Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Major Nuisance

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Major Nuisance

Article excerpt

A class action lawsuit brought by Hurricane Katrina victims against carbon dioxide-emitting corporations is inching forward in federal courts and could end up scrambling the legal and political landscape of climate change.

The suit was filed just weeks after the 2005 storm, which killed 1,200 people when the levees protecting New Orleans broke and flooded much of the city. The defendants include major greenhouse gas emitters such as Shell, ExxonMobil, BE and Chevron. The plaintiffs--mostly Gulf Coast property owners--claim that these companies had a duty to "avoid unreasonably endangering the environment, public health, public and private property."

A lower court had dismissed the suit, but last October a three-judge federal appeals court allowed the case to move forward. In February, the same court decided to re-examine the case with nine justices.

"The plaintiffs allege that the defendants' operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States caused the emission of greenhouse gases that contributed to global warming," the lawsuit reads. The increase in global surface and air temperatures "in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs' private property, as well as public property useful to them."

All the legalese is based on the common-law doctrine of public nuisance, which allows neighbors to sue one another over odors, noises, or other disturbances that interfere with the enjoyment of their own property. …

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