Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Guest column:

Nominee poses threat to side with polluters, undermine public health

Editor’s note: Today, the Sun continues its occasional series of guest columns focusing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The stakes for our environment, our health and our democracy have never been higher, and the fight over this Supreme Court vacancy could not be more important to the Nevada Conservation League and our members across the state.

The rights of Americans to breathe clean air, drink clean water and participate equitably in our democracy hang in the balance with this Supreme Court vacancy, not just for today but for decades to come. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has already nominated many anti-environment extremists to federal judgeships — threatening both bedrock democratic institutions and environmental laws that protect air, water, land, wildlife and our health. Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is no different.

As a member of the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit air pollution that crossed state lines. Later, he argued that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — limiting greenhouse gases from power plants — should have been enacted by Congress, not the administration.

Kavanaugh has consistently ruled against environmental protections, striking down EPA protections under the Clean Air Act, opposing efforts to fight climate change and finding against protections for clean water. In 2013, as a member of the same court, he told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue the licensing of Yucca Mountain as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste. And these are just some of his decisions on environmental issues.

There are hundreds of active court cases challenging the legality of the Trump administration’s dismantling of regulatory protections for clean air and water.

For instance, in March, a federal court in California ordered the EPA to implement safeguards against smog, which the agency estimated would prevent thousands of asthma attacks among children each year. In December, a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to propose new standards for lead inside homes, which had not been updated in over 15 years. In July, a federal court ruled that the EPA could not suspend rules restricting methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, an important ruling given that methane has a significantly higher warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Many of these cases may end up being appealed up to the Supreme Court.

Now, the Trump administration is crafting a proposal to weaken Obama-era emissions standards for cars and light trucks that, in one draft version, would rescind California’s authority to set its own stricter vehicle standards. California has threatened to challenge this move in court, but the state’s chances of prevailing now look somewhat murkier. And before he resigned as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt announced in October that he would repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with less extensive carbon regulations on power plants. Environmental groups and states like New York planned to challenge Pruitt’s actions in federal court, but may now find a less receptive audience if the case reaches the Supreme Court.

The bottom line: A more conservative Supreme Court could overhaul key aspects of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, seek to further weaken the EPA, curtail its ability to fight climate change and weaken clean water protections.

The threats to the public go well beyond the environment. Weakening of laws that protect workers’ ability to organize, civil rights and consumer protections also would affect Americans’ well-being. We need a justice who will not be a rubber stamp for the administration, and ultimately corporate polluters, but one who will uphold the rule of law.

Kavanaugh is not that kind of justice. Time and again he has sided with polluters instead of people, and is bad for the country and Nevada.

Andy Maggi is executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. He led the Oregon Sierra Club, served as Sen. Jeff Merkley’s political director and for six years was political director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.