Our Environment Depends on the Federal Courts

Trent Dougherty, November 29, 2017

Anyone who cares about the environment knows that for the past 11 months the Trump Administration has been laser-focused on repealing, retracting, and rolling back essential protections to our air, water, and public lands. The good news is that although the rollbacks are happening, when challenged in court, Trump is losing. Our OEC Law Center has been working with national group partners to resist weakening of these laws in federal court and at federal agencies including – defense of the Clean Power Plan, defense of the federal Ozone Standard, curbing methane pollution, protecting small streams, and fighting against plans to drill in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest.

Adding to those current cases, our state’s continuing drinking water quality concerns, manure pollution, fossil fuel bailouts, and fracking & pipeline mishaps – all of which will find their way to court soon. You should care about the future of our federal courts if you value clean air and water, environmental justice for all who call Ohio home, corporate accountability, and protection of the health and safety of your family.

Our nation’s federal courts make rulings every day on issues important to Ohioans and Ohio’s environment, but most folks don’t give a thought to this branch of government. Most Ohioans are familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court, and can probably name one or two of the nine justices that sit on our nation’s highest court. Yet, many are surprised to hear that more than 900 judges have lifetime appointments to serve on lower federal courts, and hear thousands of times the number of cases that the Supreme Court hears. Most of the time it’s these lower courts that have the final say.

The judges who sit on our federal courts really matter to folks who care about the environment. Our federal judges play the consequential role of deciding how and if the federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other significant federal environmental laws continue to protect us. Our federal courts are the last defense for the public’s health and the health of our environment when the other branches of government fail us. Therefore, we must have fair, diverse, and balanced judges on our federal bench to ensure that our nation’s environmental laws protect our families and our communities.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump holds the power and opportunity to nominate at least 150 individuals to the federal bench, and needs only a simply majority of the US Senate to confirm them to lifetime posts. Trump’s plan — to pack the federal courts with extreme nominees — will put the environmental values we hold dear at risk. The OEC has already expressed our opposition to anti-environmental nominees such as Damien Schiff, and supported our partners by condemning  confirmation of judges that continues the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections at every level. And remember, Trump’s extreme judicial nominees are for lifetime appointments. Imagine waiting until 2060 for Obama-era protections to return. We simply cannot afford to wait that long to protect our drinking water or the air we breathe.  

The U.S. Senate, who should hold a critical check on this scheme, has recently put Trump’s takeover of the courts into overdrive by rushing hearings and cutting corners on rules to make sure these extreme nominees are quickly waved through the process.

Our federal judges need to protect our rights, not allow Trump and future presidents to run roughshod over the environment. It is up to Senators Brown and Portman to stand up for Ohio and stop Trump’s court-packing plan in its tracks. That means it is up to you to make sure Brown and Portman hear your voice.

The OEC Law Center Attorneys and Law Students will be updating you regularly on nominees for the federal bench who will have direct impacts on Ohio’s environment, and the future of environmental law to help you make your voice heard . . . so stayed tuned to the OEC Blog.