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Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

Citation. 549 U.S 497 (2007)

Brief Fact Summary.

A group of states and local governments alleged that EPA has abdicated it responsibility to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. EPA questioned the petitioners’ standing to invoke the court’s jurisdiction under Article III.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Injury is a core requirement of Article III of the Constitution for there to be a case or controversy.

Under Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, a plaintiff must demonstrate that it has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is actual or imminent and such injury must be fairly traceable to the defendant.

Facts.

In the face of rising global temperatures, a group of states, local governments and private organizations alleged that the Environmental Protection Agency has not fulfilled its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate the emissions of certain greenhouse gases. EPA argued that it need not address the questions of the petitioners unless they have standing to invoke the court’s jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution.

Issue.

  1. Whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles.
  2. Whether its stated reasons for refusing to do so are consistent with the statute.

Held.

  1. Yes. Where a plaintiff or a litigant demonstrates that it has suffered a “concrete and particularized injury” that is either “actual or imminent” and that the injury is “fairly traceable” to the defendant, Congress has “accorded a procedural right to protect his concrete interests” and authorized EPA as well as other agencies to take measures to protect the interests of the litigant.
  2. No. EPA’s argument that its decision not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles contributes so insignificantly, if any, to Massachusetts’ injuries is invalid. A small incremental step suffices. Moreover, the possible consequences associated with man-made climate change, it is not relevant that EPA’s regulation will take a long time to make a meaningful impact nor is it dispositive that other developing countries emit substantially more greenhouse gases.

Dissent.

Justice Roberts, joined by Scalia, Thomas, Alito

The majority fails to explain whether EPA’s regulating carbon dioxide will likely redress the injury. Pure conjecture is insufficient to justify its holding.

Discussion.

Accepting EPA’s argument would doom most challenges to regulatory action. Agencies, like Congress, do not resolve problems all at once, but incrementally over time. Moreover, the harms associated with global warning are grave and eminent backed by a number of scientific evidence, and EPA’s argument that a causal connection between EPA’s refusal to regulate emissions and climate change is incremental is irrelevant.


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