Loss of Protection as Injury in Fact: An Approach to Establishing Standing to Challenge Environmental Planning Decisions

As currently interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, Article III of the Constitution creates a significant hurdle for plaintiff citizen groups seeking standing to challenge environmental planning or management decisions. In particular, plaintiffs have had difficulty in making the required showing of an ‘injury in fact” where an agency has not yet approved a site-specific action but has approved only a general plan for an area to govern future site-specific actions. The Supreme Court has not articulated a clear rule for standing to challenge the latter type of agency decision making, and the courts of appeals for the various circuits appear to disagree as to the effect of Supreme Court decisions that have touched on the issue. This Note argues that an agency planning or management decision that amounts to a loss of protection for a once-protected natural area should constitute a judicially cognizable injury and demonstrates how the Supreme Court, in other contexts, has recognized theoretically similar and less concrete injuries as sufficient to establish standing.