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Home arrow Blog arrow 3/31/07-Federal judge allows global warming lawsuit to advance

3/31/07-Federal judge allows global warming lawsuit to advance PDF Print E-mail
Written by SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer   
Sunday, 01 April 2007
Finally the courts are starting to recognize our governments' responsibility for the crisis of Global Warming, and hopefully will take action...
Saturday, March 31, 2007

(03-31) 13:47 PDT San Francisco (AP) --

Citing Al Gore's movie on global warming, a federal judge has advanced a lawsuit against the government for its financing of overseas projects that may contribute to climate change.

The Bush administration had argued last year that the "alleged impacts of global climate change are too remote and speculative" to require the sort of environmental review for foreign projects sought by environmental groups and four U.S. cities.

But U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White on Friday allowed the lawsuit to proceed against two federal development agencies that insure billions of dollars of U.S. investors' money for foreign projects, among them power plants that emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

White accepted the plaintiffs' argument that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — the law requiring environmental assessments of proposed projects in the United States — can apply to the U.S.-backed projects overseas. The environmental groups and cities argue the overseas projects harm the U.S. environment because the effects of global warming will be felt at home.

The judge also rejected the administration's arguments that the agencies — the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Export-Import Bank of the United States — are exempt from NEPA.

However, White did not rule on the question of whether the projects at issue constitute "major federal action" that would significantly affect the environment — an important criteria for NEPA. White said he did not have enough evidence on that question.

The projects include a pipeline from Chad to Cameroon; oil and natural gas projects in Russia, Mexico, Venezuela and Indonesia; and a coal-fired power plant in China.

The plaintiffs say those projects and dozens of others received more than $32 billion in financial assistance, without first evaluating the projects' global-warming impacts on the United States.

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, as well as Boulder, Colo., and the California cities of Oakland, Santa Monica and Arcata. Since it was filed in 2002, several of the projects have gotten well under way or have been completed.

Ronald Shems, a Vermont attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit goes on in hopes that it can set ground rules for future overseas projects. If successful, the lawsuit also would promote transparency in NEPA, he said.

In court filings last year, the government had argued that the link between overseas energy projects and the U.S. weather changes predicted by the plaintiffs were "so remote there can be no meaningful NEPA analysis of potential impacts on the United States."

More broadly, the government argued that "the alleged impacts of global climate change are too remote and speculative to require NEPA analysis."

While White makes no direct judgment about the merits of global warming, he casts doubt on the administration's assertion that disagreements remain about the connection between human activity and climate change.

"It would be difficult for the court to conclude that defendants have created a genuine dispute that (greenhouse gases) do not contribute to global warming," White wrote.

In his ruling, White also cited increased attention on the issue in the news and entertainment media. Among them are Gore's documentary on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," and recent newspaper articles.

The case now either proceeds to trial on whether the projects represent "major federal action," or the parties can appeal the judge's ruling that he needs more evidence on that issue.

Norman L. Dean, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said the goal is to force the government to consider alternative energy sources when financing such projects. Eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from projects funded by the two agencies, he said.

"This decision is a step toward achieving our goal," he said.

Spokesmen for the two government agencies did not respond to phone messages Saturday seeking comment.

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