Climate Change Should Be Debated in Elected Branches, Not Courts, Analysis of California Lawsuit Finds

(Alexandria, VA) -- California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's lawsuit against car manufacturers due to their alleged impact on global warming fails several legal requirements for standing and has little chance of success, according to a new study from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF). After reviewing California's case, now in U.S. District Court, NTUF's analysis determined that Lockyer's legal maneuver is little more than political grandstanding, underwritten by California taxpayers.

Study author Sam Batkins noted that this is not Mr. Lockyer's first attempt to battle climate change through the courts. In 2005 he (representing California) and seven other states' officials filed suit against the largest energy producers in the United States, alleging that their pollution constituted a public nuisance. Batkins wrote, "The Court largely disregarded the policy considerations presented by the states for the same reason so many courts have stated before: specific policy determinations are better left in the hands of a legislative body."

One of the largest hurdles California must overcome in its suit is that to bring a tort action against auto manufacturers, there must be some element of control on the part of the companies. In past instances, courts have rejected lawsuits against gun manufacturers because the firms had no reasonable means of controlling their product after purchase. Batkins contends that Lockyer's claim likewise fails the basic test of assigning control.

In addition, the author noted, the chain of causation for a successful suit is tenuous at best. California contends that: 1) the production of cars leads to consumers using them in a manner that pollutes, and 2) this pollution fundamentally changes the environment by increasing global temperatures, in turn 3) harming the very polluters (California drivers) supposedly responsible for the climate change. "This 'House that Jack Built' causal chain hardly survives scrutiny in bedtime stories and will not impress a court tasked with separating frivolous claims from legitimate legal inquiries," Batkins added.

"In their bids to regulate carbon dioxide emissions through the courts, Attorneys General are seeking personal political gain, not a sound discussion with the elected branches about air pollution policies and their economic effects," Batkins concluded. "Taxpayers can only hope the Court will give Attorney General Lockyer a strong dose of humility, in order to clear up this rash of meritless lawsuits."

NTUF is the research and educational arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union. Note: NTUF Issue Brief 157, The Price of Political Grandstanding: Attorneys General Sue over Global Warming, is available here.