Four climate lawsuits to watch in 2022

4 minute read

Exhaust rises from the stacks of the Harrison Power Station in Haywood, West Virginia, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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  • Juliana v. US complaint

(Reuters) - The year 2022 could see the U.S. Supreme Court redefine the scope of the country's most important law limiting greenhouse gas, while lower courts will move closer to deciding cases seeking to hold fossil-fuel companies responsible for the effects of climate change.

Here are four climate lawsuits that are likely to make headlines in 2022.

-West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency et al

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The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in October to hear a bid by coal producer West Virginia and other states to limit federal power to use the landmark Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The 20 Republican attorneys general and governors behind the case argue that Congress did not clearly authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exercise "unbridled" power to regulate greenhouse gases under the CAA.

Should the justices narrow the scope of EPA's authority under the statute, it would hamper the Biden administration's efforts to issue new and more stringent regulations aimed at cutting the emissions.

The court will hear the case on Feb. 28, with a decision expected by the end of June.

-Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP P.L.C.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments in January over the fate of a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking monetary damages from BP PLC and other energy companies due to costs caused by climate change.

The arguments will revolve around the technical issue of whether the case belongs to federal court or state court. Baltimore and a handful of plaintiffs in similar lawsuits are fighting to keep the litigation in plaintiff-friendly state courts.

The Baltimore case is likely to be the first to produce a ruling on the key jurisdiction issue, said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law at the Vermont Law School. "Its decision will have some influence on the later courts," he said.

Baltimore claims that about two dozen fossil fuel companies knowingly contributed to climate change. The city says it is vulnerable to sea-level rise driven by climate change.

The energy companies have argued that regulating energy production is an inherently federal issue, meaning the case should be heard in federal court.

-Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. v. Shell Oil Products US et al

Environmentalists in this federal lawsuit accuse Shell Oil Products US of unlawfully failing to prepare a bulk storage and fuel terminal in Providence, Rhode Island, for near-term climate change impacts. Shell has said that the claims are speculative.

The Conservation Law Foundation alleges Shell violated the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The lawsuit is the furthest along among a handful of similar cases the environmental advocacy group has filed.

The cases raise the novel question of whether facilities located in high-hazard coastal zones can continue operating as they have in the past or must be fortified to deal with sea-level rise and storm surge events that climate change exacerbates, said Parenteau.

-Juliana v. United States

The youth plaintiffs in this lawsuit claim U.S. government policy inadequately protects them from the effects of climate change, putting their well-being at risk and depriving them of their rights to life, liberty and property under the U.S. Constitution.

Last year, a U.S. federal appeals court tossed their lawsuit, saying that they lacked standing to sue. Rather than petition the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs amended their complaint and asked an Oregon federal judge to restart the litigation.

The judge, Ann Aiken, is now considering that option.

Their proposed new complaint seeks a declaration that the U.S. "energy system" violates the U.S. Constitution and the public trust doctrine. It leaves out previously proposed remedies, such as asking for a "remedial plan" that the appellate court said exceeded the judicial branch's powers.

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.