Environmentalists lost another fight on Thursday, after U.S. District Judge John Keenan dismissed New York City’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, and other major oil companies. In January, the city first filed a lawsuit against the energy companies, arguing that they were liable for damages the city incurred as a result of global warming. The first hearing in the case was held in early June.

The judge’s decision echoed arguments by the defendants and their supporters that the courts were not the appropriate venue to address climate change.

“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by defendants,” Keenan wrote. “But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate.”

In his decision, Kennan agreed with the oil companies’ argument that federal, rather than state common law governed emissions cases and that emissions regulation was delegated to the Environmental Protection Agency through the Clean Air Act. Because of this, state agencies lacked the proper enforcement mechanisms.

Furthermore, the state’s presentation of the harms of fossil fuel use must be reconciled with the benefits of fossil fuels as a source of power and heating.

“As an initial matter, it is not clear that Defendants’ fossil fuel production and the emissions created therefrom have been an ‘unlawful invasion’ in New York City, as the City benefits from and participates in the use of fossil fuels as a source of power, and has done so for many decades,” he wrote.  “More importantly, Congress has expressly delegated to the EPA the determination as to what constitutes a reasonable amount of greenhouse gas emission under the Clean Air Act.”

The decision follows a similar ruling from a judge in California, who in June threw out cases filed by San Francisco and Oakland on the grounds that it was unfair to place the blame for global warming harms solely on energy companies.

Kennan’s decision was praised by both the energy industry and manufacturers, who had feared the implications of the suit if the companies were to have been found liable.

“From the moment this baseless lawsuit was filed, manufacturers have argued that the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “Judge Keenan made that clear in his decision today. Now that San Francisco, Oakland and New York City have had their cases dismissed, the other municipalities should withdraw their complaints to save taxpayer resources and focus on meaningful solutions.”
Even though the New York and California lawsuits have been dropped, several cities are still continuing to try to fight climate change through nuisance suits. Although a hopeful sign for energy proponents, Keenan’s decision is also a reminder that the legal battles continue.

“New York City Mayor’s Bill de Blasio effort to curry favor with the environmental billionaires who want to limit human progress and control our daily energy supply failed today when U.S. Circuit Judge John Keenan ruled to dismiss New York City’s money grab lawsuit against U.S. energy companies. The remaining cases in Colorado, Rhode Island, and elsewhere should meet a similar fate,” said Craig Richardson, president of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute.

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