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Environment

Brett Kavanaugh Could Upend Environmental Rules if Approved to Supreme Court

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The Supreme Court has the power to reshape environmental law in the US, undermining the country’s efforts to mitigate climate change, pollution, species loss, and various other issues. The United Nations’ Global Goals call on countries to protect the environment and uphold the Paris climate agreement and you can take action on these issues here.  

US President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court on Monday.

Kavanaugh is a veteran of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and is a well-respected legal scholar.

But if the nomination is approved, the court could take a decisively anti-environmental turn, according to Public Radio International.

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Kennedy sometimes voted in favor of environmental regulations. For example, he supported the ability of the federal government to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions, PRI notes.

Kavanaugh, however, has repeatedly voted to strike down environmental rules, according to Slate.

He’s voted to allow power plants to freely release toxic emissions downriver, prevent limits on mercury and other pollutants from power plants, unravel the Clean Power Plan, and get rid of regulations on hydrofluorocarbons, which damage the ozone.

"He is pretty consistently anti-environment on every front," Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told BuzzFeed News. "I call him Lord Voldemort.”

Read More: Trump’s Climate Change Cuts Could Cost Country Billions

The thrust of Kavanaugh’s arguments have been that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot take action without the legislative guidance of Congress, according to The New York Times.

“It’s a neutral principle, although the effect isn’t always neutral,” Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard, told the Times. “Congress stopped making clean air laws after 1990, so the EPA has to work with increasingly tenuous statutory language. In effect, his approach to environmental law would make it harder to address current problems so long as Congress remains out of the lawmaking business.”

If the EPA, which was created with the authority to protect the environment by President Richard Nixon, merely followed laws passed by Congress, countless issues, including greenhouse gas emissions, would likely go unregulated, the Times reports.

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The Trump administration has made its approach to environmental regulations abundantly clear. Under the recently departed director Scott Pruitt, the EPA rolled back or slowed the implementation of dozens of environmental rules and the US became the only country to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

If nominated, Kavanaugh could also upend court precedents on a range of other issues including women’s reproductive rights, labor rights, voting rights, education rights, and more.  

When it comes to the environment, however, some environmentalists are holding out hope that Kavanaugh could defy expectations, citing a few pro-environment rulings in recent years.

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For instance, in 2014 he ruled in favor of the environmental nonprofit National Resources Defense Council, which sued the cement industry for excessive and toxic emissions.

The NRDC released a statement urging the government to select a justice who would heed the urgency of environmental issues.

“Our next Supreme Court justice will cast pivotal votes on the kind of world we leave to our children,” Rhea Suh, president of the NRDC, said in a statement. “The Senate must make sure the next justice respects and enforces the laws that hold polluters in check and protect our environment and health."

Disclosure: NRDC is a partner of Global Citizen. You can see a full list of our partners here.