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United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
November 22, 2019, Argued; April 1, 2021, Decided
[*85] Richard J. Sullivan, Circuit Judge:
The question before us is whether municipalities may utilize state tort law emissions, we hold that the answer is "no." to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions. Given the nature of the harm and the existence of a complex web of federal and international environmental law regulating such
Global warming presents a uniquely international problem of national concern. It is therefore not well-suited to the application [*86] of state law. Consistent with that fact, greenhouse gas emissions are the subject of numerous federal statutory regimes and international treaties. These laws provide interlocking frameworks for regulating [**6] greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enforcement mechanisms to ensure that those regulations are followed.
The City of New York has sidestepped those procedures and instead instituted a state-law tort suit against five oil companies to recover damages caused by those companies' admittedly legal commercial conduct in producing and selling fossil fuels around the world. In so doing, the City effectively seeks to replace these carefully crafted frameworks — which are the product of the political process — with a patchwork of claims under state nuisance law. For many of the same reasons stated by the district court (Keenan, J.), we cannot condone such an action and we AFFIRM the dismissal of the City's complaint.
Global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.2 Among the scientific community, there is near universal consensus that global warming is primarily caused, or at least accelerated, by the burning of fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Once released, those gases can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, where they trap heat that would otherwise radiate into space.
According to the complaint, New York City "is exceptionally vulnerable" to the effects of global warming, such as rising sea levels, because of its "520-mile coastline." J. App'x at 76. So, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the City "launched a $20 billion-plus multilayered investment program in climate resiliency across all five boroughs." Id. at 107. These preparations have included constructing seawalls and other coastal armaments, enlarging and augmenting the City's storm and wastewater infrastructure, and implementing public-health programs designed to tackle the effects of heatwaves, among other measures meant to protect the public and City property.
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993 F.3d 81 *; 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 9484 **; 51 ELR 20058; 2021 WL 1216541
CITY OF NEW YORK, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHEVRON CORPORATION, CONOCOPHILLIPS, EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC, BP P.L.C., Defendants-Appellees.1
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. No. 18-cv-182, John F. Keenan, Judge. The City of New York has sued five multinational oil companies under New York tort law seeking to recover damages for the harms caused by global warming. The district court (Keenan, J.) dismissed the complaint. We affirm for substantially the same reasons as those articulated in the district court's opinion. First, global warming is a uniquely international concern that touches upon issues of federalism and foreign policy. As a result, it calls for the application of federal common law, not state law. Second, the Clean Air Act grants the Environmental Protection Agency — not federal courts — the authority to regulate domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Federal common law actions concerning such emissions are therefore displaced. Lastly, while the Clean Air Act has nothing to say about regulating foreign emissions, judicial caution and foreign policy concerns counsel against permitting such claims to proceed under federal common law absent congressional direction. And since no such permission exists, each of the City's claims is barred and its complaint must be dismissed. [**2]
City of New York v. BP P.L.C., 325 F. Supp. 3d 466, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120934, 2018 WL 3475470 (S.D.N.Y., July 19, 2018)
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