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Greenhouse gas lawsuit dismissed in Minnesota


ST. PAUL, Minn.—A district court judge in Minnesota last week dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force the state of Minnesota to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

The suit, Reed Aronow vs. State of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Pollution Control and Mark Dayton, was one of 50 filed by Our Children's Trust, a nonprofit based in Eugene, Ore., that is asking courts nationwide to compel states to develop climate recovery plans to reverse the effects of global warming on the atmosphere.

The Minnesota suit, filed in 2011, asserted claims under the public trust doctrine and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, asking that the court order defendants “to take the necessary steps to reduce the state's carbon dioxide output by at least 6% per year from 2013 to 2050 in order to help stabilize and eventually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

In his Jan. 30 opinion, Minnesota District Court Judge John H. Guthmann dismissed the suit on numerous grounds including the fact that Gov. Dayton, one of the named defendants, did not have the authority to create law.

“The remedies plaintiff seeks in his complaint require passage of new laws and standards by the Legislature. In addition, the remedies sought by plaintiff require a legislative appropriation. The governor is not vested with any legislative power, and no such power can be conferred upon him by the legislature. As governor, he can enforce the laws but cannot change or suspend them.”

Moreover, Minnesota courts have thus far only applied the public trust doctrine to navigable waters, the judge said.

Though the suit was unsuccessful, Our Children's Trust is continuing its crusade, according to a spokeswoman for the organization.

J. Wylie Donald, a partner at McCarter & English L.L.P. in Wilmington, Del., and author of the blog, likened the suits to those filed by plaintiffs seeking damages from the tobacco industry that at first were unsuccessful but eventually gained traction.

“Under current theory of law, the cases have little merit, but they will continue to be brought,” he said.