Press Release: July 26, 2010
MONTGOMERY, AL—Attorney General Troy King called a ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of State of North Carolina v. TVA “an important victory for states’ rights and federalism.” The State of Alabama intervened in the appeal to protect the citizens and businesses who would face higher utility rates if North Carolina had succeeded. North Carolina’s petition would have set up a system whereby states could seek to manipulate each other’s laws to advance their own agendas or to gain competitive advantages between themselves.
The appeals court ruled that North Carolina could not impose its own public nuisance law upon the states of Alabama and Tennessee to enforce more stringent air emissions standards upon those states than is required by those states’ own laws. The Tennessee Valley Authority would not be in violation of public nuisance laws in Alabama or Tennessee, the Court said, noting that TVA power plants operate lawfully under the permits of the states where they are located, and that these states’ regulations are promulgated in compliance with federal laws and procedures. The appeals court said that the lower court had “compromised principles of federalism by applying North Carolina law extraterritorially to TVA plants located in Alabama and Tennessee.”
The appeals court found that the State of North Carolina could not use public nuisance lawsuits to disrupt the comprehensive and carefully crafted set of state and federal clean air regulations, which provide the appropriate opportunity for one state to have comment and input regarding whether it is being affected by air emissions that originate in another state. “The laws in place have been designed by Congress to protect our air and water,” the Court stated. “Plaintiff (North Carolina) would replace them with an unknown and uncertain litigative future. As the Supreme Court has emphasized, the legal difficulties with this approach are legion. No matter how lofty the goal, we are unwilling to sanction the least predictable and the most problematic method for resolving interstate emissions disputes, a method which would chaotically upend an entire body of clean air law and could all too easily redound to the detriment of the environment itself.”