Friday, January 6, 2006
Two graduate students have published a key study in Science indicating that deep sea fish populations of 17 species have plummeted in recent years : fishers pursued fish at greater and greater depths in already overfished areas. Devine study
A study by Donato et al published online today in Science indicates that post-fire salvage logging may increase short-term fire risk. This finding is significant enough that I simply provide the "untranslated" abstract.
Post-wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk
1 Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
2 Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
3 Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 60 Nowelo Street, Hilo, HI 96720, USA.
* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
D. C. Donato , E-mail: email@example.com
Legislation currently pending in U.S. Congress, HR 4200, would expedite postfire logging projects, citing reforestation and fuels reduction among its goals. To help inform the dialogue, we present data from a study of early conifer regeneration and fuel loads following the 2002 Biscuit Fire, OR, USA, with and without postfire logging. Natural conifer regeneration was abundant after high-severity fire. Postfire logging reduced median regeneration density by 73% and significantly increased downed woody fuels and thus short-term fire risk. Additional fuels reduction is necessary for effective fire risk mitigation. Postfire logging can be counterproductive to stated goals of ecosystem restoration.
Thursday, January 5, 2006
The coal mine disaster, killing 12 after in a mine cited for more than 200 health and safety violations in recent years, raises in a dramatic manner the question of inadequate administrative enforcement.
Here's the Christian Science Monitor's take: CSM report
Nearly half of the 208 safety citations levied in 2005 against the Sago coal mine where 12 men died this week were "serious and substantial."Federal inspectors found 20 dangerous roof-falls, 14 power wire insulation problems, and three cases of inadequate ventilation plans, among the 96 major violations. Nearly half of the 208 safety citations levied in 2005 against the Sago coal mine where 12 men died this week were "serious and substantial."
Sago's "S&S" violations, which rose fourfold in 2005 over 2004, form a pattern that worries safety experts, who say it raises serious questions about mine management - and the efficacy of government inspections.Despite major safety strides in recent decades, mining remains one of the nation's most dangerous jobs. And it's not unusual for mines to be cited for violations of the 1977 Mine Safety Act. But Sago's record, some say, should have raised red flags. "If you have a widespread practice of S&S violations over an extended period of time like we have here, it suggests that you've got much more serious problems than just paperwork violations," says J. Davitt McAteer, a former official in the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
During the last quarter of 2005, for instance, federal inspectors at Sago cited or ordered the company to fix 50 safety violations - 19 of them serious and substantial. As a result, the company was fined $24,374 last year. It also recorded 39 accidents in 2005, 16 with injuries requiring days away from work. Inspectors also noted lesser violations such as electrical equipment maintenance, accumulations of coal dust, inadequate fresh air ventilation of the coal-face, and too few methane monitors. (It is still not known what caused the explosion that trapped and killed the miners.) Taken separately, the number of violations and the variety of issues involved are not particularly troubling, says Mr. Mc-Ateer. Indeed, accumulations of coal dust and electrical and ventilation problems are not unusual in coal mines. But taken "as a package," three issues stick out about the violations, McAteer says:
• The number is on the high side for a coal mine of that size.
• A high proportion are substantial.
• The 2005 total was more than triple the 68 tallied in 2004.<>
Despite this record, the entire mine was never ordered closed for a safety overhaul. "I've seen other mines with as many or nearly as many violations," McAteer says. "But these are substantial ventilation, roof control, and emergency escape violations. If you look at the direction [Sago is] going, you see both federal and state numbers increasing."Although federal inspectors have the legal right to close a mine for safety reasons - and often do close sections - it can be difficult to close a mine outright. Courts have been reluctant to support such actions by the government, even when there are a large number of violations, McAteer says. <>
International Coal Group, a private company based in Ashland, Ky., bought the Sago mine from Anker West Virginia Mining Company last year. An ICG spokesperson reserved comment for company officials who were unavailable at press time. But on Monday - before news came that the miners had died - an ICG vice president told reporters that the company had recorded an 80 percent improvement in safety from earlier in the year. "We think we're operating a safe mine.
Calls Wednesday to MSHA's Washington headquarters seeking comment on the significance of the Sago mine violations went unreturned. On Wednesday, government officials began an investigation. "The purpose of MSHA's investigation is to determine what caused the explosion and whether any safety and health standards were violated," said David Dye, MSHA's acting assistant secretary. "Then we can take effective action to prevent such tragedies in the future."
Tom Jensen of the CEQ stood in for Dinah Bear today at the Section on Natural Resources Law meeting. He brought an interesting message: NEPA 101 is alive and well, just not living in its old body. Despite Vermont Yankee, NEPA 101 has been relied upon in executive orders and agency directives. It was also placed in the Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution authorizing statute, which mandated that the institute address how to implement NEPA 101. The Institute appointed a broad based committee that concluded government competence to solve natural resources problems has decreased because of the contentiousness of the disputes, the harder problems that are being addressed, and the antipathy towards regulation. It recommended a change in the style of natural resources decision-making-- basing those decisions on consensus principles and direct democratic participation in the process. With the work of the NEPA taskforce this year, it is notable that NEPA 101 provides such consensus principles because the taskforce noted that NEPA 101 remains valid today. Jensen sees NEPA 101 as common language that can bring people to the table to work towards a community view. The question is whether NEPA 101 (with its broad array of consderations and language on rights and responsibilities) is sufficient. He also invited us to examine that question as well as questions of how the new decision-making processes mesh with FACA, the appointments clause, civil service rules, the winners and losers, the impacts on states and tribes. Interesting things may be happening!!!
Desperately seeking a casebook? This well-organized and executed session provided some insight into the new casebooks on the market. Michael Blumm of Lewis and Clark, who organized the session, first provided a summary of a recent SSRN paper entitled: Martz to the 21st Century, identifying four generations of natural resources law casebooks. His framework was then fleshed out in the remarks of Rob Fischman of Indiana (discussing how the books reflect what we teach and why we teach it), Dale Goble of Idaho (discussing the perspective, land ownership emphasis, and case density of the books), and Sarah Krakoff of Colorado (discussing the books' approach to the interdisciplinary knowledge required to understand natural resources law). Sarah was the most adventurous of the four -- risking a Quidditch metaphor to highlight her concern about how the incremental adjustments in natural resources law to incorporate interdisciplinary approaches may be the quaffel and bludger part of the quidditch game while how we deal with climate change represents the snitch.
Rapid global warming of about 6 degrees Celsius some 59 million years ago triggered a drastic change in ocean circulation that lasted thousands of years. Carbon dioxide began to build up in the atmosphere, slowly warming the sea surface in the high latitudes. The warming threw a wrench into ocean circulation and chemistry, which caused extinctions of deep-sea species and land mammals.
A study by Nunes and Norris published in Nature today reports that deep sea sediments indicate deep sea currents had previously formed in the Southern Ocean and South Atlantic Ocean and flowed north to the Pacific Ocean. But less than 5000 years later, the currents reversed direction and this reverse flow lasted at least 40,000 years. Modern atmospheric CO2 levels are approaching those seen 55 million years ago and could have a similarly profound impact on ocean circulation.Nature report
This is the North Atlantic conveyor belt slowing/reversal, an abrupt climate change scenario that in which a deep freeze of Europe and North America occurs due to global warming. Such regional cooling would eventually be overcome by gradual global warming, but North America and Europe could experience bitter winters such as those that occurred during the "little ice age" from 1300 to 1800 CE. woods hole oceanographic institute abrupt climate change
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
The AALS Conference kicks off today with a focus on empirical scholarship. Sessions of interest include: Federalism and the Environment: A Revolution Through Devolution (E Law section); the New Generation of Natural Resources Law Casebooks (NR Law section); Empirical Study of Administrative Law (Ad Law section); The Final Frontier: Application of Environmental Laws to Large-Scale Agricultural Operations (Ag Law section). See you there or read about it here.
The recent battle between Russian and Ukraine over steeply rising natural gas prices -- and the impact on EU gas supplies -- highlights the political and economic vulnerability that we all endure due to our dependence on fossil fuels. While the response in the US to interruptions of energy supplies from wars, hurricanes, and other unnatural disasters has been to "streamline" large-scale fossil fuel energy development, obviously the road to energy security requires renewable energy. The interesting question is whether the energy industry will successfully induce reliance on large-scale renewable developments from which they can derive profits or whether more individuals, businesses, and communities will choose off-grid or grid-tied-but-not-dependent relatively small scale renewable energy. Energy regulation, i.e. energy law, and even relaxation of environmental laws, will not be the harbinger of this choice. Instead, look at what we choose to subsidize. Do we provide tax breaks to the energy industry or do we provide subsidies directed at energy consumers? The latter ensures large-scale energy dominance. The latter provides choice for consumers to engage in small-scale projects or simply consume renewable energy from large-scale projects. These questions are not new. They harken back three decades to the good old days of the oil embargo, when I studied energy regulation with Marc Roberts and Tom Graff and worked with Al Alm on Harvard's Environment and Industrial Fuel Use Decisions project. Scale matters. The economies of scale in energy are not necessarily with large-scale development. But, more important than efficiency [believe it or not], scale of development strongly determines the degree of concentration of political and economic power. A variant on the "money is power" theme.