There have been many famous court cases in American history, but those that have dealt with environmental impact have been some of the most far reaching and impactful rulings for all Americans. Over the past half century, there have been a number of rulings by the Supreme Court that have set the standards for the environmental movement and shaped how the United States has changed over the years in terms of environmental protection. These cases have involved services from the US marshals to FBI, as well as local state, county, and municipal law enforcement agents.
For lawyers who have spent years honing the skills of their craft, environmental law is still one that demands much in the way of interpretation, approach and crafting arguments that bolster their client’s position. However, in most environmental cases, the government has certainly won the lion’s share. What follows are just a few examples of important environmental cases over the past few years that has helped to shape the world around us.
In a landmark case, the Supreme Court held that while a particular term may be used more than once in a statute, the agency has the discretion to interpret that term differently based on the context. This simple ruling addressed the Clean Air Act of 1963 which in two of its programs used the term “modification” more than once in an inconsistent manner. The Duke Energy Corporation failed in its argument that the term be used in the same manner consistently when it made modifications to its power plant, but failed to get the proper permits as the EPA claimed. The ruling allowed the EPA to be the agency which determined how “modification” was interpreted.
In one of the most important ruling in the past two decades, the Supreme Court decides 5 to 4 that the Environmental Protection Agency has the right to regulate greenhouse gasses such as heat-trapping gases from automobile exhausts. This gave the EPA very strong regulatory powers to regulate the one-fourth the total amount of emissions of heat trapping gasses. The issues here further the arguments over the reach of the EPA.
In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Coy Koontz who applied for a permit to develop several acres of wetlands that he owned and was denied when he refused a government offer to deed a certain amount of the land for conservation and thus not be used. The Supreme Court cited the “Takings Clause” in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution which prohibits the government from taking control of an individual’s property without just compensation. The ruling actually expands the interpretation of the clause and will have a substantial impact on the future of wetlands issues in the US.
These three cases have had a far reaching impact in terms of how environmental challenges can be won or lost in the Supreme Court. With many more cases on the docket, there will no doubt be future rulings that will also have a far reaching effect.