On California, Climate Justice, and the Crucial Role of State Courts

by David Flores | November 12, 2019

As Californians endure yet another round of devastating wildfires, they are rightly wondering if blazes of such frequency and reach are the new normal. The hard truth is that they may very well be. The fingerprints of climate change are all over this disaster, as they have been all over recent hurricane damage, and the trendline is unmistakable. With that in mind, a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform takes a look at the situation in the Golden State and elsewhere and highlights the crucial role state courts play in securing justice for those harmed by climate change.

Just as climate change heats the ocean’s waters, thus increasing the intensity of storms, it also helps drive the drought, wind, and vegetation conditions that provide the fuel and fan the flames of larger and more intense wildfires. Tracing the climate crisis back to its corporate industrial roots, a half dozen California cities and counties and a regional commercial fishing association are pursuing tort lawsuits in state courts to hold dozens of fossil fuel producers accountable for their contributions to global climate change. They're seeking compensation for the regional climate impacts already felt by California residents and businesses, which threaten the state’s coastal and inland communities and its agricultural, fishing, and other economies.

Sadly but not surprisingly, the most socially and economically vulnerable Californians are suffering the most harm from state and federal inaction on the ...

Argument Analysis: Context Trumps Text as Justices Debate Reach of Clean Water Act

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 11, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Heinzerling's argument preview for this case. The Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition to the navigable waters of any pollutant that comes “from any point source.” Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined this clause during oral argument in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The question in this case is ...

Argument Preview: Justices to Consider Reach of Clean Water Act's Permitting Requirement

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 04, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The central regulatory construct of the Clean Water Act is the requirement of a permit for the addition to the nation's waters of any pollutant that comes "from any point source." Congress' high hopes for the cleansing power of the act's permitting system are reflected in the name Congress chose for it – the "national pollutant discharge elimination system" – ...

Chemical Hazards Make Every Day at Work a Fright Fest

by Katie Tracy | October 31, 2019
On Halloween, nothing seems spookier than a chance encounter with a ghost or goblin, except maybe a zombie. But there is something much more haunting that happens every day. Across the United States, an average of 137 people die daily from occupational diseases caused by on-the-job exposures to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. Nearly 200,000 more suffer from nonfatal illnesses annually. This is no trick. There is no mystery here. In fact, in 2017, more people died from occupational ...

A Dozen Strategies for the Struggle With Big Oil

by Daniel Farber | October 28, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reposted by permission. The oil industry is enormous – something like 2 to 3 percent of global GDP. Individuals firms like ExxonMobil earn tens of billions of dollars each quarter. Controlling climate change will mean drastic curtailment in the coming decades of the industry’s major products. There’s no way that the industry will accept this lying down, and it’s a formidable opponent. To be successful, we will need a combination of strategies, aside from the rightness ...

The GAO's New Environmental Justice Report

by Dave Owen | October 24, 2019
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies. For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a ...

How to Improve Allocations of Regulatory Authority

by Alejandro Camacho | October 23, 2019
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. Ever since Ronald Reagan declared government to be the problem rather than the solution, the federal bureaucracy has been the target of criticism from right-leaning think tanks, regulatory skeptics in academia, and politicians of all political persuasions. Lately, members of the federal judiciary have visibly joined this chorus of criticism. Among the charges leveled against regulation and the agencies responsible for issuing and enforcing rules is the claim that, even assuming ...

2020 in the Courts: A Preview

by Daniel Farber | October 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion. The Supreme Court The Court agreed last spring to ...

If You Care about the Chesapeake Bay, Here's What You Need to Know about Maryland's Clean Water Act Permit for Agricultural Pollution

by Evan Isaacson | October 21, 2019
The many thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region who care deeply about restoring the Chesapeake Bay tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the causes of the Bay's woes and even some of the key policy solutions for restoring it to health. These concerned citizens may even be familiar with the term "TMDL," a legal concept within the Clean Water Act that is probably completely foreign to most of the rest of the country. But what even the most committed ...

A Tribute to Rep. Elijah Cummings: Fueled by Compassion, a Champion of Social Justice

by James Goodwin | October 17, 2019
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland was different from most other lawmakers we see today. He embodied a moral authority that others try to project but that for him was unquestionably authentic. When he spoke of working on behalf of "the people," there was never a shred of a doubt that he meant just that. Rep. Cummings is a vivid reminder that our democratic institutions work best when they are open to genuinely diverse perspectives. His personal experiences with adversity and injustice ...

The Trump Administration's New Anti-Safeguard Executive Orders on Guidance, Explicated

by James Goodwin | October 14, 2019
Last week, President Trump unleashed the latest volley in his administration's efforts to bring about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" with the signing of two new executive orders relating to agency issuance and use of "guidance documents." The first purports to ensure "improved agency guidance," while the second claims to promote "transparency and fairness" in the use of guidance for enforcement actions. The bottom line for the orders is that, with a few potentially big exceptions, they are unlikely ...

Aging Dams, Forgotten Perils

by Daniel Farber | October 11, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Critical U.S. infrastructure is dilapidated and unsafe. Regulation is weak, and enforcement is weaker. Everyone agrees on the need for action, and climate change will only make the problem worse, but no one seems to do anything about it. Sadly, this has become a familiar story. Take dams, for instance. A year ago, I noted that the federal government regulates the safety of only a small proportion ...

What the Trump Impeachment Inquiry Teaches Us about the Federal Bureaucracy

by James Goodwin | October 10, 2019
Just when it seemed that President Donald Trump was completely immune to accountability for his various abuses of power, impeachment proceedings against him have quickly picked up steam over the last couple weeks. Laying aside what happens with Trump, it's significant that it was a whistleblower complaint from a current CIA officer that helped expose the president's misconduct. (Reports that a second whistleblower, another intelligence official, is preparing to step forward have emerged in recent days.) Therein lies one of ...

Trump's Decision to Hamstring California's Climate Authority Is Illogical and Uninformed

by Alejandro Camacho | October 07, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. For five decades California and the federal government have worked together in an innovative exercise in federalism aimed at achieving cleaner air. California has played an important role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, particularly from motor vehicles. But now, contrary to law and in a massive departure from past practice, President Donald Trump has announced that his administration is pulling the rug ...

Striking for Environmental and Social Justice in Roanoke

by David Flores | September 26, 2019
On September 23, I attended the Climate Emergency: Tri-State Pipeline Strike in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. While affiliated with the Global Climate Strike week of action, the event in Roanoke was another milestone in the years-long and continuing struggle to prevent construction of natural gas pipelines through parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.                       The day prior, my family and I attended a “Circle of Protection” event atop verdant Bent ...

New Report: How to Build a Regulatory System for a More Just and Equitable America

by James Goodwin | September 25, 2019
Last week's televised climate town hall saw several Democratic presidential candidates outline an impressive array of policies that, if implemented effectively, offer some measure of hope for averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis for us and future generations. The operative concept there – lurking in the background and too often taken for granted – is effective implementation. The fact of the matter is that meeting our country's greatest challenges – climate change, economic inequality, systemic racism, access to ...

On Strike for Climate Justice and Workers' Rights

by Katie Tracy | September 19, 2019
Tomorrow (September 20), I'm standing up for workers' rights by marching to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as part of the Global Climate Strike. I'll be walking in solidarity with the students and youth organizing the strike to spread the message that climate action is imperative.                       Addressing the growing climate crisis and creating jobs are two necessary actions often pitted against each other, as if only one were possible ...

The World Bank Considers Stepping Back from Accountability

by David Hunter | September 19, 2019
For nearly two years, the World Bank Board of Directors has fumbled what should be an easy decision to modernize its Inspection Panel, the primary institution that addresses the damage the Bank's lending can do to local communities. At issue is whether the Panel should be able to monitor the Bank's implementation of Management Action Plans developed and approved in light of Panel investigations. What to all outside observers would seem like an inherent part of closing any complaint – ...
Recommended Resources:
Climate Change
Time for Real Action on Global Warming

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