The Supreme Court and Maine’s Wildlife

Environmental Law is an incredibly important field. It defines how the nation views and treats the natural realm, and it demonstrates to the world our values with respect to the environment.

Here in Maine, environmental laws protect livelihoods, as so many of our careers and lifestyles depend on clean air, clear streams, and intact landscapes. The interpretation of environmental laws is critical to how the natural landscape and its inhabitants will fare into the future.

At Maine Audubon, we support and rely on strong environmental laws that conserve wildlife and wildlife habitats for the long-term, and we depend on interpretations that support the intentions of those environmental laws.

While it is only one topic in a long list of subjects the Supreme Court weighs in on, rulings on the environment can have dramatic and long-lasting effects on the natural world. Based on his record, the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has us concerned for the future of Maine’s wildlife and habitat.

As a justice on the D.C. District Court, Justice Kavanaugh argued:

  • That the EPA does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the EPA does have such jurisdiction. From sea level rise, to increased tick populations and forest pests, to the warming and acidification of our oceans, Maine is already feeling the impact of climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions.
  • That the federal government can’t regulate air pollution that crosses state lines. The Supreme Court overruled that decision. Maine’s landscape is particularly vulnerable to out-of-state pollutants, and with prevailing wind patterns, we are often on the receiving end.
  • That the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hadn’t convinced him that private land should be designated and therefore protected as critical habitat for endangered species. A similar case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court in October addressing this same question. With a number of important endangered species in Maine — Piping Plovers, Atlantic Salmon, and the Canada Lynx, to name a few — this could have significant effects on our ability to keep our most vulnerable species protected.
  • That cost to industry should be considered in the application of environmental laws. Interestingly, Justice Kavanaugh supports the use of cost assessments to allow industry to avoid environmental laws if doing so is expensive — but does not support using low costs of implementation to be used to require industry to abide by environmental laws.

Justice Kavanaugh’s record is very clear in his support for industry and corporations over the environment. A Supreme Court with Justice Kavanaugh could roll back 40 years of successful environmental protections supported by the American public.

These laws — the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act — have all helped to protect Maine’s unique natural landscapes on which we all depend. As the home state of Senator Edmund Muskie, Maine played an important role in many of their creation! Hopefully we will be able to protect that legacy.