Environmental Law Program on Court’s docket
The implications of recent Supreme Court decisions on the field of environmental law were reviewed at a forum sponsored by HLS’s Environmental Law Program and the Environmental Law Institute on Sept. 28.
In her introduction, Dean Martha Minow emphasized the Court’s role in the formation of environmental policy in the U.S.
“To watch how environmental policy is made in the U.S. often surprises people in other countries, because here the Court is extremely influential,” Minow said.
HLS Professor Jody Freeman LL.M. ’91 S.J.D. ’95 began the event with a discussion of American Electric Power v. Connecticut, involving an allegation that utility companies are a public nuisance because their carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming.
“The decision is as significant for what it did not do as for what it did do,” she said, noting that while the Court did decide against the plaintiffs, “this was the narrowest decision possible, so no harm was really done.”
Another important case from the last term was Montana v. Wyoming and North Dakota. Montana claimed that Wyoming was using too much water in violation of a compact which spelled out how the states would share water.
HLS Professor Richard J. Lazarus ’79 explained why environmental law scholars find this water law case fascinating.
“This case is rich in history, with far-reaching significance,” he said, “because, if the Court had ruled the other way, parties upstream would be discouraged from efficient water usage. The problem with water is that it won’t sit still. Sharing water becomes both very essential and very challenging.”
The event marked the continued growth of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program, under the direction of Freeman, who served as White House counselor for energy and climate change in the Obama Administration.