Damage Suits May Speed
Demise of CO2 Polluters
By Robert Ukeiley
What do cigarettes, breast implants and
coal-fired power plants have in common? They may all disappear from the scene,
at least in part because trial lawyers have
sued the companies that sell or operate them
for monetary damages.
In 2005, eight states, New York City and
a land trust sued five of the largest power
companies in the United States. Plaintiffs
charged that the utility companies created a
public nuisance by emitting greenhouse
gases that contribute to climate change.
While the plaintiffs could have asked for
money damages, they chose not to. Instead,
the plaintiffs are asking the court to order
the power plant owners to curtail their
greenhouse gas emission.
Then, in 2006, the state of California sued
six major auto manufacturers for millions
of dollars for the damage that greenhouse gas
emissions from cars was causing and will
cause California. California noted it was
spending millions to deal with reduced snow
pack, beach erosion, ozone pollution and
the impact on endangered animals and fish.
Also in 2006, 14 individuals filed a
class-action suit in the U.S. District Court
in Mississippi against eight named oil companies, 100 unnamed oil and refining entities and 31 coal companies for damages
sustained to their property as a result of
This year, the Inupiat village of Kivalina,
Alaska, on a barrier island in the Arctic Ocean,
sued a group of utilities, oil and gas companies
and coal companies. Global warming is
destroying the barrier of ice that protected
Kivalina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and the U.S. Government Accountability
Office have both concluded that Kivalina must
be relocated, and have estimated the cost to
be from $95 million to $400 million. Kivalina brought their lawsuit under federal common law and state law, to seek money for
defendants’ contributions to global warming.
Kivalina further asserted claims for civil conspiracy for certain defendants’ participation in
actions intended to further the defendants’
abilities to contribute to global warming.
There have been a multitude of similar
cases. Most are still pending.
For now, none has resulted in final decisions awarding money to the plaintiffs. However, it is likely that eventually plaintiffs in
one of these tort cases against fossil fuel purveyors will prevail. Why such a prediction?
Because fossil fuels have served us well in
the past two centuries, but renewable energy has advanced to the stage where there is
simply no longer any excuse for the death
and destruction that fossil fuel combustion
heaps upon us every day.
Tort liability is hard to quantify, so most
predictions of future renewable energy/
energy-efficiency (RE/EE) markets are probably underestimates because they do not
factor in this liability. This is an additional argument that RE/EE supporters should
make everywhere from sales meetings to
public utility commissions: RE/EE offers
the additional value of liability mitigation.
Robert Ukeiley (rukeiley@wildearthguardians
.org) is the climate and energy director of
WildEarth Guardians, a conservation nonprofit
based in Santa Fe, N.M.
Maryland Puts Energy Efficiency On Top
Solar Boat Race
Teams from Nogales High School in La
Puente, Calif., and Palos Verdes Peninsula
High School in Rolling Hills, Calif., won the
veteran and newcomer divisions, respectively, of the 6th Annual Solar Cup competition
on Lake Skinner Reservoir. Forty-three teams
and 900 students entered the three-day series
of races, sponsored by the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California. The
district provides boat kits, while local water
agencies and businesses sponsor teams to
the tune of $3,500 (for newcomers) and
$2,500 (for veteran teams, which can recycle
Maryland made several big steps toward
a renewable energy economy in April.
The General Assembly enacted, and on
April 24 Gov. Martin O’Malley signed, a package of bills doubling the state’s renewable
portfolio standard, tripling the subsidies
available for residential solar installations
and mandating a dramatic improvement in
energy conservation. The effort was led by
Sen. Robert Garagiola and Del. Sue Hecht,
recipients of the 2007 ASES Government
Maryland accelerated its RPS. The 2007
legislation required that 9. 5 percent of electrical power be derived from a specific range
of renewable sources by 2022, and 2 percent
must be solar. Under the 2008 package, the
total RPS goes to 20 percent by 2022.
The state expanded funding for solar and
geothermal heat pump rebates. The original
incentive program paid 20 percent of system cost up to a maximum of $3,000. Now
the program pays $2,500 per kilowatt of
installed capacity, up to $10,000. Solar installations are now exempt from sales tax (worth
6 percent of installed cost) and property tax.
The most dramatic departure is the
Empower Maryland Energy Efficiency Act,
requiring utilities and electric co-ops to
achieve a 5 percent per capita reduction in
power use by 2011, 10 percent by 2013 and 15
percent by the close of 2015. The mandate will
be enforced by the Public Service Commission
and the Maryland Energy Administration.
Separate legislation established green construction standards for state-funded buildings and all schools.
The Maryland Public Interest Research
Group, a private foundation, estimates that
the Energy Efficiency Act will save the state’s
consumers $1.9 billion by 2015 and $4.1
billion by 2030 in avoided electricity costs,
while eliminating the need for two large