(CN) – Environmental groups cannot prove that the U.S. government’s use of Canadian oil sands crude will lead to increased emissions that will harm the environment, and lacks standing to do so anyway, a federal judge ruled.
DLA Energy, a subsidiary of the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, is responsible for acquiring, storing and distributing fuel for the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, federal agencies may not procure alternative or synthetic fuels for any mobility-related use besides research or testing, unless the contract specifies the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy had sued DLA Energy for violations of the act and other federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit claims that DLA Energy bought contracts for synthetic fuel derived from Canadian oil sands-recovered crude, and that it failed to prepare an environmental impact statement for the contracts.
These violations allegedly increased the risk of harming the health, recreational, economic and aesthetic interests of its members. In order to redress these injuries, the environmentalists said DLA should restrict its use of fuels derived from oil sands and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions such use caused.
Finding that Sierra Club and Southern Alliance lacked standing to pursue their claims against DLA Energy, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Noting that a plaintiff must suffer a particular “injury-in-fact” to bring suit, the court rejected claims that the DLA injured the nonprofits’ members. The plaintiffs did not “sufficiently allege that they have or will suffer injuries from pipeline transmission or the refining of Canadian oil sands-recovered crude, let alone DLA Energy’s purchasing contracts,” the court found.
Hilton added that the groups could not “establish that their injuries were not caused by the independent actions of third parties.”
The court also commented more generally on emissions-related lawsuits. “A reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in one area or from one source has no effect on greenhouse gas levels that are specific to that area, and may even have no effect on global greenhouse gas levels because other sources may increase their own emissions,” Hilton wrote. “Thus, any increased risks plaintiffs allegedly face from climate change are the result of independent actors around the world.”
Even if the groups had standing, the particular contracts in question may not have been problematic, according to the judgment. Hilton found that “it is impossible to conclude that the lack of a lifecycle emissions certification in DLA Energy contracts encouraged the producers of fuel from Canadian oil sands-recovered crude to engage in mining or production activities that they would not have otherwise taken.”
The court also declined to grant standing on prudential grounds.
“Prudential standing serves to avoid the adjudication of ‘abstract questions of wide public significance,'” the court explained, citing precedent. Thus, a case based on “the generalized risk associated with global warming presents exactly the type of claim prudential standing requirements caution against.”
After dismissing the National Environmental Policy Act claims, Hilton said the claim about the environmental impact statement is moot because DLA announced plans to prepare one for the military’s mobility fuel program.