Judge tosses Pa. climate case

Source: Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2019

A federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a lawsuit from environmentalists and two children concerned about the effect of regulatory rollbacks on climate change.

Judge Paul Diamond of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania yesterday dismissed the complaint from the Clean Air Council and two children from the Philadelphia area, saying he had “neither the authority nor the inclination” to force the federal government’s hand on the issue.

The plaintiffs had asked the court to block the Trump administration from weakening environmental rules designed to curb climate change or from adopting policies that could worsen the problem.

The broad lawsuit targeted everything from high-profile regulatory rollbacks to behind-the-scenes agency decisions to remove climate information from websites. The litigants also sought to depose former Cabinet members, including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in connection with the case (Climatewire, Jan. 9).

Diamond found the litigants lacked legal standing to bring the case because they hadn’t demonstrated that the federal government actually caused them direct harm or that a court could do anything to correct alleged injuries.

He also said he lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims because it could violate the Constitution’s separation of powers by putting the court in charge of executive branch policy. And he rejected their claims that they had a fundamental right to a “life-sustaining climate system.”

Many of the same issues have arisen in the higher-profile “kids’ climate case” in Oregon, where 21 young plaintiffs have accused the government of enabling and sometimes fueling climate change. Diamond, a George W. Bush appointee, was dismissive of the Oregon case, Juliana v. United States, which the government is challenging at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“As of this writing, a single court has recognized a substantive due process right analogous to what Plaintiffs urge here,” Diamond wrote. “Yet, the Juliana Court certainly contravened or ignored longstanding authority.”

He criticized the plaintiffs in the Clean Air Council case for attempting to assert a right with no clear limits.

“Given the actions they ask me to address — including altering agency web pages, approving hiring decisions, and ratifying the President’s cabinet appointments — it appears that the scope of the ‘fundamental’ right Plaintiffs invoke has no clear limit,” he wrote yesterday. “This, as much as anything, underscores that Plaintiffs do not seek the Court’s assistance in adjudicating a legal dispute. Rather, Plaintiffs disagreement with Defendants is a policy debate best left to the political process.”

The Clean Air Council did not respond to a request for comment last night. A challenge to the ruling, if pursued, would go to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.