2019 Supreme Court Environmental Law Review and Preview

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Leading experts in environmental law and the Supreme Court, Harvard Law Professors Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus offered an overview of major takeaways from the Court’s last term, including significant decisions for environmental lawyers, before transitioning to discuss both upcoming term cases and continuing cases.

Freeman and Lazarus reflected on the Supreme Court’s rulings about, among other things, the extent to which federal courts should defer to agency interpretations of their own regulations (Kisor v. Wilke), the scope of the National Park Service’s authority over “public lands” under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (Sturgeon v. Frost); the ability of landowners to bring regulatory takings challenges to state land use restriction in federal court in the first instance (Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania); the meaning of “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service); and the extent to which the federal Atomic Energy Act preempts a state’s law ban on uranium mining on non-federal lands (Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren).

They also discussed cases and rulings to watch in the upcoming term, including those concerning whether the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act preempts state litigation seeking cleanup remedies that may conflict with EPA-ordered remedies (Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian); and whether the Clean Water Act prohibits the unpermitted discharge of pollutants into groundwater that eventually flows into protected navigable waters (County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund).

Lastly, Freeman and Lazarus highlighted continuing court cases including Juliana v. US, which raises a novel claim that the federal government violated the rights of children by promoting and not preventing activities causing dangerous levels of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Prof. Freeman is director of the HLS Environmental and Energy Law Program and Archibald Cox Professor of Law. Prof. Lazarus is the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law at HLS.

The event was jointly sponsored by the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program and the Environmental Law Institute.

Presentation slides are available here
https://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/seminars/9_26-19_scotus_presentation.pdf

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