Louisiana’s Coastal Survival Depends on Supreme Court Choice | The Times-Picayune

supreme court

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)(J. Scott Applewhite)

Any chance south Louisiana has to stay above the Gulf of Mexico after 2050 now likely lies in the hands of Louisiana’s two U.S. senators: John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy.

That wasn’t the case before the past week. Until then the big hurdles were funding the state’s $92 billion master plan for (some) coastal survival and fighting the Trump administration’s effort to roll back greenhouse gas emissions, the prime cause for the dramatic increase in sea level rise that will flood the state if not slowed.

That changed when Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s easy to over-estimate the importance of a single person in an undertaking as complicated and challenging as our coastal fight.

But in this case, one person could give the final push that sends our coast on an unstoppable slide to a watery grave, no matter of much money we find.

Here’s why.

Justice Kennedy was the one “swing vote” on a court that’s been evenly divided between four steady conservatives and liberals. Although generally conservative, Kennedy’s occasional swings to the middle made the difference in 5-4 votes securing important environmental protections.

One of the biggest came in 2007 in a case known as Massachusetts vs the Environmental Protection Agency. Kennedy joined the liberal side in a 5-4 vote deciding two critical issues:

–States have the legal standing to sue the federal government for not taking action to prevent impacts of climate change that will happen in the future.

–And the EPA has the obligation under the Clean Air Act to treat carbon emissions as pollution that must be regulated.

How important is that to our coast? “If a conservative court were to reverse that ruling and say the EPA does not have the obligation to control climate emissions, then Louisiana would be sunk – figuratively and literally,” said Rob Verchick, environmental law professor at Loyola University.

Verchick’s knowledge on the subject goes beyond the legal mechanics of the ruling. As deputy associate administrator for policy at the EPA in 2009-10, he helped the Obama administration develop the nation’s first comprehensive response to the evolving climate threat. To do that, he had to become familiar with the science that was essential in winning court rulings to keep those regulations in place.

So Verchick, along with most of the environmental community, understands just what could happen if the Senate were to approve a nominee by President Donald Trump with a legal distaste for regulations – something already exhibited by the current conservative members of this court.

Read the rest of the article at The Times-Picayune.