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Am. Elec. Power Co. v. Connecticut

Supreme Court of the United States

April 19, 2011, Argued; June 20, 2011, Decided

No. 10-174

Opinion

 [*415]  [**2532]  Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

We address in this opinion the question whether the plaintiffs (several States, the city of New York, and three private land trusts) can maintain federal common-law public nuisance claims against carbon-dioxide emitters (four private power companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority). As relief, the plaintiffs ask for a decree setting carbon-dioxide emissions for each defendant at an initial cap, to be further reduced annually. The Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency action the Act authorizes, we hold, displace the claims the plaintiffs seek to pursue.

 [*416]   I

In Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, 127 S. Ct. 1438, 167 L. Ed. 2d 248 (2007), this Court held that the Clean Air Act, 69 Stat. 322, as amended,42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq., authorizes federal regulation of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. “[N]aturally present in the atmosphere and . . . also emitted by human activities,” greenhouse gases are so named because they “trap . . . heat that would otherwise escape from the [Earth's] atmosphere, and thus form the greenhouse effect that helps keep  [****9] the Earth warm enough for life.” 74 Fed. Reg. 66499 (2009).1 Massachusetts held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had misread the Clean Air Act when it denied a rulemaking petition seeking controls on greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles. 549 U.S., at 510-511, 127 S. Ct. 1438, 167 L. Ed. 2d 248. Greenhouse gases, [**2533]  we determined, qualify as “air pollutant[s]” within the meaning of the governing Clean Air Act provision, id., at 528-529, 127 S. Ct. 1438, 167 L. Ed. 2d 248 (quoting § 7602(g)); they are therefore within EPA's regulatory ken. Because EPA had authority to set greenhouse gas emission standards and had offered no “reasoned explanation” for failing to do so, we concluded that the Agency had not acted “in accordance with law” when it denied the requested rulemaking. Id., at 534-535, 127 S. Ct. 1438, 167 L. Ed. 2d 248 (quoting § 7607(d)(9)(A)).

Responding to our decision in Massachusetts, EPA undertook greenhouse gas regulation. In December 2009, the Agency concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles “cause, or contribute to, air pollution which  [****10] may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health  [***443]  or welfare,” the Act's regulatory trigger. § 7521(a)(1); 74 Fed. Reg. 66496. The Agency observed that “atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are now at elevated and essentially unprecedented levels,” almost entirely “due to anthropogenic  [*417]  emissions,” id., at 66517; mean global temperatures, the Agency continued, demonstrate an “unambiguous warming trend over the last 100 years,” and particularly “over the past 30 years,” ibid. Acknowledging that not all scientists agreed on the causes and consequences of the rise in global temperatures, id., at 66506, 66518, 66523-66524, EPA concluded that “compelling” evidence supported the “attribution of observed climate change to anthropogenic” emissions of greenhouse gases, id., at 66518. Consequent dangers of greenhouse gas emissions, EPA determined, included increases in heat-related deaths; coastal inundation and erosion caused by melting icecaps and rising sea levels; more frequent and intense hurricanes, floods, and other “extreme weather events” that cause death and destroy infrastructure; drought due to reductions in mountain snowpack and shifting precipitation patterns; destruction  [****11] of ecosystems supporting animals and plants; and potentially “significant disruptions” of food production. Id., at 66524-66535.2

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564 U.S. 410 *; 131 S. Ct. 2527 **; 180 L. Ed. 2d 435 ***; 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4565 ****; 79 U.S.L.W. 4547; 41 ELR 20210; 72 ERC (BNA) 1609; 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1184

AMERICAN ELECTRIC POWER COMPANY, INC., et al., Petitioners v. CONNECTICUT et al.

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

Connecticut v. Am. Elec. Power Co., 582 F.3d 309, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 20873 (2d Cir. N.Y., 2009)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

emissions, greenhouse, Air, federal common law, regulation, displaced, pollution, federal court, carbon-dioxide, nuisance, carbon dioxide, common law, rulemaking, limits, gases, suits, powerplants, abate, emission standards, air pollution, Environmental, authorizes, common-law, stationary, decisions, emitted, warming, global

Environmental Law, Air Quality, Enforcement, Administrative Proceedings, Civil Procedure, Federal & State Interrelationships, Federal Common Law, Interstitial Law, Federal Versus State Law, General Overview, Real Property Law, Torts, Nuisance, Preemption, Emission Standards, Stationary Emission Sources, New Stationary Emission Sources, Citizen Suits, Criminal Prosecutions, Civil Actions, Administrative Proceedings & Litigation, Judicial Review, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Reviewability, Jurisdiction & Venue