MAC: Mines and Communities

Native Alaskans sue Peabody and others over global warming impacts

Published by MAC on 2008-02-28

Native Alaskans sue Peabody and others over global warming impacts

28th February 2008

The world's biggest strip miner of coal, Peabody Energy, is among two dozen oil, mining and energy companies, being sued by a small native village in the Arctic. The Alaskans claim that these activities have contributed to global greenhouse gas emmissions which have damaged their environment and are threatening their homes and livelihoods.

The villagers are demanding that the companies pay for full relocation of their settlement. The suit is being filed in California since this is where the companies conduct some of their business.

Alaska Town Sues 24 Energy Companies On Climate Change

PlanetArk US

28th February 2008

NEW YORK - An Alaskan village north of the Arctic Circle has filed suit in a US District Court against 24 energy companies, in an attempt to link erosion damage from global warming to the defendants' actions.

Residents of Kivalina, a village of about 400 native Inupiat located on the tip of a barrier reef between the Chukchi Sea and two rivers, filed suit on Tuesday against the companies in US District Court in San Francisco.

The suit is one of many global warming cases that have been filed after the UN's climate change panel last year squarely placed the blame for global warming on human actions.

Village residents claimed that greenhouse gas emissions from the companies help warm the atmosphere and melt sea ice that used to protect them from winter storms. "Houses and buildings are in imminent danger of falling into the sea as the village is battered by storms and its ground crumbles from underneath it," the suit said.

The residents seek relocation costs which could run to $400 million.

Late last year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offered a gloomy report on global warming's impact on the Arctic, finding less ice and hotter air.

The defendants, including Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc, Chevron Corp, coal miner Peabody Energy Corp, and power generator American Electric Power, are some of the largest producers of products that emit the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, or sell coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Matt Pawa, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview that under nuisance laws any major contributors to pollution problems can be sued.

He said since greenhouse gases combine together in the atmosphere to cause the overall problem of global warming, the biggest polluters can be blamed for contributing to the damage in Alaska. "Individual CO2 molecules don't have name tags," he said when asked if the companies could be directly linked to damage to the village.

The companies were chosen because they conduct some business in California, where the suit was filed. Pawa represented environmental groups in a successful automobile greenhouse emissions case in Vermont late last year that major automakers are appealing. Gantt Walton, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, said the company had no comment on the case because it was still reviewing it.

He said ExxonMobil takes global warming "very seriously" and that the risks have warranted action by the company including reducing greenhouse gas emissions at its operations and supporting research into technology that could lead to breakthroughs.

Representatives of two other companies, Peabody and Chevron, did not immediately return telephone calls. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Story by Timothy Gardner


Eroding Alaska Native Village Sues Energy Companies

SAN FRANCISCO, California, (ENS)

26th February 2008

The arctic coastal village of Kivalina and a federally recognized tribe, the Alaska Native village of Kivalina, are suing two dozen oil, coal and power companies that they claim have made the climate warmer, causing their land and homes to slide into the Chukchi Sea.

Nine oil companies, as well as 14 power companies and one coal company are named in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The village of Kivalina is located on the tip of an eight mile long a barrier island located between the Chukchi Sea and a lagoon at the mouth of the Kivalina River 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It has been threatened by erosion caused by wave action and sea storms for several decades and a relocation committee was first formed by the community 20 years ago.

An Inupiat village numbering nearly 400 people, Kivalina is the only community in the area where people hunt bowhead whales. The hunters of Kivalina engage in spring whaling from openings in the sea ice - openings that have widened year by year until now open water appears during times when the sea used to ice over.

The original village was located at the north end of the Kivalina Lagoon but was relocated. Due to severe sea wave erosion during storms, Kivalina hopes to relocate again to a new site nearby and studies of alternate sites are ongoing.

Financing for the move is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The community has encountered difficulties in choosing a new village site and funding the relocation effort.

"An increase in the frequency and intensity of sea storms, degradation and melting of permafrost, and accelerated erosion of the shoreline have recently forced the village into a state of emergency," according to a 2006 Relocation Master Plan written by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Sea storms have eroded the shoreline out from underneath several structures and threatens the airstrip. Emergency erosion control measures are in place, but will only slow the sea's inevitable reclamation of the island," the relocation plan states.

Funding problems aside, several sites identified as potential new village sites are problematic due to geophysical incompatibility with development, susceptibility to erosion or flooding, permitting, and social and cultural objections by various segments of the community.

Climate change scientist Dr. Gunter Weller of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks says Kivalina and another coastal village, Shishmaref, which is not part of the lawsuit, have suffered from erosion that he attributes to three factors, all deriving from global warming.

Permafrost has thawed, causing houses to slide off suddenly muddy cliffs, Weller said. Sea ice has thinned, creating expanses of open water that rise up in ever higher storm surges; and glaciers are melting, leading local sea levels to climb.

The townships must be relocated, at an estimated cost of more than $100 million, so they should stand a good chance of a court upholding a claim that they suffered damages because of global warming, Weller has said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Kivalina by two nonprofit law groups, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Native American Rights Fund, as well as six other law firms.

Named in the lawsuit are BP PLC, BP American Inc., BP Products North America, Inc., Chevron Corp. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., ConocoPhillips Co., ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Oil Co.

Also named were coal company Peabody Energy Corp., and power companies AES Corp., American Electric Power Co., Inc., American Electric Power Services Corp., DTE Energy Co., Duke Energy Corp., Dynegy Holdings, Inc., Edison International, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., Mirant Corp., NRG Energy, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., Reliant Energy Inc., The Southern Co., and Xcel Energy Inc.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.


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