WASHINGTON, DC, (Environmental News Service) – The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a definitive greenhouse gas lawsuit on whether federal law allows states and private parties to sue utilities for contributing to global warming.

In American Electric Power v. Connecticut, a power company asks the court to rule on enforcement of emissions caps, seeking to overturn a ruling by a lower court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

American Electric Power is joined in the lawsuit by Duke Energy, Southern Company, Xcel Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority, a nonprofit public utility owned by the federal government.

The high court will rule on whether states and private parties may seek emissions caps on utilities for their alleged contribution to global climate change.

The justices will also decide whether a cause of action to cap carbon dioxide emissions can be implied under federal common law.

Finally, the justices will decide whether claims seeking to cap carbon dioxide emissions based on a court’s weighing of the potential risks of climate change against the socioeconomic utility of defendants’ conduct would be governed by “judicially discoverable and manageable standards” or could be resolved without “initial policy determination[s] of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion.” …

The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant in West Virginia is owned and operated by Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power. (Photo by Cathy Haglund

The states of Indiana, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming joined in asking the Supreme Court to rule in this case.

The states argue that the theory of liability advanced in this case has no limiting principle. “It would permit federal courts to impose CO2 emission limits on any entity in the country, and one might reasonably expect that the major economic actors of each state, not to mention state government entities themselves, would be on a list of potential defendants. What is more, this lawsuit threatens substantial impact on state environmental regulatory schemes,” the states say in their brief to the high court.

The states maintain that if the matter is allowed to proceed in the district court, “it will embroil the federal judiciary in one of the most high profile and contentious political debates of our time.”

See the full report here in the Environmental News Services wire: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/dec2010/2010-12-07-093.html

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