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Legal Progress Toolkit: Why Courts Matter: The Environment

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Right now, due to the large number of federal court vacancies and a Senate that continues to obstruct qualified nominees, there are not enough judges to hear important cases. Because federal courts are often the last resort for environmental law cases, judges who sit on these federal courts matter. Current vacancies must be filled with judges who enforce laws that protect the environment. Consider the following cases where the federal courts are the final arbiter on decisions that will affect America’s public health, wildlife, and national treasures.

  • FEDERAL COURTS CAN STOP FRACKING: The Bureau of Land Management leased 2,700 acres of land in Monterey and Fresno counties in California to oil and gas drillers, whoplanned to use fracking techniques to extract natural gas and oil, a process that can poison the air and water. In 2011, Monterey County–a major agricultural center–objected to the lease sale because of the risk to the county’s water supplyandthe impact on the price and quality of the locally-grown produce.In April 2013, the U.S. District Court for theNorthern District of Californiastopped the potentially destructive practice by ruling thatthe Bureau of Land Management broke the law by entering into a lease that would allow fracking.
  • FEDERAL COURTS CAN KEEP OUR AIR CLEAN: The Clean Air Act’s penalties were meant to create incentives to limit pollution and provide funds to clean up the air. Major industrial sources typically have obligations under the Clean Air Act to pay a fee for their emissions contributing to ozone pollution or smog, which causes many health problems, including asthma attacks and deadly respiratory disease. Earlier this year, the EPA decided to permit the local air board in the Los Angeles region to waive fees for industrial polluters.The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing whether the EPA’s environmentally unfriendly decision is legal.
  • FEDERAL COURTS CAN KEEP OUR WATER CLEAN: In January 2012, the Obama administration adopted a banonnew uraniummining near the Grand Canyon. Several mining groups challenged this ban in federal court, even thoughnew mining would pollute water for 30 million people and degradethe Grand Canyon habitat.In March 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona upheld the ban and theInterior Department’s authority totake such protective measures.
  • FEDERAL COURTS CAN PROTECT OUR WILDLIFE: The State of Montana received a 50-year permit to log and build roads through 548,500 acres of state forest lands, some of whichis the last habitatforfederally protected species, including bull trout and grizzly bears. Because this development would harm these animals, in March 2013, conservation groups challenged the permit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. The case is now pending.
  • WHY THE D.C CIRCUIT MATTERS: The D.C. Circuit is often the first court to hearenvironmental law cases, including cases that challengenationwide standards adopted under the Clean Air Act,regulationsissued under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,and nationalprimary drinking water regulations.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi (immigration, race and ethnicity)
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

 

This is part of a special series: Legal Progress Toolkit

For more from this series, click here