ELI In the News
Environmental lawyers say the Supreme Court sent a clear message in its landmark ruling in West Virginia v. EPA: If a federal agency wants to craft robust climate regulations, it better not crow about them. If EPA — or any other federal agency, the White House or even advocacy groups — touts a regulation’s climate significance, lawyers said, that rule could fall victim to the so-called major questions doctrine, which the six-justice conservative majority applied last month in West Virginia to strike down the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (Greenwire, June 30). . . .
The Supreme Court’s landmark climate decision is expected to reverberate far beyond the walls of EPA — and possibly all the way up to Capitol Hill. A number of legal observers say the justices’ 6-3 ruling last month in West Virginia v. EPA — which provides a first look at how the court’s new conservative supermajority will handle climate cases — clips agency authority and, perhaps more significantly, constrains how lawmakers can address planet-warming emissions. “The most dangerous aspect of the court’s decision is the court’s seizure of power from Congress, not from the agency,” Georgetown University law professor Lisa Heinzerling said at a recent Georgetown Climate Center event. “Under the opinion, Congress may no longer enlist an agency’s help in addressing major issues — as it has done throughout U.S. history — unless it speaks clearly enough for a hostile Supreme Court to hear it.” . . .
Today, in a ruling on a nonexistent plan with nonexistent harms to the people who brought the suit, the Supreme Court took an opportunity to curb the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate power sector carbon emissions. In a summer of big decisions from the US Supreme Court, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency was one of the stranger cases on the docket. For one thing, it concerned a dispute that didn’t really exist. The complaint was about the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules issued by the EPA in 2015 that would have pushed power plants to substantially cut carbon emissions by 2030. Only the plan never panned out. Fossil fuel executives and Republican officials raised hell about its potential economic effects, went to court, and quickly got the rules suspended. A year later, then-President Barack Obama handed the keys to the EPA to Donald Trump, and the plan was gone for good. . . .
Asthma is a lung disease that makes breathing difficult for over 24 million Americans. While there’s no cure, there are steps you can take to help control it so you can lead a normal, healthy life. This is why the American Lung Association’s Promoting Asthma Friendly Environments through Partnerships and Collaborations Project is seeking to ensure more people live, work and go to school in asthma-friendly environments. . . .
La Jolla resident Mark Laska has a unique eye on the environment, helping companies attend to ecological issues and earning accolades for his efforts. Laska founded the consulting firm Great Ecology 20 years ago to “bring higher ecological thinking to leading governments and companies,” he said. “We try to also repair the world through ecology. … We strive toward habitat restoration.” Habitats are degraded through urbanization and contamination or pollution, Laska said. Great Ecology works to help companies mitigate environmental impacts, along with facilitating projects that add ecological value to parks and public spaces. . . .
EPA today released its latest blueprint for agency lawyers and policymakers to wield the instruments at their disposal to achieve the Biden administration’s environmental justice goals. EPA Legal Tools to Advance Environmental Justice — an update to a 2014 EPA document — focuses on implementing core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to tackle pollution and climate impacts in communities of color. The latest version includes guidance on implementing the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act in environmental justice work and adds a new chapter on civil rights in federal assistance programs. . . .
Environmental justice (EJ) communities (which we define in our Web Resource on Environmental Justice as communities of color and low-income communities that face disproportionate environmental burdens), have been fighting for decades to preserve their right to a healthy environment. Many barriers to that work exist, however. State attorneys general (AGs), as government lawyers, can play an important role in addressing those barriers. Below, we lay out several areas where attorneys general can and, in some cases, have been able to use their unique powers to do just that. . . .
As we observe Earth Month, it's time to think about the impact lawyers have on this planet. Did you know that the percentage of pro bono environmental law work within corporate law departments dropped from a paltry 6% in 2012 to an even more startling 2% in 2020, according to reports from the Corporate Pro Bono Institute? Or that Law Students for Climate Accountability evaluated the climate impact of Vault 100 law firms in 2020, and determined that only four firms received an "A" climate score? Apparently, Vault 100 firms worked on 10 times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change during the period of the survey: 286 cases, compared to 27 cases. . . .
Since the beginning of time, people have been on the move in hopes of a better life. Whether people relocate voluntarily in search of better jobs, or they are forced to leave their homes because of war or environmental displacement, all migrating people deserve to be treated with dignity. Sadly, human rights and human dignity are too often treated as an afterthought to the migration process. . . .
A few years ago, I started providing pro bono legal assistance to a nonprofit in New Jersey that was helping community gardens expand their composting operations without prohibitively expensive permits. In order to change state regulations, I tapped my network to arrange meetings with local residents and elected officials who could provide support. . . .