Feb. 23, 2011 by William Buzbee

Williamson v. Mazda: Sound and Clear Preemption Decision

The Supreme Court today issued its much-awaited ruling in Williamson v. Mazda. Could an injured or deceased plaintiff sue under common law for damages allegedly attributable to the lack of a rear inner seat seatbelt, when the Department of Transportation (DOT) had declined to require such belts while requiring other seat belts?   The case on its face appeared much like the Court’s earlier Geier v. American Honda Motor Co decision, issued in 2000, in which the Court held that a common law injury claim for the lack of an airbag was preempted due to DOT’s decision to allow manufacturers to choose among safety devices.   Many lower courts had read Geier expansively, thus preempting claims like those now presented in Williamson. But the reach of that ruling was always in question since the Geier case could also be read in a narrow way, limited to the particular DOT regulatory action, and also because the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act actually contained a “savings clause” that explicitly stated that compliance with a “federal safety standard does not exempt any person from liability under common law.” The Geier Court sidestepped that language by concluding that DOT’s regulatory allowance …

April 1, 2010 by William Buzbee

Federalism battles over state roles under federal climate legislation may have appeared settled, but they are once again under debate. The previous leading bills–the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, and the Boxer-Kerry bill passed out of a committee in the Senate–lost momentum several months ago. After several months of legislative inaction, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have been working on a new piece of climate legislation. After the senators’ comments indicated that this bill might broadly undercut state and local government actions to address climate risks, fourteen senators and a group of leaders of state environmental agencies recently sent letters to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman arguing for preservation of state authority to address climate ills. These letters show that some national and state leaders appreciate the importance of climate federalism choices and the value of state action. However, despite historical lessons, a decade of …

Oct. 5, 2009 by William Buzbee

This post is the fourth in a series from CPR Member Scholars examining different aspects of the Boxer-Kerry bill on climate change, which was released September 30

The Boxer-Kerry bill released on September 30, 2009 is yet another massive piece of proposed legislation. And it is likely to get even larger as details are added regarding distribution of pollution allowances, and as other gaps and shortcomings are addressed. Its basic architecture and enforcement provisions, however, give us a good feel for the bill’s basic functioning. It retains some of the best elements of the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House and improves on others, but it leaves unresolved some fundamental choices that could lead to implementation uncertainties down the road. In particular, this analysis will focus first on error risks, especially on the extent to which the bill allows for regulatory agencies to fix mechanisms in …

April 10, 2009 by William Buzbee

On Tuesday, March 31, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) released a "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 -- a climate change bill that will serve as the starting point for long-delayed congressional action on the world's most pressing environmental program. CPRBlog asked several Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars to examine different aspects of the 648-page Waxman-Markey bill. This entry, by William Buzbee, examines if the bill would preempt state laws.

In the Waxman-Markey bill, as in any proposed federal legislation, a key question concerns the ongoing role of the states. States have long played positive, cooperative and often innovative roles in working to accomplish environmental goals. But state activism is not met with universal applause. In the climate change area, as in other environmental law areas, one of the motivations for …

March 10, 2009 by William Buzbee

On March 3rd, the Supreme Court issued its much awaited decision in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.  This was the latest in a series of cases dating to the early 1990s where the central question has concerned citizen standing: will the courts allow a citizen to stand before a court to argue that government or private action violates the law?


In Summers, the environmentalists' challenge involved a few layers. The real legal challenge raised by the environmentalists was to regulations issued by the US Forest Service that largely eliminated opportunities for utilization of a notice, comment, and appeal process for actions designated by the Forest Service as small in size and therefore categorically exempt from these regulatory challenges ordinarily available for larger scale projects. The challengers asserted that these regulations violated statutory requirements. The challengers used a particular project, the Burnt Ridge Project in the Sequoia Forest …

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