8 States Sue 5 Biggest Emitters of Carbon Dioxide
July 21, 2004
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Eight states and New York City sued five large utilities
today that are the country's biggest emitters of carbon
dioxide, the heat-trapping gas that scientists have linked
to global warming.
The effort is the first by local governments to try to
force companies outside their jurisdictions to curb gas
discharges blamed for rising global temperatures and sea
levels. Officials involved in the suit said they had acted
to force cuts in the gases because the federal government
In the suit filed today in Federal District Court in
Manhattan, the states and the city said they were not
seeking financial penalties but instead demanding
significant cuts in the emissions, which they said posed
serious threats to health, the economy and environment.
The states are California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey,
New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
The companies named in the suit were American Electric
Power, Cinergy, the Southern Company, the Tennessee Valley
Authority and Xcel Energy. They operate more than 170 power
plants that burn fossil fuels and that the states and city
say emit 646 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, or 10
percent of the national total.
At a Manhattan news conference, Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer of New York said that science pointing to risks
from warming was "overwhelming."
He added that cuts of 3 percent a year in carbon dioxide
emissions from utilities were "technically and economically
feasible" and could be achieved without a noticeable impact
on electricity costs.
Representatives of some of the companies named in the suit
said they were already acting to curb emissions of carbon
dioxide and that the courts were not the right place to
deal with the problem.
"Climate change is a global issue that can't be effectively
addressed by any individual company or small group of
companies," said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for
American Electric Power.
Many states, including many of those involved in the new
lawsuit, have already been using litigation to pressure
out-of-state power plants to curtail nitrogen and sulfur
emissions that travel long distances.
Other suits have been filed by states and private
organizations against the Environmental Protection Agency
over carbon dioxide, contending that the agency had failed
to restrict the gas as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act
despite growing evidence that it posed risks.
But the new suit was the first state legal action taken
directly against companies that discharge carbon dioxide,
an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and other
New York City joined the suit, said Michael A. Cardozo, the
city's corporation counsel, "out of concern for the impacts
that global warming will have on the city and its residents
and as part of the Bloomberg administration's commitment to
maintaining a clean and sustainable New York."
The plaintiffs plan to base the suit on federal common law
of public nuisance. The common law, they said in a news
release, "provides a right of action to curb air and water
pollution emanating from sources in other states."
Lawyers and lobbyists for energy companies said the
plaintiffs would have a hard time making a case that carbon
dioxide was a pollutant, and they noted that the gas flowed
not only from power plants, but was also in exhaled breaths
and the bubbles rising from open beer containers.
But Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general,
cited the states' successful suits against tobacco
companies as evidence that such efforts can succeed. "The
basic principal we're enforcing today is that when
companies do harm to their neighbors and citizens they
should be held accountable and they should be stopped," he