Yesterday, Judge Keenan dismissed a complaint against several producers of fossil fuels that asked the court to address the producers’ role in the effects of climate change. The complaint, filed by the City of New York, alleged that the defendants had known for decades about the effects of their fossil fuel emissions on the global climate but continued to promote these fuels. The City alleged it was harmed when it had to take additional steps to protect the City and its infrastructure from the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and intense storms like Hurricane Sandy.
Judge Keenan held that the state law claims alleged in the complaint were preempted by the federal Clean Air Act. According to Judge Keenan:
[T]he City has not sued under New York law for claims related to the production of fossil fuels in New York. The City brings claims for damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the combustion of Defendants’ fossil fuels, which are produced and used “worldwide.” As discussed above, these types of “interstate pollution” claims arise under federal common law, and the Clean Air Act displaces claims arising from damages caused by domestic greenhouse gas emissions because Congress has expressly delegated these issues to the EPA. Given the interstate nature of these claims, it would thus be illogical to allow the City to bring state law claims when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the Executive Branch as they require a uniform, national solution. Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. 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.
Judge Keenan also found that the suit interfered with the foreign policy powers of the political branches:
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 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. 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. Accordingly, the Court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action.