Supreme Court Declines to Hear Alaskan Village Climate Case

By Jonathan Crawford

The U.S. Supreme Court indicated May 20 it will not reconsider a federal appeals court's rejection of a lawsuit by Alaskan natives against a group of energy producers for the harm allegedly caused by the companies' contribution to global warming.

The city of Kivalina in northwestern Alaska and the Native Village of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo tribe, sought monetary damages from nearly two dozen oil, energy and utility companies on the grounds that the large amounts of greenhouse gases they emitted contributed to global warming. They contended that the global warming ultimately resulted in the massive erosion of the land due to the deterioration of protective coastal sea ice. Consequently, the city faces the distinct possibility that it may need to relocate. The plaintiffs had lodged an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25.

The high court's decision not to take up the appeal — called a petition for a writ of certiorari — leaves intact the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit on Sept. 21, 2012, held that the Native Village of Kivalina and the city of Kivalina could not sue the energy producers because the plaintiffs' claims raised political questions that were beyond the scope of the court's jurisdiction. The court held that "federal common law addressing domestic greenhouse gas emissions have been displaced by congressional action," thereby barring such public nuisance actions seeking damages and injunctive relief.

The case is Native Village of Kivalina, City of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (Case No. 09-17490).

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal represents the latest blow to citizen groups seeking damages from industry for its greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently rejected a bid by several property owners to sue for a second time dozens of energy producers for the companies' contribution to global warming that the property owners alleged resulted in the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The court held that the plaintiffs' lawsuit was pre-empted by a lower court's ruling. The case is Ned Comer v. Murphy Oil USA Inc. (No. 12-60291)

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