With Sonia Sotomayor now the official nominee to the Supreme Court, much of the media focus in the weeks to come will be her opinion on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage — especially since her record on those two issues is far from extensive. But if nominated (and the buzz seems to be when, not if), given her relatively young age of 54, her lifetime of service will span what most scientists argue will be an era of great change for the environment, one in which we will begin to realize the serious consequences of global warming. So, where does Sotomayor stand on environmental issues? 

One major case could offer a clue: In 2007’s Riverkeeper v. EPA, Sotomayor argued that the EPA should not be allowed to weigh costs and benefits in deciding what the “best technology” is for protecting fish and other aquatic life from being harmed by the intake mechanisms (i.e., small fish being sucked up into the system) at power plants. 

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

In a nutshell, there’s no point in tallying up the marginal costs of extra environmental protections when Congress has already decided they’re worth it. From her 2007 decision:

The Agency is therefore precluded from undertaking such cost-benefit analysis because the [best technology available] standard represents Congress’s conclusion that the costs imposed on industry in adopting the best cooling water intake structure technology available (i.e., the best-performing technology that can be reasonably borne by the industry) are worth the benefits in reducing adverse environmental impacts.

In April, the Supreme Court overturned that decision in a 6-3 ruling; justice David Souter, who Ms. Sotomayor would replace, was one of the dissenters. The Supremes ruled that the EPA could in fact tally up the costs of environmental protections. “Best technology” means the technology that most effectively ensures environmental protections, not that would provide environmental protections at any cost.

It’s an important point, and is likely to become even more important as Congress, the White House, and the EPA grapple with much wider environmental regulations, in the shape of climate-change policies.

Read the whole story here

–Jennifer Grayson

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