Republican AGs ask Supreme Court to block climate change lawsuits brought by several states

Republican attorneys general in 19 states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block several Democratic-led states from pursuing climate change lawsuits against the oil and gas industry in their own state courts.

The unusual request comes as dozens of states and local governments have filed lawsuits alleging that fossil fuel companies deceived the public about the risks of their products contributing to climate change. The lawsuits claim billions of dollars of damage from such things as severe storms, wildfires and rising sea levels.

The Republican action specifically seeks to stop lawsuits brought by California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island, though lawsuits also have been filed by other states, tribes, counties and cities.

The GOP attorneys contend only the federal government can regulate interstate gas emissions, and states have no power to apply their own laws to a global atmosphere that reaches well beyond their borders. The court filing also contends the climate-related lawsuits could drive up energy costs in other states, including for electricity generated from natural gas.

“They do not have authority to dictate our national energy policy," Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in statement Thursday announcing the 19-state lawsuit. “If the Supreme Court lets them continue, California and its allies will imperil access to affordable energy for every American.”

The California attorney general's office on Friday denounced the Republican request to the Supreme Court as meritless and vowed to continue its case against oil and gas companies.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong derided it as “pure partisan political theater.” And Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called the Republican effort “absurd," noting the U.S. Supreme Court already has allowed the state's case to proceed in a Minnesota court.

Lawsuits generally start in district courts before working their way up to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeals. But the Constitution allows some cases to begin at the high court when states are involved. The Supreme Court can refuse a request for original jurisdiction.

The request from Republican attorneys general is “highly unusual" and more often employed in state disputes over water rights, not “as an attempt to shut down lawsuits by other states,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York.

States joining Alabama's request include Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The Supreme Court also could weigh in on climate change lawsuits through another means. Already pending before the high court is a separate request by oil industry defendants to overturn a Hawaii Supreme Court decision that allowed a climate change lawsuit by Honolulu to move forward in state court.


Associated Press writers Adam Beam, Susan Haigh and Steve Karnowski contributed to this report.