Supreme Court to hear climate change lawsuit

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In a new case about climate change, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal from electric utilities that are trying to short-circuit an effort by states to force cuts in power plant emissions.

The court agreed Monday to consider ending a federal lawsuit by eight states, New York City and others that accuse the power companies of being among the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. The suit asks a federal judge to order reductions in the emissions in plants in 20 states.

A federal judge initially threw out the case, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said it could continue.

The lawsuit says carbon dioxide is one of the chief causes of global warming. The greenhouse gas is produced when coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels burn.

Similar lawsuits are pending in California and North Carolina.

The American Electric Power Co. and the other utilities do not want courts getting involved in the issue. The companies argue that only the Environmental Protection Agency can set emissions standards.

The other utilities are Cinergy Co., Southern Co. Inc. of Georgia, Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota, and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Obama administration, representing the TVA, urged a middle course that would have avoided a full-blown hearing at the high court.

The administration angered environmental groups with its position that the states should not be allowed to proceed in federal court because, among other reasons, the EPA already has begun to take actions to compel cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

EPA regulation is a more efficient process than a federal lawsuit, the administration said.

In 2007, the court split 5-4 in its first global warming case in a ruling that declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The court said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under the landmark environment law. The same reasoning applies to power plants.

The case will be argued in the spring.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was on the 2nd Circuit panel that heard the case, is not taking part in the Supreme Court's consideration of the issue.

The states in the lawsuit are: California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. The Open Space Institute, the Open Space Conservancy and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire also are plaintiffs.

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