March 01, 2014

Vantage Point

Andrea L. Rimer

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “We want a Supreme Court which will do justice under the Constitution—not over it. In our courts we want a government of laws and not of men.” While the judicial system continually strives to uphold the rule of law, the influence of the individual men and women on the Supreme Court in determining the scope and limits of those laws is, at the same time, undeniable.

This issue of Natural Resources & Environment focuses on the influence and impact of Supreme Court decisions on issues affecting environmental, natural resources, and energy law. In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken a number of significant cases in these areas, and the current term is no exception. As a result, the Court’s mark on the interpretation and scope of laws in the environmental, natural resources, and energy areas is increasingly apparent.

One of the more interesting aspects of these decisions is the ripple effect that a decision made in the context of a specific statute can have on other statutes and areas of the law. In our first article, Ted Garrett discusses Sackett v. EPA, which arose in the context of the Clean Water Act, but resulted in the potential expansion of pre-enforcement review under the Administrative Procedures Act to a far wider array of statutes and programs. Similarly, in her article, Lauran Sturm analyzes the unexpected impact that the much-discussed Clean Water Act Rapanos case has had on the analysis of whether individual emitting facilities are sufficiently adjacent to constitute a single source under the Clean Air Act.

This ripple effect is not, however, limited to the impact of environmental cases on other environmental programs. In Sheila Jones’ article, for example, the author discusses the potentially significant implications of the Court’s decision in Gabelli v. SEC, a securities fraud case, on the statute of limitations for EPA’s enforcement programs. Another example is provided by Aditi Prabhu, whose article explores recent trends in the Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal preemption—which has significant impact on many areas of environmental law—in the context of trucking and towing cases arising under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act. Similarly, Ben Snowden’s article explores the Court’s recent rulings regarding the deference afforded to agencies in the interpretation of their own regulations, arising in a wide variety of contexts.

As quoted in Michael Willis’s article, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” and this concept is illustrated in the context of the Supreme Court’s “flexible preemption” doctrine on the ability of states to tax projects in tribal territory, and the resulting impacts on natural resources, energy, and other projects in Indian Country.

In contrast, Mohammad Jazil suggests in his article that the Koontz case on takings was not a revolutionary decision with catastrophic consequences, as some commentators have suggested, but was instead a logical evolution in the law that could strengthen the bonds between government and the people it serves.

Other articles in this issue include Marla Nelson’s exploration of LA County Flood Control District v. NRDC, Greg DeGulis and Sarah Gable’s analysis of the lasting impact of the Burlington Northern case, and Rebecca Watson and Jennifer Cadena’s discussion regarding the rise of “anti-fracking” initiatives.

The Supreme Court’s decisions have, and will no doubt continue, to influence significantly the law in these and many other areas. We hope that you enjoy this issue and benefit from the authors’ perspectives on the wide variety of topics discussed.

Andrea L. Rimer

Andrea L. Rimer is the issue editor of the Spring 2014 issue of Natural Resources & Environment.