Publications / Policy Memo

How to Think About AEP v. Connecticut

By / 4.19.2011

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in AEP v. Connecticut, a case that will decide whether eight states have the right to sue American Electric Power (AEP) Co. and several other utilities for greenhouse gas emissions. The states have argued that carbon dioxide emissions are a “public nuisance” because they contribute to climate change. They’re hoping to force the companies to reduce their emissions through litigation. The power companies have argued that because of the complexity of climate change, it’s impossible to draw a causal link between any specific emissions and any unwelcome changes in the weather.

For helpful background on the case, there’s no better place to turn than to a recent PPI memo entitled “Why Progressives Should Cool to ‘Global Warming’ Lawsuits.” In the memo, author Philip Goldberg argues that such litigation makes little sense:

Progressives should … not reflexively support climate change litigation, no matter how passionately one might favor emission reductions. We should adhere to our principles and protect due process rights of defendants, even when those defendants are large corporations. The David and Goliath analogy may score political points, but it only works in litigation when Goliath does something objectively wrong. Otherwise, any group that fails to get its way in the political arena will turn to the courts. Such an act would be an affront to democratic proceduralism that has long defined our progressive philosophy.

You can read the entire memo here.