Richard Greene

A judge's ruling puts climate change in limbo

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2009, file photo, demonstrators block the main entrance of Chevron Corp. in San Ramon, Calif. A federal judge recently presided over lawsuits accusing big oil companies of lying about global warming. U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked lawyers for two California cities and five of the world's largest oil and gas companies to present "the best science now available on global warming." (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2009, file photo, demonstrators block the main entrance of Chevron Corp. in San Ramon, Calif. A federal judge recently presided over lawsuits accusing big oil companies of lying about global warming. U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked lawyers for two California cities and five of the world's largest oil and gas companies to present "the best science now available on global warming." (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Global warming activists have long sought judicial support for their demands that Big Oil should be held liable for the consequences of rising temperatures across the country and throughout the world.

They got the hearing they wanted in a case adjudicated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, where the judge said, in effect – nothing doing.

One of the biggest targets in this case is the oil company, ExxonMobil, headquartered in Irving. It’s Houston campus, energy center, laboratory, wellness center and office buildings provide employment to some 10,000 Texans.

In a 16-page ruling, U. S. District Judge William Alsup agreed with the company and industry co-defendants that their case belonged in the hands of Congress and not the courts.

“Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?” he wrote. “Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?

“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”

Alsup’s determination concluded that the whole question of climate change was the responsibility of the legislative and executive branches of the government.

The judge, who has a liberal reputation in a federal court friendly to progressive public policy, has based his ruling on two very sound and common sense principles in dismissing the lawsuits brought by San Francisco and Oakland, California.

First, let’s be reminded that the Democratic Party controlled the entire government in the first two years of the Obama Administration and never managed to produce legislation to deal directly with global warming.

The consequence of that failure resulted in Obama ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to use dubious authorities in the Clean Air Act and other statues to produce sweeping new regulations targeted at industries emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

Those decrees brought lawsuits from about half the states and others challenging EPA’s authority now further limited by the rollbacks implemented by the Trump Administration’s moves to provide relief from the burdens imposed by Obama.

So, the quagmire that characterizes the federal government leaves the entire matter of climate change in ever intense controversy seeking judicial resolution that this California court has rejected.

The second big thing the judge illuminated is that the use of fossil fuels has resulted from public demand now spanning more than a century as the nation’s economy became the strongest in the world.

We all want to drive the vehicles of our choice and to heat and cool our homes and offices for whatever comfort we desire. We reap the benefits from the engines of industry that provide jobs leading to unprecedented prosperity for the nation.

That means power plants across the land operate around the clock delivering the electricity we require and refineries do the same producing the fuels for those plants and our SUV’s.

The questions that arise from this case are compelling. Will the American public alter their behaviors to reduce demands for energy? Will Congress, under Democratic or Republican control, deal specifically with greenhouse gas emissions?

If history is any guide, the answers to both questions is “no” and that is why the Department of Energy projects our continued dependence on fossil fuels into the middle of the century and beyond.

Meanwhile, more cases like this one in California are working their way through courts across the land.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, and a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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