Friday, January 16, 2015

Climate Focused Legal Battles in 2014 and 2015

From precedent setting cases, to efforts to shutdown EPA's regulatory authority, there have been a number of legal battles related to environmental and climate issues last year. Despite the overwhelming evidence of encroaching climate change, the fossil fuel industry commonly uses the courts to stymie efforts to address global warming and combat environmental degradation.

Here are four precedent setting court battles in 2014 and a preview of the legal struggles that will continue well into 2015.

The Precedent Setting Necessity Defense

In May two men (Jay O’Hara, 32, and Ken Ward, 57) prevented a 40,000-ton shipment of coal from reaching New England’s largest power station. The men argued the necessity defense stating that the consequences of climate change are so dire they had no choice but to block the shipment. Rather than go to jail they were fined. This ruling sets an important precedent. "Activists can now point to a case where environmentalists admittedly broke the law and had their charges dropped because their actions were in defense of the planet,” Joseph E. Hamilton, a student at Harvard Law School, told ThinkProgress.

The Insurance Industry Sues Government for Failing to Act

In May, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits against local governments in the Chicago area on the basis that although they know that climate change is causing heavier rainfalls they are not preparing accordingly. Even though Farmers later withdrew the litigation, this case draws attention to the issue of public responsibility and opens the door for governments to be sued if they fail to act on climate change.

Opposing a Fracking Ban In Texas

In November, voters in Denton, become the first city in Texas to ban fracking. Recognizing that events in Denton could be followed by an avalanche of similar initiatives across the state, both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office filed lawsuits to prevent the city from enacting the ordinance. In 2015 the courts will decide whether or not local communities have the right to deny fracking. The fossil fuel industry can be expected to flex their considerable financial muscles to defend their interests.

The EPA’s Proposed Carbon Regulations

The EPA's proposed power plant carbon rules has met with legal opposition from a number of states including West Virginia, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Many of these same states are also part of a lawsuit filed by coal giant Murray Energy Corp., which argues that the EPA lacks the authority to create the rule.

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