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RBG: Sustaining Scenic Hudson’s Environmental Legacy

I never tire of seeing Storm King Mountain, both because of its extraordinary beauty and because it reminds me of the 17 years of concerted effort it took Scenic Hudson’s founders to protect this Hudson Highlands landmark from a destructive power plant.

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had much in common with the men and women who took a stand to protect Storm King – courage, persistence, passion, fairness. In my household and across the land, she is revered as a champion of equal rights for women and all people. Her legacy in legal rulings and their repercussions in our lives is breathtaking and inspiring.

RBG also played an important role in sustaining Scenic Hudson’s environmental legacy.

Time and again during her 27 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg ruled in favor of environmental protections that assured all Americans would have clean water to drink and air to breathe. This article highlights some of her contributions to preserving essential safeguards.

For me, RBG became one of America’s great environmental champions in 2000, when she wrote the majority opinion on a case (Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services) that upheld the concept of standing – that the public has a legal right to take a stand on projects that could affect their cherished connection with nature. In writing that decision, Justice Ginsburg carried the torch lit during Scenic Hudson’s Storm King campaign.

December 29 will mark the 55th anniversary of the “Scenic Hudson decision.” This ruling by the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that Scenic Hudson, on behalf of the people who hiked and fished in the Hudson Highlands – or simply cherished the awesome beauty of the region – could sue to stop the Storm King plant from damaging this natural and national landmark. The judges’ unanimous ruling laid the cornerstone of America’s seminal environmental law – the National Environmental Policy Act – and ignited the modern grassroots environmental movement.

Justice Ginsburg’s opinion in Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services came at a time when many corporate interests and governments were trying to chip away at standing, tightening the rules about who could legally oppose developments that promised big economic benefits for a few at the expense of natural assets that benefit everyone. She, and the six justices who sided with her, sent a thunderous message that standing was here to stay. Scenic Hudson generally prefers to work toward win-win solutions. But when we must, we go to court to ensure protection of the Hudson Valley’s irreplaceable natural resources. And when we do, our cases rest on the principle of legal standing, fortified by Judge Ginsburg’s ruling.

RBG also ruled in favor of the federal government’s authority to limit the transport of air pollution across state lines when states fail to do so. And she ruled that the federal government has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. This is particularly important – and concerning – at a time when Judge Amy Coney Barrett, nominated to succeed Justice Ginsburg, refused in her Senate hearing to acknowledge that climate change is even happening and a threat.

In closing, I want to urge you to make your own contribution to our nation’s future by voting on November 3. This cherished right is not universal. According to the international watchdog Freedom House, 56 nations fail to hold fair elections – so we should never take this privilege lightly.

Stay safe and stay strong,