What Were The Biggest Changes To Environmental Law In 2021?

Biden’s win during the 2020 election emboldened Democrats to think bigger about climate change action — even if not big enough to spare us from the biggest environmental consequences. This resulted in some pretty big decisions and new laws in 2021 (and some pretty big losses as well, as Republicans obstruct the Democratic agenda at the federal level while enacting pro-business, anti-conservation laws of their own at the state level). Here are some of the most far-reaching.

Remember that lawsuit against the United States government, built by lawyers representing a large group of schoolchildren? The three-judge panel ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have the standing to sue, a decision that reversed a previous district court ruling. The dissenting voice from the three-judge panel wrote that the children had constitutional standing and legal merit to back up their arguments that the government was not doing enough to fight climate change. 

Regardless of which side of the argument you agree with, this court’s precedent could prevent private citizens from suing the government over climate change issues in the future.

Prior to League of United Latin American Citizens v. Regan, pesticide chlorpyrifos were not regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even though the chemicals do immeasurable damage to the ecosystems where they are used. The Court of Appeals finally gave the EPA only 60 days to decide whether the chemicals are safe — or ban them. The EPA opted to ban them.

Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency found that the government was correct in asserting that Sackett property development would destroy important wetlands. This case bounced from a local court to the 9th Circuit to the Supreme Court back in 2012 before it was revisited on remand based on merit by the 9th Circuit in 2021. Anyone paying attention to the case might expect a Republican-dominated Supreme Court to have its say in 2022 or beyond.