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Green Groups Hope Suit Forces U.S. Hand on Warming
Fri Jan 14, 2005 10:34 AM ET
By Timothy Gardner
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Green lobbyists and several U.S. cities hope a
lawsuit against U.S. development agencies will force the government to
act on global warming, even though President Bush has long insisted
there's no scientific proof linking human activity to warming.
Environmental lawyers say the suit will be closely watched as lawsuits
against utilities and the government tied to global warming increase.
Last July, for example, eight U.S. states and New York City sued five
U.S. power companies, accusing them of stoking climate change.
"Any court that rules that global warming is a problem that needs to be
addressed, just that headline, would be huge for the people trying to
do something about global warming," said Pat Parenteau, a professor at
Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center.
The lawsuit, slated to be argued in U.S. District Court in San
Francisco in April, seeks to require two U.S. development agencies to
conduct environmental assessments on coal, natural gas and petroleum
projects they financed in developing nations, including China and
Under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, U.S. government
agencies are required to conduct such assessments on taxpayer-funded
projects in the United States.
In recent briefs in the two-year old case, the plaintiffs said the
projects financed by the Export-Import Bank of the United States and
the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC), contribute 8 percent
of the world's emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
NO HUMAN CONNECTION TO WARMING?
The plaintiffs, which include lobbyists Greenpeace and Friends of the
Earth, said global warming from the emissions boost sea levels by
melting glaciers, which threatens coastal cities and island vacation
properties. One plaintiff, the city of Arcata, California, said warming
could harm salmon migration, and rising seas would cause flooding that
would damage the city's wastewater treatment system.
U.S. Department of Justice lawyers for OPIC and Export-Import refused
to comment on the suit.
But in a recent motion to dismiss the case, they said the connection
between the defendants and the alleged injuries is undermined by the
"minimal" amount of emissions from the projects and argued that "the
basic connection between human-induced greenhouse emissions and
observed climate change has not been established."
Given that most mainstream scientists believe that greenhouse gases
from industry and autos cause global warming, the plaintiffs say their
suit will be bolstered by inconsistencies within the Bush
administration on global warming.
A report to Congress last summer signed by Bush's science adviser and
his secretaries of energy and commerce, said warmer U.S. temperatures
since 1950 were probably caused in part by human activity.
Bush, who withdrew from the international global warming Kyoto Protocol
soon into his first term, denied that the administration had changed
its policy that more science was needed.
Jeremy Symons, climate change specialist at the National Wildlife
Federation, says the administration's policy is unclear. "The
administration has been in a bind for the past several years because
their scientists have been very clear that global warming pollution is
causing changes in climate, and yet they're not doing anything
substantive on the policy front."
Vermont Law's Parenteau said the suit against the development agencies
might be won because it does not seek monetary damages, but rather asks
the agencies to consider alternative energy projects in the
Lawsuits seeking damages against utilities or governments will be
harder to win. "Eventually you will see cases being won establishing
damage from identifiable sources of carbon dioxide and other emissions.
I think that day will come, but it's a ways off yet," he said.
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