Wash. Envtl. Council v. Bellon

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 10-17-2013
  • Case #: 12-35323; 12-35324; 12-35358
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M.D. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Kleinfeld and N.R. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

While the failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with the Clean Air Act may create an injury in fact to meet the first test for standing, the causation and redressability prongs of the test cannot be met because a multitude of other factors may cause the injuries and cannot be appropriate redressed by the courts.

Two non-profit conservation groups, Washington Environmental Council and the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club ("Plaintiffs"), brought a citizen suit under the Clean Air Act to compel the Washington State Department of Ecology and other regional agencies (the "Agencies") to regulated emissions from oil refineries in the state. The Western States Petroleum Association ("WSPA") intervened on behalf of the Agencies. The complaint alleged the agencies were in violation of two provisions of the Clean Air Act State Implementation Plan. The district court granted summary judgment to the Agencies on one claim, but enjoined the Agencies to complete the process of defining and enforcing the “reasonably available control technology” standard for greenhouse gases. WSPA appealed, arguing the plaintiffs lacked standing. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the plaintiff’s claims for a concrete, particularized injury in fact that is actual or imminent, fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and the injury is likely to be redressed favorably by the courts. The panel found the affidavits submitted by Sierra Club members detailing the harms suffered as a result of the greenhouse gases sufficient to state an injury in fact. However, the panel held because the misconduct by the Agencies is not “fairly traceable” to the injury, the causation prong is too attenuated to satisfy the test. Acknowledging the difficulty in establishing causation in cases involving greenhouse cases, the panel found such pollutants combine with too many other factors to make a conclusive causation determination. Similarly, the panel held the redressability prong is not satisfied because no evidence demonstrated that enforcing the standards will curb a significant amount of the emissions, or reduce the pollution causing the injuries. VACATED and REMANDED.

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