Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA US Federal Court of Appeals, DC, 26 June 2012, read judgment
This week, two big decisions which will have come as a relief to the President. The US Supreme Court did not strike down his healthcare law (judgment here), and, to the subject of this post, neither did the Federal Courts of Appeal in Washington declare invalid key greenhouse gas rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency. This saga is a perfect illustration of how closely law and politics get intertwined in the US.
As I pointed out in my previous post, Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497 (2007)). told the EPA that it had a duty to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because they were “any air pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Air Act – as two prior general counsels had repeatedly told it. The EPA (under the previous administration) needed to be taken to the Supreme Court before responding. Thereafter, the EPA, with a new head appointed after Obama’s election, reached an Endangerment Finding, to the effect that GHGs may “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare”. In the pellucid prose of this Court,
Next, it issued the Tailpipe Rule, which set emission standards for cars and light trucks. Finally, EPA determined that the CAA requires major stationary sources of greenhouse gases to obtain construction and operating permits. But because immediate regulation of all such sources would result in overwhelming permitting burdens on permitting authorities and sources, EPA issued the Timing and Tailoring Rules, in which it determined that only the largest stationary sources would initially be subject to permitting requirements.
Industry and a whole host of states (no prizes for guessing which fossil fuel producing states were in support) sought to challenge these rules.
I am in the middle of a series of posts about the way in which the EU institutions can be kept in check by individuals, including looking at challenges to EU measures (see my Inuit post) and the specifics of seeking an internal review of EU implementing Regulations via the EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006 (see my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges). So it was a happy coincidence that last Thursday, the CJEU allowed an appeal in a case concerning documents sought by an NGO from the Commission. We are here in the territory of all EU institutions and all EU issues, not simply environmental questions arising under the Aarhus Convention, though, as we shall see, this is an environmental case.
In a recent post I mentioned that there has been criticism of the scope of the EU Aarhus Regulation inserting provisions about transparency, public participation and access to justice into EU processes themselves. It struck me just how confusing the whole area of EU challenges to EU measures is, so I thought I would summarise it as best I can in this and a following post. Here goes; the going may get a bit bumpy, but it is important stuff. I hope also to give some EU context to the debate about whether something is or is not a legislative act under Aarhus which I trailed in that post.
The EU signed up to the Aarhus Convention on environmental matters, as have all the member states. And the EU has made member states implement Aarhus-compliant procedures in major areas such as environmental impact assessment and industrial emissions, via the 2003 Public Participation Directive. The EU also requires member states to introduce a wide-ranging right to environmental information, transposed in the UK via the Environmental Information Regulations. The European Court has also chipped in with its own Aarhus gloss in the Slovakian Bearcase; whenever a member state is considering some provision of EU environmental law, it must interpret that provision, if possible, so that it complies with Aarhus standards of public participation, even though those standards may be in the parts of the Aarhus Convention which have not received their own direct transposition into EU, let alone domestic, law.
Stichting Natuur en Milieu & Pesticide Action Network Europe v. European Commission (read judgment), and Vereniging Milieudefensie & Stichting Stop Luchtverontreininging Utrecht v. European Commission (read judgment), General Court, 14 June 2012
In these two cases, the General Court in Luxembourg (successor to the Court of First Instance) has decided that the terms of the Aarhus Convention prevail over the EU’s own regulation about access to information, public participation, and access to justice within EU institutions. Therefore NGOs are entitled to an internal review of certain decisions taken by the EU Commission. A decision, it appears, of some controversy, given that the European Commission, European Council and European Council were all arguing against that result.
R (CLIENTEARTH) v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ENVIRONMENT FOOD & RURAL AFFAIRS, Court of Appeal 30 May 2012, on appeal from Mitting J, 13 December 2011,
A newsflash, really, confirming that ClientEarth’s claim for a declaration and mandatory order against Defra in respect of air pollution was refused by the Court of Appeal, in line with the judgment below. And the lack of a link to the CA’s judgment because it is not available, I imagine, because the judgment was extempore, and it is being transcribed at the moment. Sadly, that does not necessarily mean it gets onto the public access site, Bailli, in due course: the first instance decision still languishes on subscription-only sites. So all I know is that ClientEarth’s appeal did not find favour with Laws and Pitchford LJJ, sitting with Sir John Chadwick, but this, as ClientEarth explains, may not be the end of the line.
I posted recently on the continuing legal see-saw in France arising from the prosecution of Total and other parties for their responsibility for the loss of the Erika on 12 December 1999. The Erika sank off the Brittany coast, spilling some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, polluting some 400 km of the French coastline, and killing this poor guillemot, amongst many.
Last week, on 24 May, this criminal case reached the highest French court, the Cour de Cassation. Some thought that the court was going to rule immediately on whether Total and the others were criminally liable for the oil pollution. Previously, the Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris had said that Total and others were responsible. But now the prosecutor, Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod, was of the view that Total had no criminal liability. His written opinion appears not to have surfaced on the ‘net, but from the decision of the Court of Appeal (for the brave, and not for those with slow broadband, all 487 pages), you can see the points that Total was making, and which he seems to have accepted.
I have previously posted on the decision leading to this successful appeal by the Planning Inspectorate, against an order that they produce their legal advice concerning a planning appeal. The decision of the First-Tier Tribunal in favour of disclosure was reversed by a strong Upper Tribunal, chaired by Carnwath LJ in his last outing before going to the Supreme Court. So the upshot is that PINS can retain whatever advice which led them to refuse this request for a public inquiry in a locally controversial case.
Now for a bit of background. The claim for disclosure of documents arose out of a planning application by a wind farm operator to install an 80m tall anemometer (and associated guy wires radiating over about 0.5ha) near Fring in North Norfolk. This was to assess the viability of a wind farm near the site. The local planning authority refused permission for the anemometer, and the wind farmer appealed. There are three ways of deciding such an appeal – a full public inquiry with oral evidence and submissions, an informal hearing or written representations. The locals people wanted a public inquiry. They were supported in that by the council, and the local MP thought that the council was the best body to judge that. PINS said no; no complex issues arose for which a public inquiry was necessary.
In the UK there are at present no rights expressly cast in terms applicable to climate change, nor have our traditional human rights been extensively interpreted as covering climate change consequences. As David Hart QC identifies in his blog, Is climate change a human rights issue?, human rights principles, to be useful for climate change litigators, have to have some democratic backing somewhere. So is there any hope, in the near future at least, of formally or even informally establishing a link between climate change and human rights in the UK? Is human rights based climate change litigation as ‘radical’ as David Hart suggests?
Consider, for example, the situation where the avoidance of further climate change damage was possible through adequate mitigation and/or adaptation, but where adaptation measures were not implemented due to financial or technical constraints. Leaving aside the issue of whether the State would be liable for a moment, could existing human rights be engaged in this situation?
This may sound like a rather dreary topic, but the problem is vitally important for the proper reach of environmental and personal injury law. Some may have seen from my post on the Erika disaster the difficult issues which can arise when a multi–national (in that case, Total) does business through a number of corporate entities, particularly where they are domiciled in different countries. But the present case is a good example where liabilities are not confined to the party directly responsible for the injury or disaster. Good thing, too, for this claimant, who stood to gain nothing from his former employer, a company now dissolved, or indeed its insurers.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Mr Chandler worked for a Cape company, Cape Products, loading bricks. Asbestos was also produced at his workplace, and dust from that part of the works was allowed to blow around the works. Mr Chandler recently contracted asbestosis, and wanted to claim for the admitted negligence of Cape Products. But Cape Products was no more, and there had been excluded from its employers liability insurance any cover for pneumoconiosis. So that led nowhere. Hence this claim against Cape Plc, its parent company, on the basis that Cape Plc had “assumed” responsibility for the health of its subsidiary’s employees.
yes, indeed, and from today’s perspective, there is no obvious way through that impasse;
(ii) carbon emissions cannot possibly be stalled or reversed until our politicians recognise that continued economic growth is inconsistent with a long-term climate change strategy;
many would agree that we can spend a bit of time deck-chair re-arranging or limiting increases in emissions, but the time will come when the world economies have to stop growing;
(iii) if that direction is not going to come from our politicians, then
those political processes are clearly not fit for purpose.
Does this mean that democracy has failed, and must be sacrificed for authoritarian solutions? The solution may in fact be the polar opposite. A system where failing governance procedures are forced to think long-term does not necessarily require anti-democratic “climate tzars”. Instead, this revolution can be hyper-democratic and guided by human rights.
Climate change represents an enormous threat to a whole host of human rights: the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to development. There is therefore huge scope for human rights courts and non-judicial human rights bodies to treat climate change as the immediate threat to human rights that it is. Such bodies could therefore take government policy to task when it is too short-sighted, too unambitious, or too narrowly focused on its own constituents at the expense of those elsewhere. Fossil fuel mining, deforestation, the disturbance of carbon sinks, and the degradation of the oceans are developments that can be blocked on human rights grounds.
Dudgeon Offshore Wind v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government et al, HHJ Waksman QC, hearing 23 March 2012, read judgment
Running a hearing can be difficult enough when you are sitting as a judge and are faced with parties in a civil case. At least then you have an agenda set by the legal documents (or pleadings) and your primary role as judge is to decide whether the points made by one or other side are good or bad. Sometimes you may be sorely tempted to suggest better ones, but usually you do not run parties’ cases for them. And if you do, it is obviously fair for you to tell both parties what is going through your mind. After all, there may be very good reasons why a party has not taken a point apparently advantageous to them. Anyway, you must give the other side the opportunity to deal with the point.
All the more difficult in an inquiry, of which a planning inquiry is a good example. Here you are not just the judge. Your job is to inquire into whatever you think is necessary to decide whether to let a scheme proceed. Much of the time, it is a bit like a civil case, with the local planning authority trying to uphold its grounds for refusal, and the developer trying to show why the grounds do not stack up. But then in many planning appeals you have the third or fourth dimension, a group or groups of (usually) objectors who are saying that there are additional grounds for refusing the scheme. Sometimes, these issues come out all tidily before the inquiry starts, because the objectors have asked to participate in the formal procedures (Rule 6 parties in the jargon). On other occasions, it all just comes out as the inquiry proceeds.
A long saga with a very new twist which should make even the most strident critic of international courts think again.
On 12 December 1999, the Erika sank some 60 nautical miles off the Brittany coast, spilling some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel which in due course polluted some 400 km of the French coastline. On 24 May 2012, the Cour de Cassation is due to rule on whether Total is criminally liable for the spill. Previous courts (the Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris) had said that it was. But now Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod has recently advised the Cour de Cassation that Total has no criminal liability. The problem, as often with international environmental issues, particularly criminal ones, is the jurisdiction for the offence charged – can, in this instance, the French prosecute this crime, even though someone can also do so somewhere else? What better reason for the founding of an international environmental court – a forum where one tribunal can seek to enforce common rules against those responsible for major pollution, wherever the pollution occurs and wherever the parties may be resident.
R (o.t.a Cornwall Waste Forum, St Dennis Branch) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Court of Appeal, 29 March 2012, read judgment
The CA has just held that Collins J was wrong to hold (per my previous post) that the local NGO had a legitimate expectation that the Secretary of State would decide an air pollution issue, rather than leave it to the Environment Agency. In a nutshell, the Inspector (and hence the Secretary of State) was entitled to change his mind on this issue. So the expectation crumbled, and so did this judicial review to quash a decision to allow a waste incinerator to proceed.
Berky, R (on the application of) v. Newport City Council, Court of Appeal, 29 March 2012, read judgment
Two first-instance cases last year (Buglife, and Broads) considered whether a defendant to a judicial review involving a European point can complain that the proceedings were not commenced “promptly” even though they were commenced within the 3 month time limit. Both judges decided that this argument could not be advanced, even though the wording in CPR rule 54.5(1) reads “promptly and in any event not later than 3 months.” The Court of Appeal has now (by a whisker) approved these cases, though there was a vigorous dissent on one important point from Carnwath LJ. The point was in one sense academic, because the Court thought there was no merit in the underlying proceedings, but the ruling is still important.
The reverse suffered by the claimants in the noisy motor racing case case before the Court of Appeal last month was something of a body blow to common lawyers and environmentalists. So this latest development in nuisance litigation should be welcome news.
As David Hart’s report suggests, the Court of Appeal pulls no punches in its critique of the High Court judgment which dismissed the claims of 152 households on the basis that a landfill operator had abided by the terms of its permit. Reasserting the private law rights of individuals in nuisance actions, Carnwath LJ observes that this case has been
a sad illustration of what can happen when apparently unlimited resources, financial and intellectual, are thrown at an apparently simple dispute such as one about nuisance by escaping smells. The fundamental principles of law were settled by the end of the 19th century and have remained resilient and effective since then.
The common law, he notes, is best when it is simple. And in this judgement he returns nuisance to the simple statement of reciprocity and neighbourliness where it belongs.
There are a few propositions – not many – in Carnwath LJ’s judgment which will serve as a clear, short checklist for the viability of a nuisance action. Continue reading →
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