Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Most Americans understand the role of courts in protecting our civil rights, but many are not aware that courts play just as strong a role in protecting clean air, clean water, endangered species and many of our favorite public lands. Donald Trump has been losing in court his whole life, and as president many of his most immoral executive orders have been struck down by federal courts for violating our freedoms, laws and Constitution. For this reason it is extremely concerning that Trump is stuffing the federal judiciary with biased and narrow-minded judges who will protect his extreme agenda.
When environmental laws are broken and regulators fail to act, it is often left up to the courts to enforce the law. Trump has circumvented land use and private property protections by ordering the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline was vehemently resisted by Native American tribes throughout the country, and has already leaked over 100 gallons of oil. One of Trump’s newly confirmed judges, former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid, has issued decisions supporting the use of eminent domain (the taking of private property by the government) for the development of oil pipelines, while she has opposed the very same use of eminent domain to condemn dangerous lands to be rehabilitated.
These extremist judges and law professors confirmed in the Senate this week were not nominated because of their experience or legal acumen, they were simply being put forward to protect Trump’s authoritarian, pro-polluter agenda. This could have disastrous consequences for Nevada. One of our nation’s strongest environmental laws, the Clean Air Act, mandates that new regulatory safeguards be created as new sources of harmful pollution are identified. The federal government had known for years that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane were causing global warming, but failed to take any action. Finally in 2003, 12 states, three cities and American Samoa sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force the federal government to comply with the Clean Air Act and regulate greenhouse gas pollution. In the 2007 decision Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court sided with the litigants and ordered the federal government to begin regulating climate disrupting pollution. President Barack Obama, in order to comply with the Supreme Court’s order, created the Clean Power Plan to set limits on carbon and methane pollution, while providing incentives for clean energy development.
Recently, EPA director Scott Pruitt canceled the Clean Power Plan with no replacement safeguards to mitigate greenhouse gas pollution. Nevada has already seen record heatwaves, continued drought and dangerous wildfires that, according to researchers at UNLV and the Desert Research Institute, are exacerbated by climate change. Cities, states and nonprofit organizations are going to litigate once again to protect our communities from the threats caused by climate change. If we are to have a chance to slow down global warming, as well as protect clean air and water, we must stop Trump from being able to fill our federal courts with narrow-minded extremists, and promote judges who have strong records of unbiased and fair-minded decisions.
Justin Jones is a former state senator who is representing the Save Red Rock coalition in litigation to prevent urban development in and around the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.