NWF Takes Climate Change Battle to U.S. Supreme Court

States and citizens groups fight for courts to address greenhouse gas pollutants

04-19-2011 // Tony Iallonardo

The National Wildlife Federation is urging the U. S. Supreme Court to uphold the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling that rightly found that states and citizens groups may pursue common law claims against facilities and factories that emit dangerous greenhouse gas pollutants. NWF and partners have filed a “friend of the court brief” in the case, in support of the several states (including New York and Connecticut) and land trusts seeking action on global warming. Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court today and a decision expected from the Court in June.

States take the global warming threat very seriously because they see the harm that sea level rise, heat waves, intensified storms and other climate disruptions cause to their citizens and their natural resources,” said NWF vice president and attorney John Kostyack. Many state-owned and managed parks, wildlife management areas, lakes, rivers and natural areas are key economic drivers and popular recreational venues in the states.

There is a strong scientific consensus that climate change causes serious health and environmental harms:

  • A 2010 National Academy of Sciences report concluded that climate shifts have already started to change ranges and distribution of many animals and plants. The result is a disruption of predatory-prey relationships and many other processes that help keep natural systems functioning.

  • Especially at risk are species in the Arctic and Antarctic, dependent on sea ice, ice that is rapidly diminishing. Also acutely threatened are species adapted to mountaintops, as boreal forests invade tundra habitat. These species have nowhere to go.

  • Without action to reduce carbon pollution, global warming will lead to extinctions, possibly 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species, and serious collapses of ecosystems.

Key federal statutes such as the Clean Air Act call for the federal government to take action to reduce carbon pollution because of the risk that the resulting global warming and ocean acidification causes to human health and welfare. So-called “common law” claims against polluters are available to states and citizens groups when, as here, the federal government has not yet exercised its statutory authority to fight the pollution in question. The amicus brief filed by NWF and its partners urges that the Supreme Court not disturb the longstanding principle of access to the courts to address environmental harms.

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