Monday, May 13, 2013

Standing in Recent Environmental Cases

On Wednesday (May 15), the Environmental Law Institute is hosting a lunchtime seminar on The Future of Standing in Environmental Cases, with a great panel: 

I hope that the panel addresses what I regard as one of the most interesting recent developments in standing cases:  the number of significant environmental cases in which the D.C. Circuit is finding that industry plaintiffs lack standing.  Environmentalists and environmental law scholars have often regarded rigorous standing requirements as biased against citizen environmentalist plaintiffs.  See, e.g., Shi-Ling Hsu, The Identifiability Bias in Environmental Law, 35 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 433, 465-73 (2008).  Indeed, the Supreme Court has essentially admitted as much, noting that plaintiffs who are the target of government regulation generally satisfy standing requirements, whereas establishing standing for other plaintiffs is "substantially more difficult.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561-62 (1992).  But many of the recent significant environmental cases in which plaintiffs have lost on standing grounds involve industry plaintiffs:

  • Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. v. EPA, 684 F.3d 102 (D.C. Cir. 2012), held that states and industry groups lacked standing to challenge EPA’s Timing and Tailoring Rules.
  • Nat'l Chicken Council v. EPA, 687 F.3d 393 (D.C. Cir. 2012), held that the National Chicken Council, National Meat Association, and National Turkey Federation lacked standing to challenge an EPA rule interpreting a provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 regarding renewable fuel credits.
  • Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n v. EPA, 693 F.3d 169 (D.C. Cir. 2012), held that engine manufacturers, food suppliers, and petroleum suppliers lacked standing to challenge EPA decisions approving the introduction of E15—a blend of gasoline and 15 percent ethanol—for use in select motor vehicles and engines.
  • Nat’l Ass’n of Home Builders v. EPA, 667 F.3d 6 (D.C. Cir. 2011), held that the NAHB lacked standing to challenge findings by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona are “waters of the United States” and therefore within the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. 
  • Nat’l Ass’n of Home Builders v. Army Corps of Engineers, 663 F.3d 470 (D.C. Cir. 2011), held that the NAHB lacked standing to challenge the Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 46 authorizing discharges of dredged or fill material into certain non-tidal ditches.
  • Chamber of Commerce v. EPA, 642 F.3d 192 (D.C. Cir. 2011), held that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Automobile Dealers Association lacked standing to challenge EPA’s decision granting California a waiver from federal preemption of vehicle emission standards under Clean Air Act § 209.

This pattern of losses for industry plaintiffs does not appear to reflect a new development in standing doctrine; each of these decisions relies on well-established standing principles.  This makes me wonder whether this string of industry losses is a coincidence, or has some underlying common cause.  For example, are industry plaintiffs seeking judicial review more aggressively or expansively?

I am equally interested in seeing whether, if this pattern continues, environmentalists and environmental law scholars will soften their skepticism about standing doctrine.  Of course, the obstacles encountered by industry plaintiffs in establishing standing are not necessarily the same as those encountered by environmentalist plaintiffs, and so one can take a principled position that courts have interpreted standing doctrine too stringently as applied to losing environmental groups but correctly as applied to these losing industry plaintiffs.  But it does seem to me that, these days, the results in standing cases seem somewhat less disproportionately against environmentalist plaintiffs.

--Todd Aagaard

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