Clean Power Plan lawsuit amicus brief

Last updated: 4/25/2020

Climate change poses an imminent threat to the preservation of historic places around the country. The core idea behind historic preservation is that preserving places from our collective past enriches our present-day lives. We serve as stewards for historic places not only for their own sake, but for ourselves and for the benefit of future generations of Americans. 1 Failing to act on climate change will result in irreplaceable losses to these historic resources. EPA’s failure to meaningfully act on climate change through the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and promulgation of the lessprotective Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule therefore threatens America’s cultural heritage by putting its historic places at greater risk. 

While climate change presents obvious physical risks to historic places through impacts such as more frequent and more powerful hurricanes, the threat that climate change poses to our national heritage is much more profound than physical damage. As petitioners and many others have explained, there is a clear connection between climate change and increasingly severe weather events that physically damage historic properties, including heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and storms. 2 The purpose of this brief is to demonstrate that EPA’s failure to meaningfully confront climate change goes further, threatening historic places that reflect our nation’s cultural values.

Four specific examples of historic places on the east coast demonstrate this threat. These examples illustrate the broad impacts of climate change on historic places. Ellis Island, New York demonstrates how climate change threatens to sever connections to our past and to one another. Millions of Americans can trace the history of their family’s arrival to the United States through Ellis Island, which now houses records and artifacts of American immigrants’ journeys. In 2016, Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, supercharged by warming in the Atlantic Ocean caused by climate change, submerged Ellis Island entirely, threatening the complete loss of records connecting more than half of all Americans to each other and our past. Annapolis, Maryland demonstrates how climate change threatens our living connection with history. Annapolis has been at the center of American history from the founding of the United States, maintaining a centuries-old maritime economy and some of America’s most venerable institutions, including the United States Naval Academy. Increasing sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay stemming from climate change now threaten Annapolis through more frequent and extreme flooding and increased vulnerability to storms, illustrating that climate change threatens living communities deeply interwoven with our history. St. Augustine, Florida demonstrates that climate change presents irreparable and permanent threats even to some of the most resilient historic places in our country. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously-occupied European-established city in America, and home to the Cathedral Basilica, which has withstood wars, fires, and hurricanes for over 400 years. The Cathedral now risks being lost to the sea forever, as unprecedented flooding and sea level rise caused by climate change threaten coastal Florida. Charleston, South Carolina demonstrates that the impacts of climate change on historic resources extend beyond impacts to iconic sites and monuments. The National Historic Landmark District in Charleston was preserved through the efforts and commitment of thousands of individual property owners who share a preservation ethic that has permeated the community for over 100 years. Regular flooding and sea level rise stemming from climate change now threaten the Historic District in its entirety, causing “blue sky flooding” where the incoming tide floods the community. Charleston reveals the pervasive nature of climate change’s impact on historic communities. While climate change’s threats to historic resources are far more extensive than these four examples, these places reflect shared features that the threats of unabated climate change pose to our historic places. EPA’s failure to meaningfully address climate change exacerbates these risks. For these reasons and the other reasons raised by petitioners and their supporting amici, this Court should vacate the ACE Rule and remand the matter back to EPA. 

No. 19-1140 (and consolidated cases)
American Lung Association, et al.,
United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al.,
On Petition for Review of a Final Rule of the Environmental Protection Agency