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June 30, 2022 by Robert Fischman

Supreme Court Swings at Phantoms in West Virginia v. EPA

In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court slayed a phantom, a regulation that does not exist. Why? The justices in the majority could not contain their zeal to hollow out the EPA’s ability to lessen suffering from climate change in ways that impinge the profits of entrenched fossil fuel interests.

In doing so, the activist justices reached out to interpret the Clean Air Act despite the Court’s traditional restraint in deciding only cases where plaintiffs suffering individualized harm present a focused, redressable dispute. The Court has been particularly strict in foreclosing judicial review when environmental plaintiffs complain about prospective rules and actions. But today’s decision eagerly engaged with the speculative harms presented by West Virginia and coal companies. They were not harmed by a regulation that never took effect and that never will be implemented.

In its “what if” analysis, the Court claimed for itself the power that presidents historically exercised through selecting agency officials to implement the administration’s agenda. This decision narrows the interpretive authority of those appointed officials, such as the EPA Administrator. It substitutes the judiciary for the executive branch in fleshing out broad congressional commands, such as “prescribe regulations …

June 29, 2022 by Shelley Welton, James Goodwin
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This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

These days, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can no longer be described as a technocratic, under-the-radar agency that sets policies on energy infrastructure and market rules, rates, and standards.

As energy policy has become front-page news — driven by climate change and recent price volatility — FERC has begun updating its regulations to meet new exigencies. The agency has taken big steps this spring to support affordability and a transition to cleaner energy, including proposing updates to the way it permits natural gas pipelines and beginning to overhaul how regions plan and pay for the expansion of electricity transmission infrastructure.

These moves have provoked controversy because their stakes are high: Billions of dollars of infrastructure expenditures are on the table. What gets built, who pays, who hosts this infrastructure, and who makes …

June 28, 2022 by Rebecca Bratspies, Katrina Fischer Kuh
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In November 2021, over 70% of New Yorkers voted to amend the state's constitution to explicitly protect New Yorkers' fundamental right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment. New York thus joins Montana and Pennsylvania in enshrining robust constitutional environmental rights in the state constitution.

The first cases making claims under the new constitutional provision are now being filed, and states contemplating the adoption of environmental rights will be closely watching how courts define and apply New York's amendment. Those states include New Mexico, Maine, and Maryland.

Unsurprisingly, corporate defendants argue that the new right doesn't change anything. They claim that the environmental right is not self-executing, i.e., that the constitutional right provides no new protections and is instead defined and limited by pre-existing environmental laws. They could not be more wrong and courts in New …

June 27, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. To learn more about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, its role in climate and energy justice, and how it can advance energy and regulatory democracy, see our April 2022 report.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been called the most important environmental agency that no one has heard of. Recently, the D.C. Circuit decided two undramatic FERC cases that illustrate the agency's environmental significance. One involved a bailout to coal and nuclear plants, the other involved water quality.

The first case, Turlock Irrigation District v. FERC, involved FERC's role in approving licensing and relicensing of hydroelectric dams. It also raised an important issue about the role of state governments in approving federal projects and licenses.

Under the Clean Water Act, dam owners need to get certifications from state authorities that the dam will not …

June 23, 2022 by Michael C. Duff
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This post was originally published by SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously struck down a Washington state law that was aimed at helping federal contract employees get workers' compensation for diseases arising from cleaning up nuclear waste.

The case, United States v. Washington, concerned the federally controlled Hanford nuclear reservation, a decommissioned facility that spans 586 square miles near the Columbia River. The reservation, formerly used by the federal government in the production of nuclear weapons, presents unique hazards to cleanup workers.

Under longstanding law, the federal government is immune from application of state law, including liability rules, on federal property located within a state, unless Congress waives the immunity. As Justice Stephen Breyer explained at the outset of his opinion for the court: "The Constitution's Supremacy Clause generally immunizes the Federal Government from state laws that directly …

June 23, 2022 by James Goodwin
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Any high school student can tell you that water follows the path of least resistance. A similar rule might be said to apply to corporate polluters and small government ideologues who now see the federal judiciary — especially a U.S. Supreme Court stocked with Trump-era judicial activists — as the path of least resistance in pursuing their agenda of the "deconstruction of the administrative state." The first case they have teed up for the October session of oral arguments is Sackett v. EPA, which the Court could use to gut the Clean Water Act.

Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar William Buzbee is helping lead the defense of this bedrock environmental law. Working with the Georgetown Law Center's Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Buzbee authored an amicus brief for members of Congress who support a strong Clean Water Act. In all, 167 members of Congress signed on …

June 22, 2022 by Alice Kaswan
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On June 23, California's Air Resources Board (CARB) — the state's air pollution control agency — is holding a public hearing on its comprehensive roadmap for achieving the state's daunting climate goal: carbon neutrality by 2045 at the latest, a goal established by Gov. Gavin Newsom in a 2018 executive order.

Although states are increasingly adopting 100 percent clean electricity targets, California's goal goes considerably farther, covering emissions from the entire economy, including transportation, industry, buildings, waste disposal, and agriculture. With its Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update (Draft Scoping Plan), the state has now set pen to paper in sketching potential pathways for zeroing out the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

The Draft Scoping Plan provides a general overview of four scenarios by which the state might reach "net zero" emissions. The Draft Scoping Plan includes few details …

June 22, 2022 by Catalina Gonzalez
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On June 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will hold its first public hearing on its draft plan (the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan) for achieving the state's climate goals and for getting to carbon neutrality no later than 2045. Including actions that prioritize California's overburdened and underserved communities will be vital to the success of the proposed plan.

Many across the state are expressing concern that the proposed course of action in the draft plan will be too slow, achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 instead of by 2035, the earlier target Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the agency to consider. Although the proposed approach would reduce the demand for and use of fossil fuels significantly, it would allow existing oil and gas industry activities that disproportionately harm low-income communities of color to continue indefinitely.

Environmental …

June 17, 2022 by Thomas McGarity
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The U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants offers an unwelcome opportunity for its conservative majority to advance the former Trump administration's goal of "deconstructing the administrative state."

The vehicle for advancing the Trump agenda is the obscure "major questions" doctrine, under which the Court insists that congressional delegations of power to regulatory agencies must be made with pinpoint precision on questions of "vast economic and political significance."

The Court invented the major questions doctrine about 20 years ago in a case involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate cigarettes, but it had used it only very rarely to overturn agency actions until Democratic presidents began to write regulations that aggressively protected public health, worker safety, and the environment.

The doctrine is at the heart of …

June 14, 2022 by Minor Sinclair
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I’m thrilled to share that the Center for Progressive Reform features prominently in the pages of a forthcoming anthology of last year’s best writing on environmental law.

Three of five articles selected for inclusion in the 2022 edition of the anthology were written or co-written by our esteemed Member Scholars — law professors who generously donate their time and expertise to help us achieve our mission to create a more responsive and inclusive government, a healthier environment, and a just society. A fourth article was authored by a Member Scholar who is on leave from the center while serving in the Biden administration.

The competition was fierce. Every year, leading environmental law professors and practitioners review hundreds of articles in the previous year’s law review literature — on topics ranging from land use and development to energy and natural resources — and select the best of the …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 30, 2022

Supreme Court Swings at Phantoms in West Virginia v. EPA

June 29, 2022

The Revelator Op-Ed: Regulators Have a Big Chance to Advance Energy Equity

June 28, 2022

New Yorkers' Environmental Rights Are Under Attack

June 27, 2022

Two FERC Cases and Why They Matter

June 23, 2022

Member Scholar Buzbee Leads Congressional Amicus in Crucial Supreme Court Clean Water Act Case

June 23, 2022

Justices Overturn Washington Workers' Compensation Law on a Strict Reading of Intergovernmental Immunity

June 22, 2022

Addressing Overburdened, Underserved Communities' Priorities Is Vital to Success of California Climate Plan