01 Aug 2004 Eight States Decide to Set National Global Warming Policy
The attorneys general of eight states — California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin — have filed a lawsuit against five of the nation’s largest electricity producers.
The attorneys general claim their intent is to “curb global warming.”
More likely, it is a desire for publicity and, for some, an effort to jumpstart political campaigns for the higher office of governor.
At issue: Utilities, like human beings, are permitted by law to emit carbon dioxide, a colorless, odorless gas vegetation needs to survive.
Despite being lawyers and not climate scientists, the attorneys general have determined that carbon dioxide is causing our planet to warm, that this warming is ongoing and measurable and harmful, and that — somehow — they have the legal authority to regulate electricity producers, even if they are located in other states.
Never mind that local measuring station temperature records located in these eight states, as compiled by the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide, show zero warming in seven of these states over the last decade. Five states show temperature drops while two states (Vermont and Iowa) show no change. Connecticut measurements showed a mild increase in mean temperature over the past decade but, the data shows, the local area is cooler now than it was 20 years ago.
Never mind that, as the New York Attorney General’s office describes it, attorneys general serve “as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens.” What happened to the citizens’ right to be governed by a legislature it selects?
Never mind that “global warming” (“global” but not in these eight states, apparently) is a highly-contested scientific issue, one on which many climate scientists disagree. Even those scientists who believe human behavior is causing warming disagree significantly about causes and degree.
Scientists furthermore differ on the impact global warming would have on the Earth. Some expect global warming would cause sea levels to rise. Others believe it could cause sea levels to lower — as increased amounts of water vapor in the air result in more snow congregating at the still-frozen poles.
Some global warming debaters stress the possibility that global warming could hurt plants, while others note the beneficial effect of increased carbon dioxide levels on plant life.
Never mind that environmental policy properly is established by legislators voting in view of the public, not by lawyers in courtrooms.
You see, it actually doesn’t matter where one stands on global warming. For constitutional reasons, this lawsuit is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that.
State attorneys general are elected to enforce laws, not to create them. The Separation of Powers concept was enshrined in our governmental bodies by our Founders to prevent any one branch of government from becoming too powerful. The attorneys general, each a part of their state’s executive branch, are trying to take for themselves authority that rightly belongs to the legislative branch.
Furthermore, court decisions are blunt instruments ill-suited for determining policies on such matters as global warming, where opinions are constantly undergoing change as new scientific knowledge is gained.
Trials are a contest between two parties — the plaintiff and the defendant. Legislatures are deliberative bodies. They convene hearings, hear from witnesses, review testimony and debate. Many voices and perspectives are considered. The public, furthermore, is aware of proceedings and is easily able to communicate desires to lawmakers.
If these state attorneys general wish to set national environmental policies they should lobby Congress or run for Congress themselves, not try to steal the constitutional power that justly belongs to our national legislature.
Then, and only then, should they try to use their offices to influence the content of our national environmental laws.
Wags have quipped that the “AG” abbreviation for “attorney general” actually stands for “aspiring governor.”
Now they want to be Caesar.
Amy Ridenour is president at the National Center for Public Policy Research.