Burlington firm sues government over climate change

Print More

(Host) A Burlington law firm has filed the first-ever lawsuit over the role of the federal government in climate change. The suit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of several people who argue that they are victims of global warming. One of the parties in the case is a maple sugar maker from Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The unusual litigation was put together by the law firm of Shems, Dunkiel and Kassel in Burlington. The suit says that two federal agencies – the Export Import bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation – have supported energy projects around the world without first reviewing the impact on the Earth’s climate.

Lawyer Brian Dunkiel says these obscure federal agencies have provided billions of dollars in loans and insurance coverage for oil pipelines and other energy projects. He says his research shows that these projects caused 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the main gas blamed for heating up the planet.

(Dunkiel) “That’s a significant contribution to climate change and global warming. And what the lawsuit charges is that these two agencies have failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. That is, they’ve taken these significant federal actions, these major federal actions, without looking act or assessing the effect on the environment, and specifically on climate change.”

(Dillon) Dunkiel’s law firm represents Friends of the Earth and the Greenpeace environmental groups. The firm also works for several people around the country who believe they’ll suffer from the effects of climate change.

One of the plaintiffs is Arthur Berndt of Sharon. Berndt and his wife run one of the state’s largest maple sugar operations. He says the sap runs are starting sooner and ending earlier than in years past:

(Berndt) “It seems that the season is less long, then it warms up really kind of rapidly and the season just stops. It doesn’t slow down, it just kind of, one day you just kind of wake up and the trees stop running.”

(Dillon) Berndt says the goal of the lawsuit is to raise awareness of the climate issue and to hold the federal government responsible for its energy policy.

(Berndt) “I think that all along we are all connected on earth and we should be held accountable. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re developing in another country or whether you’re having to subject yourself to things like Act 250 here in Vermont. And we really need to start to take responsibility for our actions and see what some of the consequences might be.”

(Dillon) Other plaintiffs in the case include residents of North and South Carolina who are losing their property due to rising sea levels.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

Comments are closed.