Law and Disorder Radio – Supreme Court Decision on Climate Change – Michigan Citizens File Lawsuit Challenging Emergency Manager Law – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

Food Not Bombs Plans To Sue Orlando Mayor

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 Supreme Court Decision on Climate Change

Last month the Supreme Court reaffirmed that it is the job of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. This was decided in the Connecticut v. American Electric Power case which doesn’t allow states to directly bring a lawsuit against five of the largest power companies to regulate their emissions as a public nuisance. As many listeners may know, power plants are the nation’s biggest climate polluters. They can pump more than two billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Other polluters include automobile emissions and housing stock. Some of the world’s top scientists report that pollution has been linked to climate change.

Law Professor Eleanor Stein:

  • In the 2004 case, the court decided the EPA had to assess any air pollutant and decide whether it endangered public health and welfare and if it found that it did, it would have to set limits on that pollutant.
  • The EPA had refused to do that, this is the Bush era EPA and said we don’t have the authority under the Clean Air Act to do it, and even if we did, this is essentially a problem for the president to solve, and he’s doing a great job.
  • The court found that unsatisfactory and held that the EPA had an obligation to regulate if it found endangerment.
  • This case in 2011 reaffirmed the central core of the Massachusetts decision, which is the EPA has the authority and the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases.
  • The 2nd Circuit, in a ringing militant statement on climate, reversed the district court and squarely held that states could bring this lawsuit which is against the five biggest carbon dioxide emitters in the country, under a common law theory of public nuisance.
  • The heart of the petitioners camp were a group of attorneys general from several states; the fundamental authority of an attorney general is to bring lawsuits in a state against public nuisances of all kinds.
  • So they had this idea to elevate this authority into a federal common law claim.
  • The court endorses no particular view of the complicated issues related to carbon dioxide emissions.
  • For this they cite an article in the New York Times two years from Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, who said a lot of climate-change-denier stuff and is kind of a gadfly, who is not a climate scientist.
  • In New York City for example, we burn a great deal of natural gas to heat our houses.
  • We’re creating a layer that is preventing reflection of solar rays back out into space.
  • Much more of it is being trapped into the atmosphere than pre-industrial times.
  • There’s uncertainty about how fast and what kind of changes, but there are some things that are confidently predicted. We’re already seeing tremendously fast melting of ice in Greenland and the polar cap.
  • There’s no question that this is a product of both rapid industrial development, of uncontrolled growth policies, without any consideration of the impacts of growth, especially when you talk about the disparity of impact.

Guest – Law Professor and Attorney Eleanor Stein teaches the Law of Climate Change: Domestic and Transnational at Albany Law School and SUNY Albany, jointly with the Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences Department at SUNY.

 Michigan Citizens File Suit Challenging Unconstitutional Emergency Manager Law

Twenty-eight citizens of Michigan have filed a lawsuit in an effort to bring down the recently signed Emergency Manager Law, claiming it will give Governor Rick Snyder and his appointees vast, unlawful power over financially struggling cities and school districts. Bill Goodman, an attorney with the Sugar Law Center of Detroit, the firm that filed the lawsuit, called it a power grab by Lansing politicians. Goodman also said the law violates the state constitution by giving Snyder powers over cities normally granted to the state legislature. Those powers include replacing elected officials, nullifying collective bargaining agreements, privatizing public services and dissolving cities. Earlier this year we interviewed Zainab Akbar, Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Michigan about the same law being in used the mostly black community of Benton Harbor. Democracy Emergency

Attorney John Philo:

  • We think this is an important issue, not just for Michigan but nationally. We think this is so viable to our notion of fundamental constitutional rights that we could not let this pass without a legal challenge.
  • The first constitutional law violation that we see is that it attacks what is known as the democratic form of government. We all believe we have a right to a democratic form of government, that we can elect our officials at the local, state and federal level. This lawsuit is testing, where is that in the Constitution, where is it recognized?
  • We think that people would find it an absurdity that they don’t have that right to vote for their local officials.
  • We have a provision in our constitution that says they can’t pass unfunded mandates. They can’t put costs on a local government without providing some revenue stream or providing some mandatory adjustment.
  • This legislation puts all the costs on the local government that they already find to be in distress.
  • In Benton Harbor alone, the salary of the “emergency manager” is running $11,000 a month.
  • That’s before we even get to the consultants and the financial review people that they bring in, the staff.
  • There are a number of states looking to pass the emergency managers law.
  • This is a nationwide problem that everyone recognizes, to regulate banks, and Wall St., and national economic policies that have hit the Midwest hardest and we would say below the belt.
  • What will the law do to pensions? Contract rights and pension funds.
  • There is a provision that says the state treasurer can request the communities to sort of enter into a consent agreement, before they’ve even been found in financial distress.
  • There are citizens, conservation folks, in various places who’ve request the state appoint an emergency manager in their community. This sends the mayor and the city council reeling because they don’t feel they have to.
  • They’re acting to prevent this because of the broad discretion given to treasurer and the governor, whether there is a financial situation where they could appoint a manager.
  • We’re asking for an order of the court that declares the provisions of Public Act 4 unconstitutional and then an injunction that prevents any further implementation.
  • I think people would be shocked if they realize people don’t have a right to elected government.

Tova Perlmutter:

  • We see this litigation as one tool in a broader people’s movement. Here in Detroit we have some phenomenal leaders. The first day we filed was the biggest day in my career.
  • We with a lot of help with allies and friends held seven press conferences in cities across the state.
  • We blanketed the airwaves and the press, that’s how we got national coverage as well.
  • The Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice
  • We’ve been around for 20 years, based in Detroit but we do serve folks nationally; our mission is to use legal and other public advocacy to advance the rights of working people and their communities.
  • One of the cities that has had the most extreme emergency managers is Pontiac.
  • There’s no coincidence here, this is a very clear effort to exert a paternalistic and corporate friendly control over communities that might otherwise be speaking out and exerting autonomy.

Guest – Attorney John Philo – Sugar Law’s Legal Director, is responsible for litigation, legal research, delivery of training, and supervision of all staff and interns working on legal tasks. John is an attorney with over 18 years of experience representing and advocating for workers and other disenfranchised people.

Guest – Tova Perlmutter – Executive Director, has over 20 years experience in administration, communications, fund raising and public education for nonprofit organizations. She obtained professional certification as a Senior Human Resources Professional while working to promote fair employment practices at a major corporation.