WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday about allowing states to sue electric utilities to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Both conservative and liberal justices questioned whether a federal judge could deal with the complex issue of global warming, a topic they suggested is better left to Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The court heard argument over whether to end the lawsuit by six states, New York City and three conservation groups against four private companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, the five largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States.

The Obama administration has joined with the companies in asking the high court to throw out the lawsuit. The administration says EPA already is considering setting emission standards that would accomplish what the states are seeking.

Why let the lawsuit go forward, when “the agency is engaged in it right now?” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The lawyer representing the states acknowledged that the case was before the high court at a “peculiar moment,” but said the court should block the lawsuit only if the EPA actually issues regulations. In Congress, Republicans are leading an effort to strip EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but that was not discussed at the court Tuesday.

No statute or rule “currently regulates the emissions of existing power plants,” said Barbara Underwood, the New York solicitor general. Underwood said the plants operated by the companies and the TVA account for 10 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted annually in the U.S.

“This court should not close the courthouse door at the outset,” Underwood said.

Lawyers for the companies and the administration focused on the enormity of the climate change issue to argue against the lawsuit.

“You have never heard a case like this before,” Neal Katyal, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, said. The term global warming, Katyal said, “tells you all you need to know.”

The case is the second climate change dispute at the court in four years. In 2007, the court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under that landmark law. The same reasoning applies to power plants.

Ginsburg was among the justices in the majority in 2007. Two others in that majority, Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, also expressed doubts about the states’ case Tuesday.

Breyer questioned whether a judge even would have the authority to issue the kind of order the states want.

Until now, pollution cases in the federal courts typically have involved a power plant or sewage treatment plant that was causing some identifiable harm to people, and property downwind or downstream of the polluting plant.

Peter Keisler, representing the companies, said global warming suggests a more complex problem in need of a comprehensive solution that includes an evaluation of the “way we use and pay for energy.” Courts are ill-equipped to make that determination, Keisler said.

The private defendants in the suit are American Electric Power Co. of Ohio, Cinergy Co., now part of Duke Energy Corp. of North Carolina; Southern Co. Inc. of Georgia, and Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota.

Eight states initially banded together to sue. They were California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. New Jersey and Wisconsin withdrew this year after Republicans replaced Democrats in their governor’s offices.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was on the federal appeals court panel that heard the case, is not taking part in the Supreme Court’s consideration of the issue.

A decision is expected by late June.

The case is American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 10-174.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (13)
  1. Victim Du Jour says:

    Bow to your Pagan Green God or the world will end from Global Warming.

    I don’t see liberal environmentalist bible bangers making an effort to live like the Amish.

    They just want money.

    1. MARK says:

      That makes about as much sense as bowing to some magical sky wizard or the world will end in fire and brimstone.

      I don’t see conservative religious bible-bangers making an effort to live like monks.

      They just want to control people’s lives.

  2. dan says:

    Imagine how high the energy prices will sky rocket if this ever passes. We are already telling Xcel Energy how much profit is acceptible. What? I thought we lived in a free market society?

    1. MARK says:

      “I thought we lived in a free market society?”

      Then you haven’t been paying attention. We haven’t had a true free market society in this country at least since the New Deal, maybe never. The government regulates lots of things, from energy to food to toys for babies.

      I agree that lawsuits such as this could cause prices to soar, and I applaud the Supreme Court for this decision. The issue is too complex to let a federal judge decide.

  3. Victim Du Jour says:


    You are copying my jokes, quit copying! Copy Cat!

    I accused liberals of wanting to control peoples lives first!

    1. helper says:

      Control people’s lives…. you mean like those freaky bible bangers trying to get everyone to pray to their imaginary god… I hate those hypocrites!

      1. ohoh says:

        Hi Helper, I dont see anyone trying to pass laws to make you pray to your creator, but there are plenty of laws to force society to accept sick lifestyles, or ridiculous environmental laws that distort truth and cost society both money and lives. Global warming is mumbo jumbo and is not allowed to be debated on any forum, so this joke science is crammed down people’s throats. If you won’t open your mind to the creator at least read a different opinion on the created.

        1. Jim says:

          That’s because there is no “creator,” but there is an environment. Seems obvious to me.

          1. ohoh says:

            Well people ARE worshiping the earth, I worship the creator, I am made in the image of God. How about you?
            On another note, investigate the environmental movement, I am sure you do not want to be manipulated into paying and paying more and more just so you can lose more and more freedoms. Why is it the environment is so endangered, but if we pay more money it will be OK? Ever notice the gas prices keep going up, but there is plenty of gasoline? Be vigilant in what you believe to be truth.

      2. Ali says:

        Disregard this persons comments. No matter what the issue they
        offer no intelligent insight or relevant information. It is always just name calling.

      3. JB says:

        Like the Muslim faith and Sharia Law. Wait until they take over Europe and eventually the US of A.

      4. Rusty Shackelford says:

        You think or know there is no god “helper”, you probably have no children as well. So you, like other Liberals live a destructive path with destructive views on your way out to nothing-ness. You are the reason for unjust death and corruption in this world. Here is your typical Obama voter, the REAL hypocrites.

  4. Rusty Shackelford says:

    Liberals vote for who is trendy, it is trendy to say you voted for Obama in 08′. But now you are being exposed for what you truly are, lost, sheltered bums.

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