States Seek Greenhouse-Gas Curbs

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"Supreme-Court case puts a twist on the debate over climate policy."

A battle over whether states can use nuisance laws to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants will come to the Supreme Court Tuesday in a case that puts a twist on the debate over climate policy.

The case pits a coalition of states against five of the nation's biggest power companies and the Obama administration, which has said it intends to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from big utilities but objects to the way the states want to do it.

The arguments come amid a running dispute between the administration and members of Congress who want to block the EPA's effort to regulate carbon dioxide pumped out of power plant smokestacks.

At issue is whether a state can seek a federal court order to force power plants in another state to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change on grounds that those emissions create a public nuisance.

The states argue they have a right to seek caps on the 650 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted annually by the power companies because the rising temperatures they promote would "increase smog and heat-related mortality in Los Angeles and New York City," reduce "crop and livestock yields in Iowa" and eventually wipe out hardwood trees in Vermont and nearby states.

The power companies counter that greenhouse-gas regulation is a complex policy issue that has no business being decided in court. The utilities also warn that if the states win, electricity prices could soar.

The Obama administration takes the position that federal regulations trump the states' approach.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases met the legal definition for air pollution, and that states—including several involved in Tuesday's case—had standing to sue the EPA over the issue.

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