Attorney General Curtis Hill announced that he is leading a 12-state coalition seeking the dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by King County, Washington, against five fossil-fuel companies. The lawsuit claims the companies have violated “common law” by contributing to global warming – which, the plaintiffs claim, constitutes a “public nuisance” and “trespass.” In his amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief, Attorney General Hill states that the Clean Air Act – and the Environmental Protection Agency’s corresponding enforcement authority – supersedes federal common law nuisance claims pertaining to emissions. In addition, he cites the separation of powers doctrine, stating that courts should exercise restraint in matters best left to the executive and legislative branches of government.
“Municipal governments cannot dictate national energy policy or curb economic activity that occurs outside their jurisdictional boundaries,” Attorney General Hill said. “Everyone believes we should take care of the planet and exercise wise stewardship of natural resources, but we can pursue these important priorities while also respecting the rule of law and supporting a robust economy. We must protect the principles of federalism in cases such as this one.”
King County, Washington, is home to the city of Seattle. In recent months, Indiana has prevailed in seeking the dismissal of two lawsuits similar to this one involving actions brought against fossil-fuel companies by municipalities in the states of California and New York.