Environmental litigation reform going on the back burner

Source: Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The House Judiciary Committee will have a whole new look next year.

As the chamber switches to Democratic control, the panel will also see shuffling throughout its Republican roster as many members head for the exits.

The new lineup means a dead end for key conservative initiatives aimed at streamlining environmental permitting and reforming the courts.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) is expected to take the reins as chairman and has vowed to use his position to investigate voter suppression, separation of immigrant families and Russian interference in the 2016 election, among other issues.

Republican priorities remain uncertain as at least three congressmen vie for the panel’s ranking member slot.

Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio is the highest-ranking member seeking the position. Fellow Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan is pushing for it, too, along with Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia.

The tangle comes as a wave of GOP veterans on Judiciary prepare for retirement. Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia will leave Congress at the end of this year, along with Lamar Smith of Texas, Darrell Issa of California and several other members.

The remaining Republicans say they’re focused on keeping their Democratic colleagues in check in the new term.

“When they overreach, as I’m sure they will, I think we should push back and act aggressively,” Chabot told reporters last week.

Falling by the wayside as Democrats take control will be perennial Republican efforts to reel in federal courts, reshape the judiciary branch and reform litigation.

Under GOP control, the committee has repeatedly pushed legislation to tighten the judicial review period for challenges to federal permits, including environmental approvals. Republican members have also attempted to bar lower courts from issuing broad injunctions that apply nationwide.

And they’ve taken aim at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by proposing to split up the large Western region into smaller circuits or divisions.

The 9th Circuit is a favorite venue for environmental groups and other left-leaning litigants and has been a frequent thorn in the side of the Trump administration, blocking many of the president’s policies.

President Trump last week expressed anger at judges within the 9th Circuit and called for more scrutiny. With Democrats in charge of the House, change is unlikely.

Judiciary Democrats haven’t yet revealed their own energy and environment-related priorities. The committee has jurisdiction over federal courts, law enforcement and the Justice Department.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.