As the leading cause of climate change court rulings against the fossil fuels industry are a game changer. A bit more than a year ago a judge ordered Exxon to hand over internal memos that proved the company privately knew the truth about climate change while investing in campaigns of disinformation intended to undermine the perceived veracity of the facts.
Recent court decisions have ruled against the fossil fuel industry’s climate change causing emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law governing all environmental reviews of federal decisions. This may set a precedent that has implications for the entire industry.
Citing NEPA and specifically climate change causing GHGs, an August 2017 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the federal government’s approval of a natural gas pipeline project in the southeastern US. The case concerns the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, which is meant to bring gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants. The Sierra Club sued Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) following its 2016 approval of the project. The ruling found that FERC did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas.
Also in August, a federal judge stopped the expansion of a mine in central Montana because the Interior Department did not comprehensively account for climate impacts. In September, a federal appeals court forced BLM to re-do its climate assessment of four large coal leases because they were economically “irrational.”
NEPA and specifically climate change causing GHGs were also central in a March 2018 federal court judge ruling forcing the US Interior Department to consider climate and environmental impacts associated with drilling and mining leases in the Powder River Basin that encompasses both Montana and Wyoming. The ruling is in response to lawsuits brought forward after the Interior Department announced plans to open up more than 15 million acres of public land for mining and fossil fuel extraction.
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