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New Jersey is suing big energy companies but won’t stop climate change

With Hurricane Sandy’s 10-year anniversary as a cue, New Jersey recently joined a growing list of states and localities suing energy companies over climate-related damage. Pushed into action by activists, these politicians prefer to make headlines with dubious legal arguments rather than focus on real solutions that address the serious problem of climate change.

New Jersey claims the companies have misled the public about the effects of climate change and are therefore paying the costs associated with rising temperatures. At the press conference announcing the lawsuit, Attorney General Matthew Platkin noted that “Today we begin to right the wrongs that have been done to our residents.” Among other things, New Jersey is asking companies to “stop their lies.”

These comments may make nice soundbites, but they won’t have any lasting impact on combating climate change. First, the legal claims are questionable. Just last year, for example, the federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a similar lawsuit filed in New York City. Second, the cases divert resources and attention from actual solutions.

This particular lawsuit is particularly ironic given that New Jersey emits more carbon dioxide than most other states. New Jersey is densely populated and has a lot of industry. Consumers and businesses use a lot of energy to commute to work, heat their homes and run their facilities. By now it’s pretty clear that Americans understand the link between fossil fuel consumption and climate change. So, will Platkin file a lawsuit against his own state or the state’s residents over their continued use of energy and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions? Of course not.