement of air pollution ...."  42 U.S.C. § 7416.  Read together, a more restrictive state law could be enforced in a citizen suit. This idea was consistent with the Cheswick Generating Station's permit:   "Nothing in this permit shall be construed as impairing any right or remedy now existing or hereafter created in equity, common law or statutory law with respect to air pollution, nor shall any court be deprived of such jurisdiction for the reason that such air pollution constitutes a violation of this permit."   Could a citizen suit successfully address the ill-placed ash and contaminants?  The trial court said "no":  “Based on the extensive and comprehensive regulations promulgated by the administrative bodies which govern air emissions from electrical generation facilities, the Court finds and rules that to permit the common law claims would be inconsistent with the dictates of the Clean Air Act.”  But the Third Circuit said "yes."  Its primary authority was the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in International Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481 (1987), a Clean Water Act case where Vermont plaintiffs asserted a (Vermont) common law nuisance suit in Vermont state court, where the pollution originated from a  New York facility.  To quote:  The Ouellette Court found that the Clean Water Act's savings clauses clearly preserved some state law tort actions, but that the text of the clauses did not provide a definitive answer to the question of whether suits based on the law of the affected state were preempted. 479 U.S. at 492, 497. However, it found definitively that "nothing in the [Clean Water Act] bars aggrieved individuals from bringing a nuisance claim pursuant to the laws of the source State." Id. at 497 (emphasis in original). The Court reasoned that, "[b]y its terms the Clean Water Act allows States . . . to impose higher standards on their own point sources," and "this authority may include the right to impose higher common-law as well as higher statutory restrictions." Id. (internal citation omitted). The Court acknowledged that a source state's "nuisance law may impose separate standards and thus create some tension with the permit system," but explained that this "would not frustrate the goals of the Clean Water Act," because "a source only is required to look to a single additional authority, whose rules should be relatively predictable." Id. at 498-99. Thus, a suit by Vermont citizens would not be preempted if brought under the law of New York, the source state. But, GenOn argued, the Clean Water Act and its savings clauses are distinguishable from the Clean Air Act and its savings clauses.  Not so said the court; "a textual comparison of the two savings clauses at issue demonstrates there is no meaningful difference between them."  Accordingly, the Bell plaintiffs, who brought suit as “Pennsylvania residents under Pennsylvania law against a source of pollution located in Pennsylvania,” were not preempted. Now let’s return again to Kivalina.  The concurring opinion laid out the rule:   “Kivalina may pursue whatever remedies it may have under state law to the extent their claims are not preempted.”  Bell limits those claims.  Where Alaska natives sue in California a collection of greenhouse gas emitters from around the country, they would appear not to satisfy the requirement of emission-source-state-law-applies unless they are arguing that the nuisance rules of a score of jurisdictions must be considered.  In which case, their case falls apart for improper joinder.  And if they attempt to sue in multiple jurisdictions, they only amplify a fundamental flaw in their approach.  Whomever they sue has only contributed a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gases in either volume or over time and thus could not be the proximate cause of the Kivalina plaintiffs’ loss.  See Comer v Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 2d 84 (S.D. Miss. 2012) ("[t]he assertion that the defendants’ emissions combined over a period of decades or centuries with other natural and man-made gases to cause or strengthen a hurricane and damage personal property is precisely the type of remote, improbable, and extraordinary occurrence that is excluded from liability.")  Carbon dioxide liability plaintiffs may attempt to rely on the Third Circuit's decision in Bell to attempt to revive their litigation fortunes.  From our perspective, such attempts still won't ring the bell. 

Carbon Dioxide | Climate Change Litigation | Supreme Court

'Deferral Rule' is Derailed - Biogenic Greenhouse Gas Emitters Stand By to Be Regulated

July 19, 2013 06:27
by J. Wylie Donald
The greenhouse gas rule you’ve never heard of, the Deferral Rule, was shot down (barely) by the D.C. Circuit last week.  See Center for Biological Diversity v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 11-1101 (D.C. Cir., July 12, 2013).   The opinion offers a wonderful primer on greenhouse gas rulemaking and describes the Timing Rule, the Tailpipe Rule and the Tailoring Rule.  It also explains in great detail numerous doctrines concerning agency rulemaking.  And it balances on the edge of a knife.  There is an opinion (Tatel, J.).  There is a concurring opinion (Kavanaugh, J.) that joins the opinion but goes even further, and which additionally states that “I believe, contrary to this Circuit’s precedent, that the PSD statute does not cover carbon dioxide.”  Opinion at 24.  And last, there is a detailed dissent (Henderson, J.) that addresses the arguments of the opinion to good effect.  If one is looking for definitive guidance this opinion will not suffice. Even without the Court’s decision, the rule would have died a year from now anyway.  The rule we are talking about is found at 76 Fed. Reg. 43,490, Deferral for CO2 Emissions From Bioenergy and Other Biogenic Sources Under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Programs.  To those less tied to formality, it is the Deferral Rule.  Under the Deferral Rule, EPA delayed for three years regulation as stationary sources under the Clean Air Act emitters of “biogenic”  carbon dioxide while it further assessed the subject.  Biogenic CO2, is biologically derived CO2, as opposed to CO2 derived from fossil fuels.  It includes emissions from burning landfill methane, combustion of municipal biologically derived solid waste, fermentation processes for ethanol manufacturing and the burning of biomass.  Biogenic CO2 is not discernably different in the atmosphere from that derived from fossil fuels.  Its difference lies in its context.  Biogenic CO2, when considered over time, may have a neutral or even reducing effect on total CO2 emissions because, for example, while the burning of biomass releases CO2, the growing of biomass pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequesters it.  On the whole, facilities burning biomass might actually result in less CO2 emissions.  The purpose of the Deferral Rule was to permit EPA to spend some more time studying biogenic CO2 so as to avoid issuing regulations that accomplished little. In its rulemaking EPA offered three doctrines as justifications for its rule:  the de minimis, one-step-at-a-time, and administrative necessity doctrines.  The de minimis doctrine allows an administrative agency to grant regulatory exemptions ”when the burdens of regulation yield a gain of trivial or no value.”  Opinion at 13.  The one-step-at-a-time doctrine allows an agency to proceed in a “piecemeal fashion.”  Id.  And the administrative necessity doctrine allows an agency to “avoid implementing a statute by showing that attainment of the statutory objectives is impossible.” Id. at 15-16.  The absurd results rule, which EPA set forth in its brief, rejects the interpretation of a statute that would produce an absurd result.  Id. at 17.  The Court rejected all four theories.  The de minimis doctrine only applied to permanent exemptions, as the EPA conceded.  Id. at 13. Accordingly, it did not apply.  The dissent disagreed.  It saw the exception as available, particularly when the statute “expressly does not regulate “minor” sources that cause little harm because they release below-threshold levels of pollutants.”  Id. at 35. Application of the one-step-at-a-time doctrine was found to be arbitrary and capricious because EPA did not set out how it intended to achieve the statutory goal:  “We simply have no idea what EPA believes constitutes ‘full compliance’ with the statute.  In other words, the Deferral Rule is one step towards … what?  Without a clear answer to that question, EPA has no basis for invoking the one-step-at-a-time doctrine.”  Id. at 15.  The dissent was not buying:  “just as EPA proceeded gradually in regulating GHGs under the Tailoring Rule, EPA has delayed its regulation of a specific GHG via the Deferral Rule.  The fact that EPA is required to take action does not preclude it from phasing in the action using the step-at-a-time method.”  Id. at 33. The Court found fault with the administrative necessity theory because EPA did not explore what the Court referred to as the “middle-ground option,” requiring permitting except where the source took steps to reduce its biogenic CO2 emissions.  Because EPA had an “obligation to adopt the narrowest exemption possible, it should have explained why it rejected an option that would have reduced emissions from sources the Deferral Rule permanently exempts.”  Id. at 16-17.  Last, there was the absurd results rule, which EPA sought to apply “because ‘emissions of CO2 derived from certain forms of biomass may not only fail to endanger public health and welfare, but in fact may benefit the public by reducing the net emissions of CO2,’ …[and] it would run afoul of congressional intent to regulate them.” Id. at 17-18. The Court found, however, that EPA did not utilize this rule in its rulemaking, notwithstanding passing references.  Simply put, “[t]hese passing references [fell] far short of satisfying EPA’s ‘fundamental’ obligation to ‘set forth the reasons for its actions.’”  Id. at 18. The concurrence, as noted above, did not believe CO2 was even regulated by the statute.  But that had been previously decided to the contrary and “that’s water over the dam in this Court.”  Id. at 25.  As to the issue before him, that answer was easy:  “EPA simply lacks statutory authority to distinguish biogenic carbon dioxide from other forms of carbon dioxide.”  Id. at 21.  In sum, EPA was required to address emissions of CO2 and there was no part of the statute that allowed “EPA to exempt  … emissions of a covered air pollutant just because the effects of those sources’ emissions on the atmosphere might be offset in some other way.”  Id. at 22.  The last point raised by the dissent, in our view, sums up the entire case:  what was the point?  The dissent would have dismissed because the case was not ripe.  First, it needed to be fit for review.  The rule was temporary and by July 2014 EPA would either have let the rule expire or issued a new rule, one that the petitioners might like, but certainly one that would have been informed by the additional three years of research.  Id. at 38.  Second, deferring decision would work no real hardship to petitioners.  Only one facility had been identified as being able to avoid permitting as a result of the Deferral Rule.  The dissent pointed out that the facility enjoyed no more than the previous status quo:  “the hardship of which the petitioners complain is hyperbolically overblown.  The Deferral Rule does not deregulate scores of polluters.  Instead, it temporarily maintains the theretofore long-time status quo for a limited number of stationary sources that – until July 1, 2011 – had never been subject to regulation as a major source under PSD.”  Id. at 42. In our view, substantively, this decision accomplished little.  A rule that was going to expire next year, expires this year.  Parties seeking to rely on a decision by esteemed arbiters of the law find the arbiters completely at odds with one another.  But that may be the true significance of Center for Biological Diversity.  Notwithstanding that “the task of dealing with global warming is urgent and important at the national and international level,” id. at 25, consistency of approach is by no means assured in any arena, including the courts.

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Greenhouse Gases | Regulation

Native Village of Kivalina Files Its Petition for Certiorari - A Five-Year Climate Change Litigation Marathon That Has Yet to Start

March 15, 2013 05:54
by J. Wylie Donald
One day short of five years since the case was originally filed, on February 25, 2013 the plaintiffs in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp. attempt once more to get out of the starting blocks, this time with a petition for certiorari  to the United States Supreme Court.  This follows dismissal by the Northern District of California in 2009, affirmance of the dismissal by the Ninth Circuit last September, and denial of a petition for rehearing en banc in November.   To be trite, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  The response, if any, is due on April 3.  We can expect a decision on the petition a few weeks after that.  The substance of the petition was easily predicted.  The tension between Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Ass’n, 453 U.S. 1 (1981), and Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471 (2008), and mentioned by the concurrence (Judge Pro, sitting by designation on the Ninth Circuit) is the center of the argument.  Indeed it is the only issue behind the question presented:  “Whether the Clean Air Act, which provides no damages remedy to persons harmed by greenhouse gas emissions, displaces federal common-law claims for damages.” According to the petitioners, the starting point for the analysis is the Court’s 1981 decision in Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304 (1981) (“Milwaukee II”), where Illinois sought to enjoin Milwaukee’s federally permitted Clean Water Act discharges using the federal common law of nuisance.  Petition at 7.   In rejecting Illinois’s claim, the Court “focused carefully on whether the statutory scheme ‘spoke directly’ to the plaintiff’s ‘problem,’ and whether the statute gave the plaintiff a means ‘to protect its interests.’”  Id. at 8.  The same year, however, the Court also, according to petitioners, issued Middlesex, a decision sharply diverging from Milwaukee II. In Middlesex, fishermen aggrieved by ocean dumping were found to have no federal common law remedy because “’the federal common law of nuisance in the area of water pollution is entirely pre-empted by the more comprehensive scope’ of the [Clean Water Act].” Id. at 10. These two threads came together 27 years later in Exxon Shipping, where the Court “departed from any broad reading of Middlesex and returned to the more pragmatic and careful analysis of Milwaukee II.”  Id. Or maybe not.  Kivalina in candor also acknowledged: To be sure, it is possible to read Middlesex narrowly so as to reconcile the decision with Exxon Shipping.  Given Exxon Shipping’s statement that Middlesex is limited to situations where “plaintiffs’ common law nuisance claims amounted to arguments for effluent-discharge standards different from those provided by the CWA,” then it appears that a federal common law damages claim is displaced only where it is so inextricably intertwined with claims for injunctive relief that it amounts to second-guessing of the prospective statutory standards.  Id. at 11-12. Petitioners tied up their arguments with reference to American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011) (“AEP”), the case that established that greenhouse gas claims were displaced by the Clean Air Act.  AEP, it was asserted, “pointedly did not follow Middlesex in concluding that the whole 'federal common law of nuisance is entirely' displaced by a 'comprehensive' regulatory scheme, which would have made for a much shorter, and very different, AEP opinion.” Petition at 12.  Instead, the gravamen of AEP was that the displaced claims were those that would have interfered with EPA’s authority.  Id. at 13. In sum, “Milwaukee II, Middlesex, Exxon Shipping and AEP cannot all be correctly decided, yet all of them are viewed as good law – a conundrum that Judge Pro acknowledged in his opinion concurring in the result and that ultimately led him, and the other members of the panel, to a result in this case that is at odds with the fundamental rationale for displacement and with basic fairness.”  Id. Stated differently, Exxon Shipping permitted common-law damages even though the Clean Water Act displaced claims for injunctive relief.  This was to be contrasted with Middlesex, which “held that  a federal common-law damages claim was displaced by the Clean Water Act.”   Id. at i.  We expect that the Kivalina defendants will have a different point of view. The second part of the petition is the analysis of why the case is so important that the Court should hear it.  Kivalina gave four reasons: 1.  Climate change is an extremely important subject.  In a pointed salvo, petitioners cited to the petition for certiorari in AEP, where some of the same defendants stated “’The questions presented by this case are recurring and of exceptional importance to the Nation.’”2. Displacement presents a fundamental question of boundaries between the legislative and judicial branches.3. GHG emissions claims are “inherently important because of the extraordinary nature of global warming.”  4. Kivalina’s very existence is at stake. Notwithstanding all that, the odds of the petition being granted are long.  The Court only accepts between 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review each year.  That is less than a 2% chance, all things being equal.   Greenhouse gas emissions were on the Court’s docket in 2007 (Massachusetts v. EPA) and again in 2011 (AEP v. Connecticut).  While we agree that climate change cases are important; we are skeptical that this narrow issue (displacement of damages, when the Court has already ruled on displacement of injunctive relief) justifies a place at the finish line, marathon or no.

Climate Change Litigation | Greenhouse Gases | Sustainability

State Common Law Carbon Dioxide Liability Claims: Premonitions of Preemption (and Dismissal)

November 28, 2012 21:48
by J. Wylie Donald
Left open by the Supreme Court’s decision in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527  (2011), was the question of whether state law nuisance claims for the emission of carbon dioxide were viable in the face of the Clean Air Act.  That question continued to be answered in the negative with the decision of the Western District of Pennsylvania last month in Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, GenOn Power Midwest, L.P. (W.D. Penn. Oct. 12, 2012) (attached), which was appealed to the Third Circuit the Friday before Thanksgiving.1    In Bell, plaintiffs, neighbors to defendant’s coal-fired electricity generating plant, filed suit alleging: that the [defendant’s] atmospheric emissions fall upon their properties and leave a film ofeither black dust (i.e., unburned coal particulate/unburned coal combustion byproduct) or whitepowder (i.e., fly ash). According to the Plaintiffs, those discharges require them to constantlyclean their properties, preclude them from full use and enjoyment of their land, and “make[them] prisoners in their own homes.”  Order at 2.  Plaintiffs further alleged that defendant did not use best available technology and was damaging the plaintiffs' properties, an outcome not permitted by defendant’s Permit to Operate.  Id. at 3.  As to legal theories, plaintiffs alleged nuisance, negligence and recklessness, trespass and strict liability.  Id. Defendant moved to dismiss, asserting, among other things, that the claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act.  Id. at 5.  The court agreed.  Plaintiffs had attempted to distance themselves from their complaint, which had criticized defendants for failing to comply with their Clean Air Act permit and sought injunctive relief.  They asserted in their papers that “[t]he Defendant is allowed to emit whatever millions of pounds of emissions the [EPA] has decided for Defendant but Defendant is not allowed by those emissions granted [to] it by the [EPA] to damage private property.”  Id. at 8. The court was not buying:  “A review of the Complaint reveals that the allegations of Plaintiffs, as pleaded, assert various permit violations and seek a judicial examination of matters governed by the regulating administrative bodies. … Thus, the Court reads the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, including its common law claims, as necessarily speaking to and attacking emission standards."  Id. at 10. The court specifically noted that the Supreme Court, in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, had held that “the Clean Air Act preempted federal common law nuisance claims as a means to curb emissions from power plants.”  Id. at 12 (citing 131 S. Ct. at 2540).  It also noted, however, that the Court had not ruled on state law nuisance claims.  Those claims would depend “on the preemptive effect of the federal Act.” Id. (citing 131 S. Ct. at 2540). Did the Clean Air Act preempt state law nuisance claims?  The court had little doubt and turned for authority to the Fourth Circuit’s decision in N. Carolina, ex rel. Cooper v. Tennessee Valley Auth., 615 F.3d 291 (4th Cir. 2010), cert. dismissed, 132 S. Ct. 46(2011)).  In finding that “public nuisance claims were preempted because they threaten to scuttle the comprehensive regulatory and permitting regime that has developed over several decades,” Order at 12-13, the Fourth Circuit held:  A field of state law, here public nuisance law, would be preempted if a scheme of federal regulation is so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it. Here, of course, the role envisioned for the states has been made clear. Where Congress has chosen to grant states an extensive role in the Clean Air Act's regulatory regime through the SIP and permitting process, field and conflict preemption principles caution at a minimum against according states a wholly different role and allowing state nuisance law to contradict joint federal-state rules so meticulously drafted. Id. at 13, quoting Cooper. 615 F.3d at 303 (citations, quotation marks and alterations in original omitted). Accordingly, because the “specific controls, equipment, and processes to which the Cheswick Generating Station is subject to are implemented and enforced by [state and federal regulators]  Plaintiff’s Complaint, as pled, would necessarily require this Court [the Western District] to engraft or alter those standards, and judicial interference in this regulatory realm is neither warranted nor permitted. To conclude otherwise would require an impermissible determination regarding the reasonableness of an otherwise government regulated activity.”  Id. at 14.  Thus, plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted. Plaintiffs had one slim hope.  The Clean Air Act contains a “savings clause”, which provides “[n]othing in this section shall restrict any right which any person (or class of persons) may have under any statute or common law to seek enforcement of any emission standard or limitation or to seek any other relief (including relief against the Administrator or a State agency).” 42 U.S.C. § 7604(e).  This too had been considered in Cooper and rejected.  Order at 14, citing 15 F.3d at 303-04.  Further, the Supreme Court had spoken on savings clauses as well:  “As we have said, a federal statute’s saving clause cannot in reason be construed as allowing a common law right, the continued existence of which would be absolutely inconsistent with the provisions of the act.”  Id. at 14, quoting AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740, 1748 (2011).  Thus, the court found that “Based on the extensive and comprehensive regulations promulgated by the administrative bodies which govern air emissions from electrical generation facilities, the Court finds and rules that to permit the common law claims would be inconsistent with the dictates of the Clean Air Act.”  Id. at 15.  Accordingly, notwithstanding the suggestion by the Supreme Court in American Electric Power that state law nuisance claims for carbon dioxide liability might be viable, if the Western District’s analysis is correct and applicable to carbon dioxide, such claims will not survive for very long.   1Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 2d 849, 865 (S.D. Miss. 2012), also relied on American Electric Power and found state law nuisance claims displaced by the Clean Air Act.  That court had first found that plaintiffs’ claims failed due to res judicata and estoppel, and half a dozen other reasons, and its analysis of the displacement and preemption issue is not extensive. See Dismissed Means Dismissed: Comer v. Murphy Oil, the First Climate Change Liability Damages Suit, Is Tossed Again. 20121012 Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, Order of Dismissal & Notice of Appeal.pdf (694.83 kb)

Carbon Dioxide | Climate Change Litigation | Supreme Court

Climate Change and the Supreme Court Part II: Certiorari Granted in Connecticut v. American Electric Power

December 6, 2010 07:35
by J. Wylie Donald
It doesn't take much insight to conclude that today's granting by the Supreme Court of the petition for certiorari in Connecticut v. American Electric Power could be the start of a whole new era in climate change liability lawsuits. If the Supreme Court comes down on the side of the plaintiff States, it may become open season on utilities, coal and petrochemical companies, automobile manufacturers, and anyone else a litigation-minded plaintiff wishes to mulct in damages for carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Potential defendants need to take steps now to identify their insurance coverage and be prepared to give notice. The Supreme Court last looked at climate change in 2007 when it concluded in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), by a 5-4 decision, that the Clean Air Act required the USEPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were air pollutants within the meaning of the Act. The issue this time is whether the courts should be imposing judicial remedies for injuries allegedly arising from the emission of carbon dioxide, an alleged nuisance. Few reading this blog will need an introduction to Connecticut v. American Electric Power. I won't go over it other than to remind readers that it was filed in New York federal court in 2004 by several states against a collection of carbon dioxide-emitting utilities and was then consolidated with similar cases filed by public interest groups. The basic allegation was that the utilities' carbon dioxide emissions constituted a public nuisance and the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief compelling the utilities to reduce their emissions. On motion, the trial court dismissed the case concluding that the political question doctrine applied because only the political branches (i.e., the legislative and executive arms of the government) could appropriately balance the array of environmental, economic and other issues presented. An appeal followed to the Second Circuit, which reversed and held that the political question doctrine does not preclude federal common law nuisance claims. Following denial of a petition for en banc review, the petition for certiorari was filed on August 2, followed shortly by an amicus curiae brief from the Obama administration. The federal government asserted that the Second Circuit's decision should be vacated because the government was developing regulations and that the courts should stay out. Of course Connecticut v. American Electric Power is not alone. Private and public plaintiffs have brought suit for alleged climate change losses arising in Mississippi, California and Alaska. Although all three cases have been dismissed, the appeal of one was withdrawn, the appellate panel in the second reversed the dismissal, but which was then vacated when the en banc court accepted review and then could not muster a quorum, and the third is pending before the Ninth Circuit. See Cal. v. Gen. Motors Corp., No. C06-05755, 2007 WL 2726871 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2007), appeal dismissed, No. 07-16908 (9th Cir. June 24, 2009); Comer v. Murphy Oil Co., 2007 WL 6942285 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2007), rev'd, 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2009), reh'g granted, 598 F.3d 208 (5th Cir.), appeal dismissed, 607 F.3d 1049 (5th Cir. 2010); Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 663 F.Supp.2d 863 (N.D. Cal. 2009), appeal pending, No. 09-17490 (9th Cir. Nov. 5, 2009). Quite clearly, the last chapter on these types of lawsuits has not been written. Reading the tea leaves on Connecticut v. American Electric Power will be difficult. To grant a petition for certiorari, only four justices need to approve. With the retirement of Justices Stevens (author of Massachusetts v. EPA) and Souter (who joined in the opinion), and the recusal from Connecticut of Justice Sotomayor (who heard argument at the Second Circuit but did not sign the opinion), a 4-4 decision in Connecticut is certainly possible. That would leave the Second Circuit's decision intact without a Supreme Court decision (which might bode well for the appeal of Kivalina before the Ninth Circuit). IMPLICATIONS FOR A DECISION Emitters of carbon dioxide are hoping for a clean decision that puts the climate change liability genie back in the bottle and lays the theory of federal common law nuisance in its grave. But what if that does not occur? There is certainly a fair chance that the justices either affirm the theory, or, 4-4, do not reject it. In that case, plaintiffs' lawyers are very likely to be emboldened and bring other suits. Some target industries have already been identified. When the results of USEPA's greenhouse gas reporting rule are collated, other industries may find themselves in the crosshairs. The time to identify insurance coverage is not when half a dozen claims have been filed in jurisdictions across the nation demanding an answer within 30 days. Climate change defendants and potential defendants should take steps now to prepare for future claims, most notably because of the risk they may lose insurance coverage for these claims if they are not reported timely. Many will rely on notice to their current insurer and that is a good strategy, so far as it goes and only if that carrier agrees to coverage. But besides one's current policy, one should also be considering prior "occurrence-based" policies, which could be triggered based on allegations of injury-causing events occurring over time. It does not require much imagination to analogize the time periods over which, for example, glaciers have melted, snowpack has become depleted, erosion has increased, and water supplies have been drawn down to other drawn-out injuries that established the "continuous trigger" rule that attached multiple policies. Some states have a bright line rule for notice. If it is not given promptly, dismissal based on late notice is a likely result. Other states are more lenient and require prejudice to the insurer. New York until recently was a no-prejudice-to-the-insurer state. But the law changed in 2009 to require the insurer to show prejudice (or the insured to show no prejudice) - but it was not retroactive. Accordingly, insureds with policies subject to New York law (which is often the case due to a choice of law provision in the policy) prior to 2009 still need to give notice promptly. Even in those states that require prejudice to be shown, one cannot know how the case law on prejudice will evolve in the context of climate change; hence prompt notice is a good idea in other states as well. Notice here is not as easy as it may sound. Unlike Superfund cases where the (alleged) responsible entity is identified by the claimant and therefore can be identified to the insurance company, carbon dioxide emission liability can fall to any fossil-fuel fired plant owned by the corporate entity, including potentially those operated by subsidiaries. Accordingly, those subsidiaries' policies may need to be tracked down and placed on notice as well. Taking liberties with Ben Franklin's adage, an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. Should climate change claims get the green light from the Supreme Court, policyholders would be wise to have located all of their protection ahead of time.

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Litigation | Insurance | Supreme Court | Utilities

EPA proposes backstop rules to help GHG Tailoring Rule Rollout

August 18, 2010 09:53
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to roll out the details for the so-called greenhouse gas (GHG) tailoring rule, Step 1 of which is set to take effect on Jan. 2, 2011, EPA last week announced two expedited rulemakings designed to plug regulatory gaps that could impair the GHG Tailoring Rule’s implementation. EPA announced last week that 13 states have non-compliant state implementation plans (or SIPs) in that they do not clearly identify GHGs as pollutants subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program permitting.  As a result, large existing sources in those states that might be increasing their GHG emissions by more than 75,000 tons per year (the GHG Tailoring Rule first step threshold) cannot obtain a PSD permit that covers GHGs as required by the GHG Tailoring Rule. EPA is therefore proposing to launch a “SIP Call” to those 13 states and any other state that determines its own program is inadequate to cover GHGs.  Separately, recognizing that some states may not act quickly enough to allow for compliance by the January 2, 2011 implementation of the GHG Tailoring Rule, EPA announced that, for the first time since the Clean Air Act was enacted, the EPA plans to issue its own Federal Implementation Plan (or “FIP”) for GHGs to allow for the EPA to issue its own federal PSD permit to sources above the thresholds that are located in states not yet compliant with the rules. These gap-filling regulatory developments are aimed at facilitating GHG Tailoring Rule compliance by the biggest sources of GHG emissions. It covers large industrial facilities such as power plants, cement kilns and oil refineries that are responsible for 70% of the GHGs from stationary sources. Beginning January 2nd, the GHG Tailoring Rule permitting requirements will apply for large facilities already permitted as major sources under the Clean Air Act for non-GHG pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These facilities will have to account for GHGs in their applications if they increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.  Subsequent regulatory triggers apply in the future under the GHG Tailoring Rule. Effective July 1, 2011, the GHG Tailoring Rule will extend to all new facilities with GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tons a year and modifications at existing facilities that increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tons a year. EPA said last week in a statement that the results of these new expedited rulemakings would be temporary measures in place until states revise their SIPs and assume responsibility for GHG permitting. EPA is expediting its rulemaking process to ensure the rules are finalized before the January 2nd start. A public hearing has been scheduled on its proposals for August 25th and EPA will accept written public comments over the next 30 days.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Greenhouse Gases

16 States Back EPA in Suit Challenging Endangerment Finding

January 26, 2010 07:02
It has only been a month since an organization called the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding and, already, 16 states have lined up with the EPA, seeking to intervene in support of the challenged regulation.   The challenged regulation, entitled “Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act” (the “Final Rule”), was published in the Federal Register on December 15, 2009 and was issued by the EPA in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007).  The rules regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and engines.    In the Final Rule, the Administrator finds that “the body of scientific evidence compellingly supports” her conclusion that “greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” She defines the resulting air pollution referred to in Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act to be “the mix of six long-lived and directly-emitted greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfer hexafluoride (SF6).”  The Administrator concluded that the mix of greenhouse gases from transportation sources contribute to the climate change problem, which is reasonably anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.   The Final Rule triggers the EPA’s statutory duty to promulgate regulations establishing emissions standards for motor vehicles covered by Section 202(a)of the Clean Air Act.   Noting that the Court’s action on the petition for review will affect the public health and welfare of their residents and will also affect a host of global warming impacts that the proposed intervenors are suffering, the following states seek to intervene in support of the EPA: Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the States of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.  The City of New York also filed in support of the EPA.   Notably absent from the Motion for Leave to Intervene as Respondents is the State of New Jersey, from which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson came as the prior Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. New Jersey, which just last week inaugurated new Republican Governor Chris Christie, who unseated Democrat Jon Corzine, formerly supported climate change litigation and was among the states challenging the EPA in Massachusetts v. EPA.  The following states were not in the Massachusetts v. EPA case but joined the fight now in support of the regulations: Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland and New Hampshire.

Carbon Dioxide | Climate Change | Legislation | Regulation | Greenhouse Gases

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