The debate about whether global warming exists is pretty much over, and it's clear which side won. The science shows that atmospheric greenhouse gasses are steadily increasing--causing higher global temperatures, more severe weather and rising sea levels.
What is still up for debate is who is to blame for climate change and what should be done to stop it or remedy its effects. A few clever plaintiffs' lawyers and state attorneys general have an opinion on how to resolve those debates--pin the blame on corporate America.
Some courts have already decided that these suits reach too far and shouldn't be allowed to go forward. The Southern District of New York, for instance, dismissed Connecticut v. AEP in July 2004, finding the suit was barred because it raised a political question for Congress or the executive branch--not the courts--to decide. Although that case is on appeal, many believe the 2nd Circuit will dismiss it as well.
"There is very little viability to these suits," says Robin Conrad, senior vice president with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Litigation Center, who has served as amicus in several pending climate change suits. "[The public nuisance suits] are simply political tactics by activist attorneys general."
Unfortunately, targeted companies have little choice but to go to court and fight these lawsuits.
"You have to defend, and defend vigorously," Wood says. "If you don't, you're laying your checkbook out and inviting any plaintiff to come after you."