Justice Ginsburg’s Legacy Protects Millions Afflicted by Climate and Air Pollution

EDF Statement by Fred Krupp, President

September 22, 2020
Keith Gaby, (202) 572-3336, kgaby@edf.org


“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a brilliant advocate for equal rights under the law, and, as Chief Justice Roberts stated on Friday, “a jurist of historic stature.” Justice Ginsburg’s unwavering commitment to justice was reflected in her profoundly important achievements as an advocate. With extraordinary legal skill and strategic vision she successfully challenged numerous laws based upon trite stereotypes and cruel assumptions. She removed barriers to progress for women and men alike and helped to realize rights guaranteed under the Constitution but long illusory. From the bench, the tenacity of her vision and her spare, powerful writing style gave enduring force to her opinions whether she was in the majority or in dissent.

“Justice Ginsburg was also a courageous and visionary champion of people’s right to clean air, a safe climate and fundamental access to the courts to remedy environmental harms. She authored landmark judicial rulings addressing the scourge of air pollution. In 2014, she penned a ruling saving thousands of lives imperiled by smokestack pollution when she affirmed EPA’s Good Neighbor safeguards requiring coal plant pollution reductions across the eastern United States that were causing far-reaching interstate public health harms, explaining:

‘Left unregulated, the emitting or upwind State reaps the benefits of the economic activity causing the pollution without bearing all the costs. Conversely, downwind States to which the pollution travels are unable to achieve clean air because of the influx of out-of-state pollution they lack authority to control.‘ “Her opinion reflected a nuanced recognition of the gravity and complexity of air pollution as a problem and gave Congress’s solution a respectful judicial response. Her Clean Air Act opinions also reflected an understanding of the federal government’s unique role in addressing this extensive national problem.

“In a 2004 majority opinion, Justice Ginsburg affirmed EPA’s authority to enforce clean air measures for major industrial polluters where states declined to require implementation of the best available pollution control solutions as required by law.

“Her opinion in AEP v. Connecticut affirmed that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to power plants’ dangerous, climate-altering air pollutants and helped to provide legal foundation for America’s Clean Power Plan. Her opinion for a unanimous Court made clear that EPA’s manifest authority to address climate pollution from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act was a predicate for finding that federal common law claims were displaced. This important ruling in AEP was a direct statutory outgrowth of her vote in the majority in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court’s historical ruling a few years earlier that the Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gas pollution.

“Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion in the 2000 decision Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services accorded with her longstanding concern about the public’s practical and essential access to the courts to redress environmental injuries.

“As we honor Justice Ginsburg’s monumental contributions to equal rights for women under the law, we also recognize her landmark contributions to a healthier and safer environment protecting millions afflicted by climate and air pollution.

“Equal rights under the law for all people and the right to clean air are fundamental to creating a society where each person can reach her or his full potential. We are resolute in carrying Justice Ginsburg’s legacy forward in the urgent work to achieve healthier, longer and more just lives for all.

“Justice Ginsburg forever altered the arc of history. So must we all.”

  • Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.