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The Source: The Supreme Court's Historical Role in Environmental Protection

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In the environmental movement, courts have played an important role in legitimizing regulations and creating precedents. But how has the Supreme Court ruled on these issues? 

Law professor Jonathan Cannon's new book, Environment in the Balance, explores this complicated judicial history and its impact. Environmental protection is not addressed in the Constitution. Instead, cases have focused on legal areas like federalism, landownership rights, and national regulation. However, these decisions have still changed over time. Early victories gave the EPA authority to regulate states--an authority that is now controversial. Different justices have changed the Court's position and historical shifts away from big government have also made their influence. 

However, pollution is hardly a state-by-state issue. Air drifts from one state to another and rivers flow across borders. Environmental problems in Texas can easily impact Oklahoma. Where Justice Ginsburg probably has the most pro-environment stance today, the Supreme Court has generally recognized the importance of environmental protection. Often, this is done through deciding whether EPA regulation is legally within federal authority or not. 

Does the Supreme Court need to do more to protect the environment? Or does the EPA already overstep its bounds? 

Guest: 

  • Jonathan Cannon, author of Environment in the Balance: The Green Movement and the Supreme Court and professor of Environmental Law at the University of Virginia School of Law