United States of America
Air pollution, Standing, Biodiversity, Causation, Wildlife, Taxation, Permits, Burden of Proof, Land Use, Wetlands
The present decision stemmed from plaintiffs’ efforts to prevent the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from leasing over 4,000 acres of land in Wyoming to a company that planned to conduct coal mining operations there. Before issuing its leasing decision, BLM prepared a 700-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIS studied a variety of potential environmental issues that could be caused by the proposed mining operations, and concluded that the state of climate science did not permit the agency to assess the global climate change effect of the planned extraction and ultimate combustion of the coal on the site. After completing its EIS, BLM decided to offer the lands at issue for lease through a competitive bid process. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging BLM’s leasing decision, arguing, among other claims, that the analysis of climate change effects in the EIS was inadequate. Recognizing that Article III of the U.S. Constitution required them to demonstrate that they had suffered an injury-in-fact that was fairly traceable to BLM’s actions, Plaintiffs claimed that they had recreational, aesthetic and economic interests in the areas near the leased lands and elsewhere in the American West. Plaintiffs argued that the mining and burning of coal from the leased lands would lead to, among other things, “greater drought conditions; increased invasive species and insect infestations; increased fire frequency, severity, and extent; and a concordant reduction in biodiversity and sensitive species.” The District Court concluded that Plaintiffs’ theory of standing was fundamentally flawed in light of the “disconnect between Plaintiffs’ recreational, aesthetic, and economic interests, which are uniformly local, and the diffuse and unpredictable effects of [greenhouse gas] emissions.” In other words, the Court found that allegations of “widespread harm” from climate change were not sufficient to show that the mining of coal on the leased lands was causally linked to particular harms to Plaintiffs’ interests. Rather, “the relationship between” Plaintiffs’ “localized interests” and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions was “depend[ent] on the behavior of countless third parties.” The “long chain of assumptions, suppositions, and predictive judgments required to connect Plaintiffs’ localized interests, the effects of global [greenhouse gas] emissions, and the leasing of” the BLM lands was simply “too attenuated” to support standing. On the merits, the Court held that the EIS adequately considered all of these issues, and granted summary judgment to Defendants and Intervenor.