Chicago–July 22, 2004: Yesterday, the debate over climate change reached a new low as attorneys general in eight states–all Democrats but one–and the corporation counsel for New York City sued five electric utilities for their alleged role in causing “global warming.”
The lawsuit is frivolous. Evidence of a human role in climate change is slim and constantly being challenged in scholarly journals. There has been no warming trend in the U.S. or in any of the eight states participating in the lawsuit.
There is no evidence of any harm caused by whatever “global warming” may have occurred (according to some temperature measures) during the past century. Most of that warming has taken place in the coldest areas of the planet and at night, creating a more benign environment for plant and animal life. The best estimates of the net economic impact of the warming predicted by computer models show a small benefit–thanks to lower prices for energy, forestry products, and food–and unequivocal benefits to human health and longevity.
For all these reasons, forcing five electric utilities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions would not affect global temperatures or weather in the U.S., and so would not provide any benefit or relief to the plaintiffs.
Why, if this is the case, has this suit been filed? Chris Horner in a statement released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute says, “This is grandstanding, pure and simple. That many of these officials are involved in one way or another in John Kerry’s campaign also provides the whiff of a political favor being provided to the Democratic contender, gaining headlines for an issue with which the Bush administration is clearly uncomfortable.”
NCPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett notes that many of the states involved in the suit have already increased their energy costs by adopting alternative energy mandates and conservation mandates, making their states less attractive to new business investment than other states. “This is merely an attempt to level the economic playing field by forcing the rest of the nation to adopt their high-cost energy mandates,” says Burnett.
Finally, one wonders if this isn’t one more desperation ploy by the beleaguered global warming alarmists, who in recent years have lost the political debate over Kyoto and McCain-Lieberman, the scientific debate in the leading academic journals, and according to polls, the support of the American public as well. Maybe by taking the issue to the courts, they can get lucky and find a jury willing to ignore the data and punish some big corporations? Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, correctly observed, “This complaint is symptomatic of America’s legal crisis and yet another example of unwarranted litigation that hurts American consumers and destroys jobs.”
Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute, a 20-year-old nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. He is publisher of Environment & Climate News and coauthor of Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism (Madison Books 1994, second rev. edition 1996). His email address is [email protected].
For more information, contact Allen Fore, Vice President – Public Affairs for The Heartland Institute, at 312/377-4000 or email [email protected].