Environmental -- 2014

Alec L. v. McCarthy   (D.C. Circuit)

Litigation seeking to impose 6% annual reductions in greenhouse gases under "public trust" theory

This is an appeal of a decision dismissing claims by an environmental group that would force the government to impose further greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies under a "public trust" theory. The NAM intervened in the case in the trial court and helped obtain the favorable ruling there.

For a full summary of our arguments in the district court, click here.

In our appeals court brief, joined by various trucking and construction companies and associations, we argue that the public trust doctrine is a state law doctrine and does not implicate a federal question subject to jurisdiction in the federal courts. The case also presents a political question that is not for the courts to decide, putting the courts in the position of adopting air emission standards of general applicability and monitoring compliance. No court has ever used the public trust doctrine to compel a regulatory action by the federal government, much less a sweeping new regulatory agenda of the type sought here. In addition, the parties bringing suit do not have standing, because their alleged injuries are not imminent and particularized, nor are they fairly traceable to the defendants or likely to be lessened by any court order.

The court decided not to hear oral arguments in the case, and on June 5, 2014, affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims. It found that the plaintiffs did not present a federal question, and that the court therefore did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. There was no federal question because the claims were based on the legal theory of public trust, which is entirely a state law issue.

The NAM intervened in this case to help block this attempt to use the courts to do an end run around the legislative and regulatory processes that govern regulation of emissions from manufacturing plants. This result is an important development in reining in these kinds of aggressive legal theories and litigation tactics.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case on 12/8/2014.

Related Documents:
NAM Opening Brief  (December 23, 2013)


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