Biologist sues over coral loss

September 27, 2002

A biology professor has joined forces with environmental groups to sue the US government for recklessly contributing to global warming, claiming that its policies have materially damaged his career and his finances.

A lawsuit filed in the district court in San Francisco claims that two US export credit agencies have acted illegally by providing $32 billion (£21 billion) in financing for oil fields, pipelines and coal-fired power plants over the past ten years without assessing their contribution to global warming.

It also claims that the companies failed to assess the impact of these projects on the environment of the US as required by law.

The lawsuit has been brought by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the City of Boulder, Colorado, on behalf of its citizens, who, they also argue, have been materially affected.

Phillip Dustan, a marine biologist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, said that his life's work was in jeopardy because coral reefs were disappearing as a result of bleaching caused by warmer oceans.

Professor Dustan is a science adviser to the environmental organisation the Cousteau Society.

He has been studying coral reefs since 1969. As a principal investigator on the Environmental Protection Agency's Florida Keys coral monitoring project, he has recorded a 38 per cent loss of living coral cover in the area between 1996 and 2000.

He said: "My main complaint is that I have had to change the directions of my research - I can no longer work on the 'pure biology' of corals and coral reefs, but must work on their conservation. I have put aside an intellectual pursuit that gave me great joy.

"The financial part comes in building a new house. I've had to make it more weatherproof in anticipation of more furious hurricanes predicted from global warming. This has cost a lot of money."

The suit has been filed against the Export Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, both taxpayer-funded agencies that provide financing and loans to US corporations for overseas projects that commercial banks deem too risky.

The Export Import Bank said it would vigorously oppose the lawsuit while a spokesman for Opic said the company was "disappointed" and that it was proud of its environmental record.

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