You might, before doing anything else, read this and learn about the way in which the courts have been packed to protect the corporate polluters…

Judicial

JUDICIAL

The Judicial Branch of the federal government is responsible for interpreting and reviewing the country’s laws. The Supreme Court is the most powerful body of the Judicial Branch. 

DOES THE SUPREME COURT HEAR EVERY CASE WHICH IS FILED?

About 8,000 cases are filed with the Supreme Court each year, but only about 80 are chosen to be heard and decided by the Court. The Supreme Court is the only court where the Justices make the decision whether or not to hear a case.

HOW DOES A CASE GET TO THE SUPREME COURT?

Most often, a case makes it to the Supreme Court after the plaintiffs involved appeal the ruling of one of the US Courts of Appeal. There are numerous cases weaving their way through the courts.

ARE THERE CASES AGAINST FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES?

Yes. Exxon Mobil, for example, is facing a wave of lawsuits driven in large part by revelations which began surfacing in 2015. These revelations indicated that the climate crisis was not the result of blind error, or even willful ignorance, but rather calculated abuses of power. Exxon had conducted scientific studies that showed the warming effect of carbon emissions and predicted the dire consequences of climate change, before spending millions on misinformation to derail regulation and solidify international dependence on fossil fuels. Massachusetts and New York have both sued Exxon for fraud

Meanwhile, cities like San Francisco, New York City, Richmond and others have filed suits for damages from climate change against companies like Chevron, BP, Shell, and ConocoPhillips in addition to Exxon. 

HAS THE SUPREME COURT AGREED TO HEAR THOSE CASES?

Not so far. In 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear bids by Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO), Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and others to move lawsuits filed by state and local governments accusing the oil companies of worsening climate change out of state courts and into federal courts. This was a blow to the oil companies because state courts are typically more favorable to plaintiffs than federal courts, and it forces the oil companies to go to trial. 

HAS THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WEIGHED IN?

In March, 2023, the Biden administration filed a brief in support of local governments in Colorado arguing that the Supreme Court should not step into that state dispute. In response, on April 5, in a filing with the Supreme Court, attorneys for Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. sharply criticized the Biden administration for siding with local governments in their lawsuits against oil majors. 

Despite the companies’ protests, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the Colorado case. This decision extended to similar cases in California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island and means that other climate liability lawsuits have a more direct path to trial. The state-level case has yet to be decided.

THE LATEST FOSSIL FUEL LAWSUITS WHICH MIGHT FIND THEIR WAY TO THE SUPREME COURT

On September 15, 2023, California sued five big oil companies and the trade group that represents them, alleging decades long deception about the correlation between fossil fuel production and climate change. California’s complaint joined a wave of climate litigation nationwide but could further open the legal floodgates on such action against oil firms. 

WHAT ABOUT JULIANA V. US FILED IN 2015?

The landmark case of Juliana v. US, brought by 21 young people in 2015, argues that the federal government’s duty to serve as a trustee of resources extends to the atmosphere, and that it had thus failed in that constitutional dutyThe fight goes on as courts decide whether or not to dismiss the case from federal court on the grounds that it is an overreach of the court’s power. A full and fascinating history of this litigation can be found here.

Youth in Montana took up a similar fight to Juliana vs. US, but on a state level. They won the landmark case when a judge ruled that the state’s failure to consider climate change when approving fossil fuel projects was unconstitutional. It is in appeal.

THE MAKEUP OF THE COURT

Just as many of these cases are winding their way through the courts, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed dramatically. Following the death of renowned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, 2020, Trump filled her seat with Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett’s appointment promised to shift the court to the far right for decades to come. 

We saw early results already in 2022, when the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in the case of West Virginia vs the Environmental Protection Agency

The newest member of the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, was nominated by President Joe Biden (D) on February 28, 2022, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 7, 2022.

The Supreme Court ruled against the EPA again in May, 2023, deciding that “the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act extends only over wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection” with a traditional navigable water body of the United States.”

The 2023 rulings to put oil company lawsuits in state courts gives us hope for the future. 

What Is the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government? | History

CURRENT NEWS

Q&A: New Legislation in Vermont Will Make Fossil Fuel Companies Liable for Climate Impacts in the State. Here’s What That Could Look Like

By Paloma Beltran 05/25/24
Vermont’s House and Senate have approved a bill that would make fossil fuel companies financially liable for their carbon pollution and its role in the climate crisis. Lawmakers pointed to consequences of these carbon emissions,…
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19 states ask Supreme Court to topple climate lawsuits

By Lesley Clark 05/23/24
Opponents of climate lawsuits against the oil and gas industry are trying a new strategy to get the Supreme Court to quash the more than two dozen cases nationwide that could put fossil fuel producers…
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Democrats ask DOJ to investigate Big Oil

By Emily Atkin 05/22/24
The Democrats leading the years-long congressional investigation into Big Oil’s climate deception are formally asking the Department of Justice to step in.
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DOJ must investigate Big Oil’s “ongoing enterprise,” lawmakers say

By Emily Sanders 05/22/24
The leaders of a years-long Congressional probe into Big Oil’s decades-long climate disinformation campaigns just formally referred their investigation to the Department of Justice, calling on the nation’s biggest public law office to “pursue further…
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States Sue to Block US Rules Curbing Tailpipe Emissions in Cars, Light Trucks

By Clark Mindock 04/18/24
Republican attorneys general from 25 states on Thursday sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block rules intended to reduce planet-warming emissions from cars and light trucks and encourage electric vehicle manufacturing, arguing the agency…
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Do climate lawsuits lead to action? Researchers assess their impact

By Carissa Wong 04/16/24
Climate litigation is in the spotlight again after a landmark decision last week. The top European human-rights court deemed that the Swiss government was violating its citizens’ human rights through its lack of climate action.…
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Climate Litigation Update: From Hawaii to Switzerland

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In the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, both climate litigation and climate activism were listed, for the first time, as ways to potentially mitigate climate change (in other words, actually…
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How a Group of Elderly Swiss Women Won a Historic Human-Rights Verdict

By Hugo Miller and Olivia Rudgard 04/13/24
The seeds of this week’s historic victory by an association of elderly women at the European Court of Human Rights were sown in the baking heat of summer 2003. That year, a heat wave killed…
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Big Oil is quietly paying state legal officials to kill climate litigation

By Arielle Samuelson and Emily Atkin 04/11/24
At the Society of Environmental Journalists conference this year, we heard about a promising legal case that experts believe actually has a real shot at holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change.
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An Oil Company Is Trespassing on Tribal Land in Wisconsin, Justice Dept. Says

By Rebecca Halleck and Dionne Searcey 04/10/24
The Department of Justice has weighed in on a court battle over an oil and gas pipeline in Wisconsin, saying that a Canadian oil company has been willfully trespassing on tribal lands in the state…
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The SEC Climate Fight Enters a New Round

By Emily Pontecorvo 04/05/24
The legal battle over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new rule on climate-related disclosure has begun. On Thursday, the Commission issued a pause on the rule, which sets standards for publicly-owned companies to report their…
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A Pennsylvania County Is Suing the Fossil Fuel Industry for Damages Linked to Climate Change

By Kiley Bense 04/05/24
On July 15, 2023, Pennsylvania’s Bucks County recorded seven inches of rainfall in just 45 minutes. Within two hours, the county was deluged by the same amount of rainwater that it normally accumulates in the…
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KEY RESOURCES

Net Zero Emissions Legislation Around the World: 2022 Update

10/01/22
The Law Library of Congress 1 Net Zero Emissions Legislation Around the World: 2022 Update Prepared by the Staff of the Global Legal Research Directorate This table shows the 57 jurisdictions around the world that…

The Lawfarm Climatechange scorecard

01/27/21
Climate Scores For Vault 100 Law Firms 1

U.S. Climate Change Litigation

08/20/20
Cases in the U.S. database are organized by type of claim and may be filtered by the principal laws they address, their filing years, and their jurisdictions. The database is also searchable by keyword. In…

Mapped: Climate change laws around the world

03/05/20
There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997, according to the most comprehensive database of relevant policy and legislation.

Congress and Climate Change

03/05/20
Federal efforts to address climate change are undertaken under laws, and with funding, approved by Congress. Like other complex economy-wide challenges, climate change touches on a wide array of interests. The stakes vary from sector…

Our Focus: Climate Change

03/05/20
Climate change is not a new challenge for CLF. We’ve been working to address its root causes for decades and have played a part in critical milestones to curb its progress. We helped design the…

Environmental Law 101: Climate Change

03/05/20
A short, but thorough, introduction from a leading environmental law think tank on climate change and what is being done to combat it through legal action and policy.

Federal Action on Climate

03/05/20
Given the far-reaching nature of the climate challenge, effective federal policy is needed to achieve deep, long-term reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and to help strengthen climate resilience across the U.S. economy. Even in…

MORE NEWS

Lawsuit challenges $1 billion in federal funding to sustain California’s last nuclear power plant

By Michael R. Blood   04/03/24  
An environmental group has sued the U.S. Energy Department over its decision to award over $1 billion to help keep California’s last nuclear power plant running beyond a planned closure that was set for 2025.…
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A Climate Superfund Law Might Be Crazy Enough to Work

By Emily Pontecorvo   03/29/24  
Dozens of cities and states have tried to sue the oil industry for damages related to climate change over the past several years, and so far, none of these cases has been successful. In fact,…
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16 States Sue Biden Administration Over Gas Permit Pause

By Lisa Friedman   03/21/24  
Louisiana and 15 other Republican-led states sued the Biden administration on Thursday over its decision to temporarily stop approving new permits for facilities that export liquefied natural gas.
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Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee sue SEC to block climate rule, building on Republican-led backlash

By Zoya Mirza   03/21/24  
Three more states — Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — have entered the arena to block the Securities and Exchange Commission’s climate disclosure rule, building on similar efforts from other Republican-led states that seek to prevent…
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Fossil fuel firms could be tried in US for homicide over climate-related deaths, experts say

By Dharna Noor   03/21/24  
Each year, extreme temperatures take 5 million lives, while 400,000 people die from climate-related hunger and disease and scores perish in floods and wildfires.
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Federal appeals court pauses SEC climate rule implementation

By Lamar Johnson   03/20/24  
A federal appeals court granted a motion for administrative stay of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s recently finalized climate risk disclosure rule on Friday. The ruling was in response to a petition filed by Colorado-based…
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That Didn’t Take Long . . . Fifth Circuit Temporarily Blocks New SEC Climate Disclosure Rule

By Jacob H. Hupart of Mintz   03/16/24  
Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay of the SEC's recent climate disclosure rule, which was issued last Wednesday, March 6, 2024. The unpublished order by a three judge panel (Jones,…
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Nearly Half the States Sue E.P.A. Over New Limits on Deadly Pollution

By Lisa Friedman   03/06/24  
The state lawsuits are led by Republican attorneys general and argue that the E.P.A. overstepped its authority last month when it lowered the annual limits for fine particulate matter to nine micrograms per cubic meter…
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Montana proponents for public access, landowners, await implications of Wyoming lawsuit

By Amanda Eggert   03/04/24  
The four hunters from Missouri had come prepared to Elk Mountain, Wyoming. Three of them had hunted in the area the previous year, finding its high elevation, fir-dotted slopes and aspen groves ideal for elk…
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The 9th Circuit’s Ruling on Gas Bans Stinks. Here’s How We Decarbonize Buildings Anyway.

02/29/24  
2023 was the year the gas stove debate was put on the front burner. Whether it was due to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) household energy efficiency reforms or the embarrassing, over-the-top response from Republicans…
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Chicago takes Big Oil to court, adding another heavyweight to the fight

By Emily Sanders   02/26/24  
Chicago last week brought the newest lawsuit against Big Oil companies for spreading disinformation about the climate-warming hazards of burning fossil fuels — adding the third largest city in the U.S. to the growing list…
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Chicago sues oil companies for impacts of climate change

By Zack Budryk   02/21/24  
The city of Chicago sued six major oil companies and the primary fossil fuel lobbying group Tuesday, alleging they funded and planned a campaign of climate change denial that directly affects the city’s residents.
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Fortune 500 oil giant to pay $4 million for air pollution at New Mexico and Texas facilities

By Minnah Arshad   02/13/24  
A Fortune 500 oil and natural gas company will pay $4 million in civil penalties for unlawful air pollution in New Mexico and Texas, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
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Famed climate scientist wins million-dollar verdict against right-wing bloggers

By Dino Grandoni   02/08/24  
Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist, won his long-standing legal battle against two right-wing bloggers who claimed that he manipulated data in his research and compared him to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, a major…
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Red states build legal case against Biden LNG pause

By Pamela King, Carlos Anchondo, Brian Dabbs   02/07/24  
Twenty-three Republican-led states are teeing up their legal claims against the Biden administration’s decision to halt overseas shipments of liquefied natural gas.
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House GOP says SEC is overstepping authority, cannot demand climate disclosures

By Lamar Johnson   01/23/24  
Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee argued Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s upcoming rule requiring businesses to submit climate-related disclosures oversteps its authority, in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court and federal…
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Supreme Court likely to discard Chevron

By Amy Howe   01/17/24  
It has been nearly 40 years since the Supreme Court indicated in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council that courts should defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. After more than three-and-a-half…
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A Potentially Huge Supreme Court Case Has a Hidden Conservative Backer

By Hiroko Tabuchi   01/16/24  
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Wednesday that, on paper, are about a group of commercial fishermen who oppose a government fee that they consider unreasonable. But the lawyers who have helped…
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The Chevron Doctrine: what it is and why it matters that the Supreme Court might kill it

By David Roberts   01/12/24  
In 1984, in a ruling on the case Chevron USA v. NRDC, the Supreme Court formalized what came to be known as the Chevron Doctrine. In essence, it says that courts should give administrative agencies…
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Delaware judge limits scope of sweeping climate change lawsuit against fossil fuel companies

By Randall Chase   01/11/24  
A judge has rejected several claims lodged by Delaware’s attorney general in a lawsuit alleging that the fossil fuel industry has downplayed the risks of climate change. Tuesday’s ruling significantly narrows the scope of the…
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Environmental lawyers are worried about the new youth climate case

By Lesley Clark   01/05/24  
Environmental lawyers fear that a lawsuit launched by California youth to hold EPA accountable for planet-warming emissions could backfire on other climate cases.
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Federal court won’t reconsider decision to overturn Berkeley, California, natural gas ban

By Ysabelle Kempe   01/02/24  
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will not reconsider its decision to overturn Berkeley, California’s first-in-the-nation ban on natural gas hookups in new construction, according to a denial on Jan. 2.
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Two PNW tribal nations sue oil companies over costs of climate change

By Isabella Breda   12/21/23  
Major oil companies for decades deliberately sought to downplay and discredit scientific warnings about the central role of fossil fuels in causing climate change, alleges two lawsuits filed this week by the Makah and Shoalwater…
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There Are Nearly 2,500 Climate Lawsuits. This Is the One to Watch.

By John Culhane   11/20/23  
Climate change lawsuits have now joined the ranks of impact litigation. Just as claims against the tobacco industry led to a major transformation in the way cigarette sellers were required to do business, and claims…
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US Supreme Court denies request by oil firms to halt coastal erosion suit

By Mark Schleifstein   11/09/23  
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by BP, Shell and Hilcorp oil companies to block the start of a state court lawsuit filed by Cameron Parish seeking as much as $7 billion in…
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Gulf oil lease sale postponed by court amid litigation over endangered whale protections

By Kevin MCGill   10/27/23  
A sale of federal Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases that had been scheduled for Nov. 8 was delayed Thursday by a federal appeals court, pending court arguments that focus on protections for an…
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Judges weigh two auto rules key to Biden’s electric vehicle goals

By Alex Gullen   09/14/23  
Two court hearings over a pair of Biden administration auto regulations that promote the adoption of electric vehicles drew mixed reactions from a panel of three federal judges on Thursday.
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Biden rule, heeding Supreme Court, could strip over half of U.S wetlands’ protections

By Allyson Chiu   08/29/23  
The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that it has revised a key rule to comply with a sweeping Supreme Court ruling from this year, which could strip federal protections from up to 63 percent of…
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Supreme Court refuses to block ban on Okla. city fines for Native Americans

By Ann E. Marimow   08/04/23  
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to block a lower court ruling that would revoke the authority of Oklahoma officials to enforce certain laws against Native Americans amid legal confusion over the justices’ 2020 declaration…
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Students give top law firms an F on climate

By Lesley Clark   08/01/23  
Top U.S. lawyers are ramping up their work for the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report by climate-conscious law students that singles out firms representing the contentious Mountain Valley pipeline.
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Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin

By Robert Barnes and Rachel Weiner   07/27/23  
The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
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Mountain Valley pipeline turns to Supreme Court

By Niina H. Farah   07/19/23  
The Supreme Court may soon step into a legal brawl over whether Congress violated the Constitution when it passed a law ensuring completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline — a fight that could have important…
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Sackett fallout leaves wetlands’ fate to states

By E.A. Crunden   06/28/23  
A landmark Supreme Court decision dealing a blow to EPA’s authority is set to sharply redirect power to the state and local levels, prompting a massive shift in wetlands oversight.
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In a Montana Courtroom, Debate Over Whether States Can Make a Difference on Climate Change, and if They Have a Responsibility to Try

By Richard Forbes   06/28/23  
At the close of the final day of their lawsuit against Montana for its failure to rein in development of fossil fuels in the state and slow climate change, all but one of the 16…
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What’s next for the court cases challenging Mountain Valley Pipeline?

By Charlie Paullin   06/09/23  
Although the Mountain Valley Pipeline won fast-tracked approval from Congress last week, environmental groups are still exploring possible legal challenges to prevent it from moving forward. President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the Fiscal Responsibility…
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Supreme Court won’t review ruling barring offshore fracking in California

By Zack Budryk   06/05/23  
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined a request by the oil industry to review a lower court ruling barring fracking off California’s shore. In 2014, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) sued to halt offshore…
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‘Devastating’ Supreme Court Decision Leaves Wetlands Unprotected

By Andy McGlashen   05/26/23  
The majority of the nation’s wetlands where many birds raise their young, congregate in winter, and rest during migration—and which filter out pollutants and buffer communities from flooding and storm surges—lost legal protections on Thursday…
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Montana youth climate trial to move forward next month with narrowed scope

By Amy Beth Hanson   05/26/23  
The first youth climate change lawsuit in the U.S. to reach trial will take place next month, though the challenge filed against Montana has been narrowed after a judge dismissed a claim against a state…
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Washington state hits the brakes on landmark gas ban

By David Iaconangelo   05/25/23  
The delay raises questions about whether additional cities will stand by their efforts to wind down natural gas use in buildings after a key federal court ruling.
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Supreme Court weakens EPA power to enforce Clean Water Act

By Robert Barnes and Others   05/25/23  
The Supreme Court on Thursday cut back the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the nation’s wetlands, another setback for the agency’s authority to combat air and water pollution.
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Hoboken Lodges First State-Level Racketeering Charge in Big Oil Climate Lawsuit

By Dana Drugmand   05/25/23  
Suing under an organized crime statute, the New Jersey city says major oil and gas companies and their chief lobbying group have “conspired to deceive the world for decades.”
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Supreme Court Decision Threatens Waterways that Birds (and People) Need

By National Audubon Society   05/25/23  
The Court’s ruling in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency removes crucial protections for wetlands, limiting the Clean Water Act.
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California bill would hit oil companies with $1 million penalty for health impacts

By Aaron Cantú   05/18/23  
Monic Uriarte was thrilled to get approved for an affordable apartment in Los Angeles’ University Park, close to USC. But soon after she and her family moved there in 2004, they started experiencing headaches and…
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Federal Agency Lawfully Approved $39 Billion Alaska LNG Project

By Samantha Hawkins   05/16/23  
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lawfully authorized a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska, the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday—denying environmental groups’ petition to review the decision.
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Clarence Thomas Reversed Position After Gifts And Family Payments

By Julia Rock and Andrew Perez   05/09/23  
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas changed his position on one of America’s most significant regulatory doctrines after his wife reportedly accepted secret payments from a shadowy conservative network pushing for the change. Thomas’ shift also…
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How will court’s rebuke of Berkeley’s natural-gas ban affect the national movement it began?

By Katie Lauer   04/30/23  
When Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban construction of new natural gas lines in 2019, it pioneered an approach to reducing carbon emissions and pollutants that has since spread around the Bay Area…
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SCOTUS Says No to Exxon, Now the Corporate Free Speech Fight Begins

04/29/23  
On Monday this week the Supreme Court finally weighed in on whether it would take up the jurisdictional argument that oil companies are making in multiple climate liability suits. The companies have been arguing for…
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A seismic win went almost unnoticed amidst the Tuckerstrom

By Bill Mckibben   04/25/23  
All eyes were on former FoxNews angerman Tucker Carlson yesterday, as his owners pushed him from the nest. They offered the tersest of statements and no explanation, but coming on the heels of the giant…
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Supreme Court Refuses to Give Big Oil a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

By Jason Mark   04/25/23  
The US Supreme Court on Monday delivered a legal setback to some of the world’s biggest oil companies as the justices denied the oil corporations’ pleas to intervene in state and local lawsuits seeking accountability…
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US States and Communities are Suing the Fossil Fuel Industry: Six Things You Need to Know

By L. Delta Merner   04/24/23  
In an important win for climate accountability in the United States, the US Supreme Court decided that lawsuits filed in Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawai’i, and Rhode Island against fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell,…
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