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Fifth Circuit grants Katrina victims standing in global warming class action suit

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] has ruled [opinion, PDF] that 14 victims of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] have standing to sue companies for allegedly contributing to global warming [JURIST news archive], which they claim played a role in increasing the severity of the hurricane. The court found Friday that the plaintiffs had presented enough evidence against the oil, coal, and chemical companies named in the complaint [text, PDF] to allow the class action lawsuit to proceed. The ruling reversed the decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website], which dismissed the case for lack of standing and on political question grounds. The appeals court wrote:

Here, the plaintiffs' complaint alleges that defendants' emissions caused the plaintiffs' property damage, which is redressable through monetary damages; for example, the plaintiffs allege that defendants' willful, unreasonable use of their property to emit greenhouse gasses constituted private nuisance under Mississippi law because it inflicted injury on the plaintiffs' land by causing both land loss due to sea level rise and property damage due to Hurricane Katrina.

The court also rejected the finding of the district court that the case presented a political question. While the appeals court acknowledged the difficulty in proving causation for any plaintiff in such a case, the result could potentially lead to a rise [WSJ report] in the lawsuits brought on the subject of climate change.

While last week's ruling is the first to grant individuals standing in a case involving climate change, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] last month that states can sue power companies for emitting carbon dioxide, allegedly contributing to global warming. The Obama administration has taken several steps this year to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In June, the US House of Representatives [official website] passed [JURIST report] a climate bill [HR 2454 materials] that focuses on clean energy. The bill calls for a reduction in greenhouse emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050 by establishing a cap-and-trade system. It also establishes for the first time limits on greenhouse gases that will become progressively stricter, providing an incentive for a transition to green energy sources ranging from "wind, solar, and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal."

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