A Utah legislator who is one of the most ardent critics of global warming wants to keep the judiciary out of the political debate and protect industry from what he says are frivolous lawsuits.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, says he plans to introduce legislation that would curtail lawsuits similar to those filed by a dozen victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In that legal battle, a group of Mississippi Gulf Coast homeowners is suing 33 energy companies, claiming their emissions of greenhouse gasses contributed to global warming. The change in atmospheric conditions, they claim, then gave rise to the hurricane that caused damage to their homes.
The measure has yet to be unveiled, but Noel said Thursday he is serious about preventing such litigation, which only seeks to harm deep pockets of industry based on unproven science. On the same day he announced the measure, Noel also unveiled a resolution that seeks to have Utah withdraw from the Western Climate Initiative.
Leaving the initiative would be best, he says, because the state should not be held hostage to the policies of other members. Utah should simply stay on as an observer, which Noel said would not bind it to its policies.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed on to the initiative in 2007, drawing criticism from some conservative politicians, who said the coalition's goals of emissions reductions threaten the viability of Utah's coal-dependent energy economy.
Noel ran a similar measure last year that essentially passed. Because resolutions are non-binding, however, the message can be heard, but it doesn't have to be followed.
With new Gov. Gary Herbert already on record saying he believes there needs to be more exploration and debate regarding the science of global warming, Noel is confident that this year's message will have more meaning.
"I want to discuss this with the governor, with the executive branch," he said. "I think we need to pull back so we don't get locked into a position where we don't want to be."
Noel's measure on anti-global-warming litigation is in large part a reaction to a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that gave the 12 homeowners "standing" to sue companies they say contributed to global warming. The ruling reversed a lower court decision that reasoned it was a political question that had been posed, not one based on legal arguments. In its reversal, the appellate court said enough evidence had been presented to justify the class-action lawsuit's moving forward.
Similar arguments stemming from the global warming debate are being thrust into courtrooms around the country. For example, an appellate court granted an injunction capping emissions from coal-burning utilities on the grounds that they constituted a public nuisance.
Pat Shea, who represents environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, said Noel's legislation, if passed, would only hurt Utah residents at the state level, not the federal level.
Two federal courts "have recognized global warming as a judicial fact, meaning it is so accepted in science or commerce that a court can take judicial notice of it," Shea said.
"It would be ironic to deny Utah citizens the right to sue in their own court on something they could automatically sue on in federal court."
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