Flooding the High Court’s Docket With Water

Posted on November 12, 2012 by Richard Lazarus

Written October 3, 2012

Water, lots of it, promises to dominate the Supreme Court’s October Term 2012 with three significant environmental cases already on the docket and potentially a couple more looming on the horizon.

In Arkansas Fish & Game Commn v. US, No. 11-597, argued on October 3rd, the Court will decide a Fifth Amendment Takings claim against the Army Corps of Engineers for temporarily flooding downstream riparian property.  The parties and their supporting amici proffer competing per se “takings” and “no takings” tests.  The Court seems likely to reject each in favor of the Justices’ preferred ad-hoc balancing approach.  The other two cases, set for argument on consecutive days in December, are Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, No. 11-338 (consolidated with Georgia-Pacific v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, No. 11-347) and LA County Flood Control Dist v. NRDC, No. 11-460 (I am co-counsel for respondents in the LA County case).  Both cases concern the application of the Clean Water Act to storm water discharges: logging in Decker and municipal storm water in LA County.  The cases are the Court’s first opportunity to address storm water issues.  The environmental respondents plainly have reason for concern in both cases.  They won in the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court’s favorite circuit for reversal in environmental cases.  One sign of potential trouble for the respondents:  The Court asked the Solicitor General in both cases whether the cases warranted review.  The SG said no, that neither case presented an important legal issue.  Typically, the Court will take a case despite the SG’s negative view only if there are at least four Justices (the number required to grant review) contemplating reversal.  Of course, Justices can and do change their minds once they have the benefit of full briefing and oral argument.  For both Decker and LA County, environmental respondents are plainly hoping for just that.

Whether the October Term 2012 is a true blockbuster for environmental law may depend on the fate of petitions, should they be filed with the Court, seeking further review of the D.C. Circuit’s recent Clean Air Act rulings in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. Jackson (EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations) or EME Homer City Generation v. EPA (EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule).  EPA won the first in June and lost the second in August.  Should the losing parties in either case successfully petition for Supreme Court review, the promise of a blockbuster Term will likely materialize.



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