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Massachusetts v. EPA clears the air on standing

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Quimbee: Massachusetts v. EPA

This is the latest in a series of Quimbee.com case brief videos. Have you signed up for your Quimbee membership? The American Bar Association offers three months of online Quimbee study aids for law student members. And if you go Premium, you’ll receive Quimbee’s Outline on Legal Ethics as part of our Premium Legal Ethics Bundle – a $29 value.


The Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq., authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the emission of dangerous pollutants. In Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), a group of private organizations asked the EPA to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from motor vehicles, but the EPA refused.

Massachusetts and other states intervened in the suit. The State of Massachusetts specifically alleged that it feared the loss of coastal lands as a result of global warming caused by the emissions. The case hinged on whether the petitioners had standing to bring the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Massachusetts, as a sovereign state, had demonstrated a particular injury and sufficient causation between that injury and the EPA’s failure to take action to regulate greenhouse gases to justify its standing to bring the case.

Chief Justice Roberts dissented, concluding that a sovereign state bore the same burden to demonstrate a particular and concrete injury as any other petitioner, and he remained unconvinced that a favorable ruling would redress the petitioners’ harm.

Nevertheless, the case reinforced the burden on a petitioner to prove the existence of a concrete and particular injury in order to demonstrate standing.

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