Public trust doctrine does not allow courts to second-guess greenhouse gas regulations

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has rejected a claim that the common-law “public trust doctrine” allows courts to second-guess decisions by the Legislature or administrative agencies about whether, and how, to regulate greenhouse gases.

The Court’s opinion in Sanders-Reed v. Martinez, written by Judge Timothy Garcia, rejected the claim for three reasons:

  • The common law has been superseded by statute. The Air Quality Control Act creates a framework for regulating air pollution, and empowers the Environmental Improvement Board to do so.


  • The Air Quality Control Act allows citizens to propose regulations to the Board, and to appeal the Board’s decisions if they disagree with them. The plaintiffs did not claim that these tools were unavailable to them.


  • Separation of powers principles counsel in favor of rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims, because “the practical effect of a judgment granting Plaintiffs’ requested relief would be to reverse the EIB’s action,” thereby intruding on the powers that the Legislature has granted to the executive branch.

This decision seems correct to me. When the Legislature or administrative agency has not enacted a party’s preferred policy, the party’s remedy should be to ask the Legislature to change the law, or to ask the agency to enact new regulations, not to ask the courts to enact an alternative regulatory scheme.

You can see my earlier coverage of the briefs and oral argument here. In addition, Mark Oswald has this story about the Court of Appeals’ decision in the Albuquerque Journal.

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