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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

GW Study Demonstrates Courts’ Critical, Underappreciated Role in Climate Policy

Researchers at the George Washington University (GW) Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) have identified that the number of federal and state climate lawsuits has been growing since 2006 in the most extensive study to date on the nature and impact of judicial resolutions of legal actions related to climate change. This first-of-a-kind analysis shows that air pollution and coal-fired power plants were the subject of the majority of the studied cases and 58 percent of all of the cases were won by litigants opposed to government regulation. The analysis also shows that pro-regulation plaintiffs won more than twice as frequently in cases involving renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“The courts are a central, yet underappreciated avenue for the development of climate-related policy in the United States,” says lead author Dr. Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH. “In this regard, our country is responding to climate change similarly to how we dealt with tobacco and chemical exposures. In the coming months and years, judicial decisions that both support government action on climate change and serve to halt or slow such action will have a significant impact on our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy development and biodiversity. These decisions will also play a key role in determining how our cities and society are able to adapt to climate change.”

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