Polluters Sued for Emissions
Now that a Mississippi lawsuit against energy companies has gotten the go-ahead from a federal court of appeals, it is poised to test the court’s role in the climate change debate.
The suit was brought by 14 Mississippi homeowners who claim that 33 energy companies, including ExxonMobil, emitted greenhouse gases that contributed to global warming. Those emissions caused a rise in air and water temperatures and sea levels and consequently intensified Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed their houses; they are seeking compensation for the damages.
The plaintiffs also asserted that the energy companies are guilty of being a public nuisance, a private nuisance, trespassing, negligence, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claims for unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy but allowed the other charges to go forward.
In saying the suit, Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, could continue, the Circuit Court overruled a previous court’s ruling that global warming is a political matter, not a legal issue.
With this decision, now two federal Circuit Courts have decided that plaintiffs have the legal right to file suits to address climate change. The previous instance came in September, when the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals sided with eight states, New York City and three land trusts suing utility companies over emissions in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co, allowing that case to go forward. Emission caps on utility companies were the goal in that suit, while Comer is about monetary compensation, but both could have far-reaching effects on environmental law.
– Suzanne Bopp