Public nuisance lawsuits not the path forward for Virginia

There is no disputing that the nation’s economy is booming.

Unemployment remains at a 49-year low, with 155,000 jobs created in November and workers seeing the quickest pay gains since 2009. Virginia has led the way in economic growth during this time while boasting an unemployment rate that stands at an 11-year low. In November, Forbes ranked us as the fourth best economy in the country, highlighting our regulatory environment and quality of life.

I am honored to represent portions of James City and York counties in the Virginia General Assembly, and I believe the free market principles we foster in Virginia are the reasons behind our prosperity.

My constituents are hardworking citizens employed across every industry from Richmond to Hampton Roads. We are home to many great companies, from the Carter Machinery Company to the Ball Manufacturing Plant.

These companies are part of a larger manufacturing community that has long been an economic driver of our nation. That community consists of 12.75 million workers who account for 8.6 percent of the nation’s workforce. From coast to coast, manufacturers — who contributed more than $2.3 trillion to the economy — provide the products we rely on daily.

Unfortunately, a dark cloud is looming that could jeopardize this critical sector and the millions of jobs they provide, including here in Virginia. Over the past two years, activist mayors and public officials in New York, California, Colorado, Rhode Island, Maryland and Washington state have filed public nuisance lawsuits against manufacturers seeking to hold them accountable for the impact of climate change.

These lawsuits have been driven by trial attorneys looking to score big contingency fees, should they prove successful. They haven’t.

So far, three of these cases have been dismissed by the federal courts, with two judges ruling that climate change belongs in the legislative arena rather than the courtroom. In California, Judge William Alsup put it best when he said the problem of climate change “deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”

Likewise in New York, Judge John Keenan ruled that the problems caused by climate change “are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.” In their dismissal of the three cases, both judges followed established Supreme Court precedent.

Targeting manufacturing here in Virginia would have a harmful impact on the Commonwealth’s economy. Manufacturers are responsible for nearly 10 percent of all economic output and employ more than 200,000 workers across Virginia. At a time when our economy is on a winning streak, do we really want to bring that to a halt for an effort that is bound to fail in the end?

We should certainly strive to lower emissions and embrace energy efficiency, but a public nuisance lawsuit accomplishes neither of those goals. A more productive use of everyone’s time — public officials and manufacturers alike — is to work side-by-side to address environmental challenges. As we tackle these challenges, we must offer meaningful solutions that balance Virginia’s continued economic growth with environmental stewardship.

Public nuisance lawsuits don’t fit into that equation and I urge Virginians to reject them before they have an opportunity to take root in the Commonwealth.

Pogge, R-James City County, represents the 96th District in the Virginia General Assembly.

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