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For Immediate Release, June 20, 2011

Contact: Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302,

U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Landmark Climate "Nuisance" Lawsuit,
Highlights Central Role of Clean Air Act in Addressing Global Warming

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Supreme Court today dismissed claims brought by the state of Connecticut and others against five of the nation’s largest electricity producers that sought reduction of the defendants’ massive greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The case sought to reduce pollution through the federal common law “nuisance” doctrine, which allows plaintiffs to obtain court orders addressing environmental problems not covered by federal statutes.

The decision, American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, written by Justice Ginsburg, dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims because greenhouse gases from power plants are already addressed by the federal Clean Air Act.

“While it is unfortunate that the court has blocked these particular claims, the decision is a strong and important affirmation of the Clean Air Act’s central role in addressing the climate crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, which submitted an amicus brief in the case.

The decision states that “[i]t is altogether fitting that Congress designated an expert agency, here, EPA, as best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions,” and points to the “scientific, economic, and technological resources” available to the EPA in setting pollution-reduction standards. The Supreme Court reached its decision despite the fact that the EPA will not finalize its national greenhouse gas standards for power plants until May 2012.

“The decision highlights the need for the EPA to move forward quickly with ambitious, science-based greenhouse reduction programs for power plants and other pollution sources,” said Siegel. “These Clean Air Act programs, if properly implemented, will cut carbon pollution, save lives and protect the air we breathe.” 

The court ruled unanimously (with Justice Sotomayor not taking part) on the Clean Air Act portion of the decision but was split 4-4 on the separate issue of whether the plaintiffs could pass threshold tests to bring such a case in the first place. Given the even split, the decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals — finding that at least one of the plaintiffs had demonstrated standing and that the case was not barred by the “political question” doctrine that reserves certain issues for Congress — was upheld. The court also did not reach the plaintiffs’ state law nuisance claims, leaving open the possibility that these claims could still be litigated in the lower courts.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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