Environmental Groups Support Sotomayor Nomination

Sixty environmental groups sent a letter Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee supporting the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

"Judge Sotomayor’s record evinces no clear bias in favor of or against environmental claims," the groups wrote in the letter. "Instead, it reflects intellectual rigor, meticulous preparation, and fairness. Her record demonstrates a consistently balanced and thoughtful review of complex legal issues. She has interpreted and applied the laws as Congress intended and safeguarded constitutional rights."

The letter precedes Senate confirmation hearing scheduled to begin July 13.

Despite having spent more than a decade on the federal bench as a judge on
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Sotomayor has
participated in relatively few environmental cases.

In her most
significant environmental case she wrote what the groups called a "careful" 80-page opinion
upholding critical Clean Water Act safeguards in Riverkeeper v. EPA. A divided Supreme Court
eventually overturned the only ruling that was appealed–that the
Clean Water Act precluded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from
using cost-benefit analysis to determine "best technology available" to
protect fish from power plant water intakes.

"Judge Sotomayor brings to the bench the most federal judicial experience in 100 years," said Glenn Sugameli, senior policy counsel at Earthjustice and head of Judging the Environment, an Earthjustice judicial nominations program. "As recent, closely divided decisions demonstrate, the Supreme Court is playing a crucial role in environmental protections. We anticipate that Judge Sotomayor will bring to the Court a fundamental perspective of fairness, careful attention to, and understanding of, environmental and related statutes, and thoughtful review of complex legal issues."

Within the last few years, Supreme Court decisions on environmental issues have shaped and greatly influenced environmental protections, including:

2006: Rapanos v. United States. The Supreme Court placed water quality protections for many vital water bodies in doubt when it ruled in a split decision in this case. The muddied decision led to ambiguous implementation policies by federal agencies, putting approximately 20 million acres of wetlands and 60% of America’s streams at risk. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently passed the Clean Water Restoration Act in an effort to clear up regulatory policies.

2007: Massachusetts v. EPA. A 5-4 majority of Justices ruled that the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority to regulate global warming pollution from cars, trucks and other sources.

2009: Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al. The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act permits a mining company to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of a toxic wastewater slurry into an Alaskan lake, killing its fish and aquatic life. The 6-3 ruling has dire implications for other waterways across the country and reverses a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the mining company’s permit in clear violation of the Clean Water Act.

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