Constitutional Law I, Pages 88–97

Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

2007

Facts:

Plaintiffs, a group of states, local governments, and private organizations, filed a petition asking the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles, as provided in the Clean Air Act, which states that the EPA shall regulate the emission of any air pollutant from new motor vehicles reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

Procedural History:

  • The EPA denied the petition because the Clean Air Act does not authorize it to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change.

  • The court of appeals denied plaintiffs' petition for review.

Issue:

Do plaintiffs have standing to challenge the EPA's denial of their petition?

Rules:

  • Google Scholar LogoPage 89

    [A] litigant must demonstrate that it has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant, and that it is likely that a favorable decision will redress that injury. However, a litigant to whom Congress has "accorded a procedural right to protect his concrete interests, . . . can assert that right without meeting all the normal standards for redressability and immediacy." When a litigant is vested with a procedural right, that litigant has standing if there is some possibility that the requested relief will prompt the injury-causing party to reconsider the decision that allegedly harmed the litigant.

  • Google Scholar LogoPage 89, Bottom

    [T]he State has an interest independent of and behind the titles of its citizens, in all the earth and air within its domain.

Reasoning:

Massachusetts has a well-founded desire to preserve its sovereign territory. Massachusetts cannot reduce greenhouse emissions in very many ways on its own. It has largely surrendered this sovereignty to the federal government, which has ordered the EPA to protect it. The EPA's refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emission presents a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both "actual" and "imminent." There is a "substantial likelihood that the judicial relief requested" will prompt the EPA to take steps to reduce that risk.

Rising sea levels resulting from climate change will swallow Massachusetts' coastal land, causing an actual injury to it. Global warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases and thus causation is shown. Even if these regulations would only reduce it by a small amount, it is a first step that would make a meaningful contribution to reducing global warming and thereby the potential of catastophic harm to plaintiff.

Holding:

Yes, plaintiffs have standing to challenge the EPA's denial of their petition. Reversed and remanded.

Dissenting Opinion:

Roberts: Global warming may be a big problem, but it is not one that has escaped the attention of policymakers in the legislative and executive branches. This is their function to regulate, not the courts.

The "special solicitude" the majority referred to has not been referenced and no provision was cited affording states special rights tr status. If Congress intended to give them such, they could have said so. For a state to exert its parens patriae rights standing, it must still show that its citizens have standing satisfying article III. States' rights to assert a quasi-sovereign right against the federal government is also doubtful.

None of plaintiffs' declarations or exhibits support an inference of actual loss of Massachusetts land from sea level increases. The calculations' average error is so large and extrapolated so far into the future that it is difficult to put much stock in the predictions.

Even further, these alleged injuries are based on a complex series of changes leading from this reduction in new inefficient vehicles to rising sea levels and a decrease in human health and welfare. The chain of effects required is far too speculative to establish causation.

While any reduction may help reduce global warming, the redress given has to be shown likely to redress the particular injury in fact—the asserted loss of land. It is pure conjecture to think that such a small decrease will likely prevent the loss of Massachusetts land.

This case appears more symbolic than concerned with the specific facts given. It is the courts' job to decide concrete cases however, not to serve as a forum for policy debates. The majority does not take the separation of powers seriously.

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