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This summer, attorneys general from eight states and the Corporation Counsel for the city of New York filed suit against five electric utility companies in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. We assert that these companies, as the owners and operators of 174 power plants emitting 650 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution annually, have created a public nuisance and are legally responsible for abatement of this nuisance. CO2 pollution is a major cause of global warming and climate change, and poses serious and real threats to the economies, the environments and the health and well- being of citizens of our states. This lawsuit does not seek an award of monetary damages. Instead, we seek significant reductions in the level of CO2 pollution emitted by the defendant companies. It is imperative that state attorneys general pursue this action to protect our states and our citizens. The five companies named in the suit-American Electric Power Co., the Southern Co., the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy Inc. and Cinergy Corp.-represent the five largest CO2 emitters among all operators of fossil fuel-fired power plants in the United States. These companies account for about one-quarter of the American power industry’s CO2 emissions and about 10% of the nation’s total CO2 pollution. Global warming has already begun. The National Academy of Sciences, in a report prepared at the request of President Bush in 2001, reaffirmed the widespread consensus that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions are responsible for the problem. Just last month, the Bush administration released a report to Congress, Our Changing Planet, which suggests that global warming has begun to affect animal and plant populations in visible ways and that rising temperatures in North America are due in part to human activity. (Available at www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/ Library/ocp2004-5/ocp2004-5.pdf.) The report confirmed the widely held belief that “temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations.” One degree means a lot Almost all scientists agree that the amount of this temperature change equates to approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past century. One degree may not sound like much of a temperature change, but indeed it is. 1998 was the hottest year since thermometer records began in 1861, with 2002 and 2003 tied for the second warmest. The five hottest years have all occurred since 1997 and the 10 hottest since 1990. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that average temperatures will rise as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. By comparison, the difference in global average temperature between now and the last ice age was only 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit. As the attorney general of Vermont, I am sworn to protect the interests of the state and its citizens; I bear a tremendous responsibility to serve the public interest. It would be irresponsible to ignore the problems associated with CO2 pollution, especially now that we face a significant risk of severe impacts on public health and the environment attributable to global warming. The federal government has refused to curb CO2 pollution. We have the right-indeed, a duty-to redress this harm to our citizens and states under the well-established federal public nuisance doctrine. That doctrine provides that if an entity’s activities in one state are causing harm in another state, then the state suffering harm may sue to halt the injurious conduct. This law has been applied for more than 100 years in interstate pollution cases between states or between states and polluters. The business community and others have begun to acknowledge the global warming problem. BusinessWeek featured global warming as a cover story on Aug. 16 and noted that the consensus among scientists, governments and businesses is that “they must act fast to combat climate change.” Likewise, this month’s issue of National Geographic confirms that “[t]here’s no question that the Earth is getting hotter-and fast.” Ought we place our faith in the vocal minority of scientists and commentators who assert that we don’t need to address this issue now? We say no. We owe to our children and their children a duty not to gamble with their future-especially when there already exist achievable and economically feasible ways for companies to make substantial cuts in their carbon dioxide emissions. While this certainly is a global problem, cuts made by these companies will make a difference. Skeptics should now join the rest of the world in working toward a solution for this very real problem. Our lawsuit represents a step in this direction. William H. Sorrell is the attorney general of Vermont.

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