Important Judicial Decisions Involving Environmental Law

Environmental Regulation: Law, Science & Policy

Supreme Court Decisions & Important Lower Court Decisions

Gridlock in Congress has blocked legislation to combat climate change and foreclosed significant updating of existing federal environmental laws. Although the environmental laws Congress enacted in the 1970s and 1980s have remained remarkably durable, the battleground has shifted from Congress to the agencies and, ultimately, the courts.

Recent Environmental Decisions by the US Supreme Court  & Cases on the Horizon

I. Cases Decided by the Supreme Court

During its 2020-21 Term the Supreme Court decided 9 cases with potentially significant implications for environmental law: two state water rights disputes (Texas v. New Mexico, 141 S.Ct. 509 (2020) and Florida v. Georgia, 141 S.Ct. 1175 (2021)); a case involving application of the Freedom of Information Act to endangered species consultations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, 141 S.Ct. 777 (2021)); a case on the reviewability of remand orders in state climate litigation sought to be removed to federal court (BP PLC v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (2021)); a physical takings case (Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, 141 S.Ct. 2063 (2021)); a case on the use of eminent domain to take state land for a pipeline (PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey, 141 S.Ct. 2244 (2021)); a challenge to the extension of exemptions from renewable fuel requirements for small refineries (HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC v. Renewable Fuels Ass'n, 141 S.Ct. 2171 (2021)); a case involving when contribution actions may be brought under CERCLA (Territory of Guam v. United States, 141 S.Ct. 1608 (2021)); and a case involving when the Alien Tort Statute may be used to police corporate actions abroad (Nestle, USA, Inc. v. Doe, 141 S.Ct. 1931 (2021)).

2. Cases on the Horizon

There is one environmental case on the U.S. Supreme Court's docket for its October Term 2021.  On Monday October 4, 2021 at 10am the Court will hear Mississippi v. Tennessee a case involving Mississippi's claim that Memphis is consuming so much groundwater that the aquifer beneath the two states is shifting toward Tennessee. The special master ruled that until there has been an equitable apportionment of rights in the groundwater Mississippi could not prevail on its claim that Tennessee is "stealing" Mississippi. The Court will hear Mississippi's exceptions to this ruling

The most important environmental case on which Supreme Court review has been sought is the D.C. Circuit's decision in American Lung Association v. EPA, 985 F.3d 914 (D.C. Cir. 2021) striking down the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule that replaced the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP). The states of West Virginia and North Dakota have filed separate cert petitions as have two coal associations. The court will announce shortly if it will hear the challenges.