Friday, July 7, 2006

Solving the Climate Crisis

Now, we need to talk solutions.  My first premise is that, while we bear great responsibility for the climate crisis now, effective US leadership is urgently required to convince India and China to make the necessary adjustments in their development paths to contain global warming.  If so, we need to look at what sort of US response to global warming might create the momentum throughout the world to address this problem.  In this post, I suggest several criteria for evaluating proposed US responses.  Subsequent posts will evaluate competing proposals, including Waxman, Kerry, Bush, McCain/Lieberman, and any others that you care to nominate.

Here are my criteria:

(1) dramatic and attention-compelling

For a US program to have the desired global leadership effect, it must convince the rest of the world of the magnitude of the crisis and the US commitment to an effective response.

(2) contains incentives for global responses that mirror the level of US commitment

Americans are generally willing to do "their part" to solve problems.  But, the US cannot and will not solve the climate crisis on its own.  Rather than negotiate endlessly about Kyoto plus -- perhaps we should try something straightforward: a carbon tariff on imported goods and services from nations that fail to achieve equivalent improvements in their level of CO2 efficiency.  Then, as we become more CO2 efficient, our goods will enjoy an advantage compared to those from nations that are not doing their part.

(3) market based

A US program largely relying  market incentives approaches (e.g. carbon taxes or marketable rights) will provide a relatively economically efficient regulatory system.  That economic efficiency is critical given the pervasiveness of the system throughout the US economy.

(3) grandfathers portions of existing emissions through allotments or entitlements

A US program must grandfather a portion of existing emissions by providing cost-free allotments or entitlements.  Otherwise, if the full social cost/value of CO2 emissions are captured through a carbon tax or auctioning marketable rights, the transfer payments to the government will make the system wholly unacceptable.

(4)  transparent

No one will buy it unless they can understand it.

(5)  effectively monitored and enforced

Whether we use marketable rights or taxes, we need to quantify existing emissions, calculate potential emissions, and monitor future emissions.  Already the EU experience suggests this is more difficult than it might seem.  And our experience with offsets and NSR demonstrate the potential for outright fraud.  So we need to have the full array of enforcement devices...from administrative tickets to criminal enforcement available to deter the cheats.


(6) politically sustainable

There will be a moment in time when the US can create an effective response to global warming.  At that moment, we can surmount the usual obstacles to change.  Yet, the program enacted at that critical moment must withstand the test of time.  The program does not need to be "flexible," which is frequently a synonym for ineffective and capable of manipulation by those who seek to avoid the economic impacts of regulation.  Instead, it needs to be sufficiently effective in addressing a vital problem that it can withstand political pressures down the road.

So, on this barometer, how do the currently proposed solutions rate?  Stay tuned.

July 7, 2006 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Environmental Case Law Summaries

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Frazier v. Pioneer Ams. LLC (07/06/06 - No. 06-30434)
Plaintiffs have the burden to show the applicability of the Class Action Fairness Act's sections 1332(d)(3)–(5) exceptions when jurisdiction turns on their application. In a case involving alleged seepage of mercury from defendants' facility, denial of putative class plaintiffs' motion to remand to Louisiana state court is affirmed over plaintiffs' claim that the case was not removable under CAFA.

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Falk v. US (07/05/06 - No. 05-2566)
Judgment in favor of defendant-agency in a declaratory judgment action challenging decisions made by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service affecting the use of plaintiffs' land for goose hunting is affirmed where defendant's determinations were not arbitrary and capricious, and its interpretation of regulations was not plainly erroneous.

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Pakootas v. Teck Cominco Metals, Ltd. (07/03/06 - No. 05-35153)
Denial of defendant's motion to dismiss is affirmed where: 1) because CERCLA liability is triggered by an actual or threatened release of hazardous substances, and because a release of hazardous substances took place within the U.S., the suit at hand involved a domestic application of CERCLA; and 2) defendant-Canadian company's contention that it was not liable under a particular CERCLA provision because it disposed of hazardous substances itself is rejected.

Oregon Trollers Ass'n v. Gutierrez (07/06/06 - No. 05-35970)
In an action brought by fishermen and fishing-related businesses and organizations against the National Marine Fisheries Service and other governmental entities challenging certain management measures undertaken to protect a type of salmon, summary judgment for defendants is affirmed over claims that the measures conflicted with a number of substantive and procedural requirements set forth in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

New York Court of Appeals

In the Matter of Eadie v. Town Bd. of the Town of N. Greenbush (07/05/06 - No. 99)
In an action arising out of the rezoning of a large area of land to permit retail development: 1) the rezoning did not require a three-fourths majority vote of the Town Board under Town Law section 265; 2) the challenge to the rezoning under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was timely brought; and 3) the Town complied with SEQRA.

July 7, 2006 in Biodiversity, Cases, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

G8 summit focus will be on energy supply security, not replacing fossil fuels

Planetark World Environmental News reports:


[G]lobal warming has been sidelined by concerns on how the world can satisfy its growing appetite for energy....Russia, chairing the Group of Eight for the first time and hosting a summit starting July 15, has been ambivalent about global warming which leaders at last year's G8 summit called "a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the planet"...Russia has made "energy security" the main theme of the July 15-17 St. Petersburg summit. High oil prices and a stand-off between Russia and its European customers this year over gas supplies have thrown the issue to the top of the early draft of the summit declaration concentrates mostly on the challenges of developing supplies of energy in a volatile market rather than tackling the threat of global warming posed by an increasing use of fossil fuels. 

The draft does encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, but not enough to satisfy environmentalists who were appalled to see the text promoting more development of fossil fuels including coal and bitumen, both potentially major sources of CO2.

July 7, 2006 in Asia, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Climate Change Fuels Western Wildfires

Science today published what is bound to be an incredibly controversial study by Westerling concluding that increased forest wildfire activity in the West, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons, is primarily due to climate change, not land use management:

...while land use history is an important factor for
wildfire risks in specific forest types (e.g. some ponderosa
pine and mixed conifer forests), the broad-scale increase in
wildfire frequency across the western United States has been
driven primarily by sensitivity of fire regimes to recent
changes in climate over a relatively large area.
The overall importance of climate in wildfire activity
underscores the urgency of ecological restoration and fuels
management to reduce wildfire hazards to human
communities and to mitigate ecological impacts of climate
change in forests that have undergone substantial alterations
due to past land uses. At the same time, however, large
increases in wildfire driven by increased temperatures and
earlier spring snowmelts in forests where land use history had
little impact on fire risks indicates that ecological restoration
and fuels management alone will not be sufficient to reverse
current wildfire trends.
    These results have important regional and global
implications. Whether the changes observed in western
hydro-climate and wildfire are the result of greenhouse gasinduced global warming, or only an unusual natural
fluctuation, is presently unclear. Regardless of past trends,
virtually all climate model projections indicate that warmer
springs and summers will occur over the region in coming
decades. These trends will reinforce the tendency toward
early spring snowmelt  and longer fire seasons. This
will accentuate conditions favorable to the occurrence of
large wildfires, amplifying the vulnerability the region has
experienced since the mid-1980s. The Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change’s consensus range of 1.5C to 5.8C
projected global surface temperature warming by the end of
the 21st Century is considerably larger than the recent
warming of less than 0.9ºC observed in spring and summer
during recent decades over the western region.
If the average length and intensity of summer drought
increases in the Northern Rockies and mountains elsewhere in
the western U.S., an increased frequency of large wildfires
will lead to changes in forest composition and reduced tree
densities, thus affecting carbon pools. Current estimates
indicate that western US forests are responsible for 20-40%
of total U.S. carbon sequestration. If wildfire trends
continue, at least initially this biomass burning will result in
carbon release, suggesting that the forests of the western U.S.
may become a source of increased atmospheric carbon
dioxide rather than a sink, even under a relatively modest
temperature increase scenario. Moreover, a recent
study shows that warmer, longer growing seasons lead to
reduced CO2 uptake in high elevation forests, particularly
during droughts. Hence, the projected regional warming
and consequent increase in wildfire activity in the western
U.S. is likely to magnify the threats to human communities
and ecosystems, and significantly increase the management
challenges in restoring forests and reducing greenhouse gas
emissions.  Wildfire conclusions

Science also has a podcast with Dr. Westerling (the Westerling piece can be found from :50 - 8:00 of the 32 minute podcast)

Science Abstract

Warming and Earlier Spring Increases Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity

Anthony Leroy Westerling 1*, Hugo G. Hidalgo 2, Daniel R. Cayan 3, Thomas W. Swetnam 4

Western United States forest wildfire activity is widely thought to have increased in recent decades, but surprisingly, the extent of recent changes has never been systematically documented. Nor has it been established to what degree climate may be driving regional changes in wildfire. Much of the public and scientific discussion of changes in western United States wildfire has focused rather on the effects of 19th and 20th century land-use history. We compiled a comprehensive database of large wildfires in western United States forests since 1970 and compared it to hydro-climatic and land-surface data. Here, we show that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and dramatically in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks, and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks, and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.

July 6, 2006 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Shell States Moral Objection to Biofuel from Food Crops


Planet Ark World Environmental News:

Royal Dutch Shell, the worlds top marketer of biofuels, considers using food crops to make biofuels "morally inappropriate" as long as there are people in the world who are starving...Eric G Holthusen, Fuels Technology Manager Asia/Pacific, said the company's research unit, Shell Global Solutions, has developed alternative fuels from renewable resources that use wood chips and plant waste rather than food crops that are typically used to make the fuels...Holthusen said his company's participation in marketing biofuels extracted from food was driven by economics or legislation."If we have the choice today, then we will not use this route....We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see. But sometimes economics force you to do it."


The world's top commercially produced biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel.  Ethanol, mostly used in the United States and Brazil, is produced from sugar cane and beets and can also be derived from grains such as corn and wheat. Biodiesel, used in Europe, is extracted from the continent's predominant oil crop, rapeseed, and can also be produced from palm and coconut.


Holthusen said Shell has been working on biofuels that can be extracted from plant waste and wood chips, but he did not say when the alternative biofuel might be commercially available...

Shell, in partnership with Canadian biotech firm Iogen Corp., has developed "cellulose ethanol", which is made from the wood chips and non-food portion of renewable feedstocks such as cereal straws and corn stover, and can be blended with gasoline.


July 6, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Millenium Village Experiment

There are many obstacles to achieving the Millenium Development Goals, pessimism, inadequate financing, corruption, armed conflict, political and social instability, and global warming among them.  But a recent Nature editorial on Jeffrey Sachs' Millenium Village project highlights the lack of data, analysis, and learning that has plagued development efforts.  The Millenium Village project hopes to overcome that obstacle.  The Nature editorial underscores the significance of the MVP data collection and analysis effort:

    The issues that hinder development in sub-Saharan Africa are many and complex, but one factor that stands out for scientists is the dearth of reliable data on the decades of development projects there.
    A lack of information on what has worked and what hasn't has contributed to a lack of accountability among donor nations, host nations and even development professionals. Donors in particular have learnt little from past mistakes, and are impatient. When a project fails, as so many do, the tendency has been to move straight on to the next idea.

When a project fails, the tendency has been to move straight on to the next idea.


    Development specialists know this, and today data and analysis are prized. In this issue we examine the early progress of one notable experiment in Africa. It involves the support of 12 African Millennium Research Villages, which are receiving a package of interventions, at a maximum cost of US$110 per person per year, tailored to lift them out of poverty and onto a sustainable path.
    The approach has won support from the African governments involved and from private philanthropists, who have pledged $100 million to a charity, called Millennium Promise, that aims to expand the programme to an additional 78 villages in the next year.
    The administrators of the village projects intend to measure 27 important indicators of project performance, mainly by closely monitoring the progress of some 300 households in each village.
    They hope to learn three things: whether each intervention works, whether the links between various interventions can be exploited, and whether the community is ultimately better placed to manage its own future. This last involves 'softer' measures of capacity and sustainability, and will be the hardest both to monitor and to achieve.
    It is early days yet — the longest-running project, at Sauri in Kenya, is just two years old — and few hard data are available so far. But it is crucial that the schemes deliver on their research goals and that they absorb lessons, positive or negative, from the data.

Continue reading

July 5, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Economics, Governance/Management, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The heat is on!

Dow Jones Market Watch:

August crude rose $1.26 to close at $75.19 a barrel in New York Wednesday, marking the highest closing level ever for a front-month contract. The record closing level for a front-month contract was $75.17, which was reached on April 21. The August crude contract also marked its loftiest close since May 11, when it finished at $75.53. August natural gas fell 33.9 cents to close at $5.765 per million British thermal units, its lowest close since January 2005.

July 5, 2006 in Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The NW Forest Plan

For those of you teaching natural resources, the Society on Conservation Biology did a special section of Conservation Biology on 10th anniversary of the Northwest Forest Plan.  The key findings of the papers are recounted here:


    Conservation    Biology cover photo
    by K. Schaffer

    The         Northwest         Forest Plan:  origins, components, implementation     experience, and suggestions for change - Jack Ward Thomas (         University of         Montana),     Jerry Franklin (         University of         Washington), John Gordon (Interforest),     and Norm Johnson (             Oregon         State         University):

    • The Northwest Forest Plan has proven to be more       successful in achieving restoration goals for old-growth and aquatic       ecosystems than in achieving economic and social goals.
    • Three recommendations are made: 1) recognize that       the Plan has evolved into an integrative conservation strategy, 2)       conserve old-growth trees and forests wherever they occur, and 3) manage       federal forests as dynamic ecosystems.

    Effectiveness of the         Northwest     Forest Plan in conserving the Northern Spotted Owl -

    Barry         Noon     and Jennifer Blakesley (             Colorado         State         University):

    • Monitoring of Northern Spotted Owls has shown a       continuing decline in the species despite a dramatic drop off in timber       harvest on federal lands.
    • Since enactment of the Plan, new threats have       emerged, including movement of Barred Owls into the range of the spotted       owl and loss of owl habitat from fire and logging on private lands. 

    Conservation of the Marbled Murrelet under the         Northwest         Forest     Plan - Martin Raphael (US         Forest Service):

    • Most of the higher suitability habitat for the       Marbled Murrelet, a coastal seabird that nests in old-growth forests, was       included in forest reserves called "late-successional reserves."
    • Nonetheless, monitoring ten years after       implementation shows mostly stationary populations with predictions of       4-6% annual declines in the near future as a result of timber harvest on       private lands and changing ocean conditions that are not favorable for the       birds.

    The Aquatic Conservation     Strategy of the         Northwest         Forest Plan - Gordon Reeves (US Forest Service),         Jack Williams (Trout Unlimited), Kelly Burnett (US     Forest Service) and Kirsten Gallo (US         Forest     Service):

    • Ten years after implementation, the aquatic       conservation strategy, designed to protect key watersheds and streamside       areas from logging, appears to have halted most declines in stream and       riparian conditions, resulting in measurable improvements to 64% of       watersheds examined.
    • Most improvements were in riparian (streamside)       conditions, critical to stream health and a focal point for protections in       the Northwest Forest Plan.

    Protecting rare, old-growth,     forest-associated species under the Survey and Manage Program guidelines of the     Northwest Forest Plan - Randy Molina, Bruce Marcot, Robin Lesher (US Forest Service):

    • The Survey and Manage Program sought to protect       approximately 400 little known species (e.g., amphibians, fungi, mollusks,       plants, small mammals) found mainly in older forests by creating the need       to survey for these species before logging and then protecting if found.
    • The program gained valuable information about       these species but created conflicts with other timber objectives of the       plan, which ultimately resulted in program changes.

    Status of mature and old-growth     forests in the Pacific Northwest,         USA     - James Strittholt     (Conservation Biology Institute),             Dominick DellaSala (World Wildlife     Fund) and Hong Jiang (Conservation Biology Institute):

    • Since European settlement of the              Pacific Northwest, approximately 72% of old-growth conifer forests have been lost to       logging and development, most of remaining old-growth is on public       lands.
    • Of the remaining old growth, nearly half is found       in the Central and Southern Cascades (Washington and              Oregon)       and Klamath-Siskiyou Region (northern California/southwest                     Oregon) but less than 1/3 of older forests is       protected in parks and wilderness areas
    • Strengthening protections for older forests in       the late-successional reserves (by eliminating post-fire logging) and       roadless areas (by reinstating the roadless rule) would protect nearly 60%       of the remaining older forests on public lands.

    The Northwest Forest Plan as a model for broad-scale     ecosystem management: a social perspective - Susan Charnley (US         Forest Service):

    • The Plan’s socioeconomic goals met with mixed       success and the plan never delivered on its timber harvest assumptions.
    • The reasons behind the mixed results were that       some key agency assumptions on socioeconomics were flawed and, secondly,       that agencies had reduced institutional capacity to achieve the goals.

    Public timber supply, market adjustments, and local     economies: economic assumptions of the         Northwest         Forest Plan – Thomas Powers (             University of         Montana):

    • Contemporary economics indicate that the economic       links between forests and local communities are much broader than simply       the flow of commercially valuable logs.
    • The flow of environmental services from forests       has increasingly become an amenity that has drawn people and economic       activity to forested areas and these amenities have traditionally been       undervalued by federal land managers.

    Conserving old-growth forest diversity in     disturbance-prone landscapes - Thomas     A. Spies, Miles A. Hemstrom, Andrew Youngblood, and Susan Hummel (US     Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station)

    • A decade after its creation, the Northwest Forest       Plan is contributing to the conservation of old-growth forests on federal       land.  However, the success and       outlook for the plan are questionable in the dry provinces (east of the              Cascade Range). 
    • Losses of old growth to       wildfire have been relatively high (ranging from 1.4 to over 14% on       a decadal basis) and risks of further loss remain.  Consequently, new landscape-level       strategies are needed to meet the goals of the plan in these complex and       dynamic landscapes.

Continue reading

July 5, 2006 in Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Guest Editorial: Sandra Zellmer on Rapanos, the World Cup, and Wetlands

The World Cup of Wetlands Law:  Turtles-0, Developers-1

Sandra Zellmer

Professor and Hevelone Research Chair, University of Nebraska College  of Law

Member Scholar, Center for Progressive Reform



In one of the most anxiously awaited decisions this session, the Supreme Court struck a blow against environmental protection by ruling for a couple of commercial developers. The issue in play in Rapanos v. United States:  can federal protection be extended to small tributaries and wetlands near, but not directly abutting, navigable waters?  The lower court officials said yes, but the Supreme Court referees, in a 4-1-4 split decision, disagreed and vacated the judgments against the developers.


The lead opinion by Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Roberts, Thomas and Alito, would clear the way for development of most wetlands and streams.  According to the Court’s most conservative members, the regulation of non-perennial streams, wet meadows and arroyos under the federal Clean Water Act stretches the law’s coverage “beyond parody.”  But as the dissent by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer noted, as the wetlands and their inhabitants go, so goes the entire watershed.  The Scalia opinion, they argued, is nothing but blatant “antagonism to environmentalism.”


Justice Kennedy concurred in the Court’s judgment but not in its reasoning.  He opined that, to come within federal protection, regulators must make a scientific determination that the wetland in question has a significant hydrological “nexus” to a navigable water body. 


Justice Scalia cavalierly dismissed the dissenters’ concerns, saving his most heated rhetoric for Justice Kennedy.  In a shot that would draw a “red card” in soccer, he accused Kennedy of misreading the Court’s prior decisions, hiding behind the statutory purpose of protecting water quality rather than adhering to the statute’s plain language, and then boot-strapping his conclusion by claiming that anything that might affect waters of the United States bears a “significant nexus” to those waters and thus is those waters.


In a parting shot, Scalia disparaged Kennedy’s logic as unsubstantiated “turtles all the way down.”  The turtle metaphor refers to a fictional exchange between an astronomer and a little old lady in a lecture hall.  The astronomer described how the Earth orbits around the sun.  The lady remarked: "That’s rubbish. The world is a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." When the astronomer, humoring her, asked what the tortoise was standing on, the lady replied, “Why, it's turtles all the way down.” 

The irony of Scalia’s metaphor is palpable.  According to Conservation International, 40-60% of all turtles in the world face extinction. United States’ populations reflect this trend:  around half of our turtle species are imperiled.  Freshwater fishes are in equally bad shape.  The primary culprit:  habitat loss.  In the last 200 years, the U.S. has lost over half of its original wetlands, the equivalent of 60 acres of wetlands every hour.  California, Iowa and Ohio have fared even worse than average – 90% of their wetlands have been lost to development.

If Scalia had convinced Justice Kennedy to join in his opinion, many – in fact, most – wetlands and streams would be excluded from federal protection.  Many of the remaining wetlands are not adjacent to navigable waters, and the National Hydrology Dataset shows that nearly 60% of the total stream miles in the U.S. are non-perennial.  In arid western states like Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the figure is much higher: 80-90% of their streams flow only in wet weather. 


Will states step up to the plate?  It seems unlikely.  Although Justice Scalia expressed his concern for preserving “primary state responsibility for ordinary land-use decisions,” 33 States and the District of Columbia filed “friend of the court” briefs on behalf of the U.S., seeking to maintain broad federal jurisdiction over wetlands and tributaries.  In their view, wetlands preservation – a political “hot potato” if ever there was one – is best accomplished by the feds.


Confusion reigns.  The impasse between the most conservative justices who champion laissez-faire, pro-development interests under the guise of federalism and the moderates who believe that government can and should serve the public interest demonstrates a new level of acrimony on the Court.  The result:  an erosion of the goals of the Clean Water Act – chemical, biological and physical integrity – and, quite possibly, many other environmental laws. 


Yes, it could’ve been worse for conservation interests.  As a result of the split, Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion will likely become the law of the land.  But his opinion places the burden of proving a “significant nexus” squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, who itself is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  It isn’t unreasonable to question whether this beleaguered agency, subject to an array of contradictory statutory mandates from wetlands protection to dredging navigational channels and constructing flood control levees, is up to the task of going toe to toe with well-heeled developers in this resource-intensive, case-by-case fashion.


At least the U.S. soccer team’s tie with Italy was enough to keep it alive in the World Cup, albeit briefly.  As a result of the Court's 4-4 "tie," the turtles (and wetlands) hang in the balance while more legal skirmishes ensue.  Let’s hope that the Corps and the lower courts are vigilant referees. 



July 5, 2006 in Cases, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 3, 2006


WELCOME to Environmental Law Prof Blog.  Please feel free to use this post as an open thread to raise issues relevant to environmental law, policy, science, and ethics.                                                                           

The royalties from this blog and my other professional royalties are devoted to assuring that everyone in the world has clean safe drinking water.  This is my part helping meet the Millenium Development Goals.  Our children's children will thank you if you find a way to achieve the MDGs.  Even now, they are watching.... Eyes_hispanic_1

Find YOUR way to make the Millenium Development Goals reality.

Places to Start:

July 3, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Stratospheric Ozone -- hole expected to close by mid-century....well, 2068

Science Daily reports on further delays in closing the hole:

The Antarctic ozone hole's recovery is running late. According to a new NASA study, the full return of the protective ozone over the South Pole will take nearly 20 years longer than scientists previously expected. Scientists from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., have developed a new tool, a math-based computer model, to better predict when the ozone hole will recover....For the first time, a model combines estimates of future Antarctic chlorine and bromine levels based on current amounts as captured from NASA satellite observations, NOAA ground-level observations, NCAR airplane-based observations, with likely future emissions, the time it takes for the transport of those emissions into the Antarctic stratosphere, and assessments of future weather patterns over Antarctica.  The model accurately reproduces the ozone hole area in the Antarctic stratosphere over the past 27 years. Using the model, the researchers predict that the ozone hole will recover in 2068, not in 2050 as currently believed.  "The Antarctic ozone hole is the poster child of ozone loss in our atmosphere," said author Paul Newman, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. And lead author of the study. "Over areas that are farther from the poles like Africa or the U.S., the levels of ozone are only three to six percent below natural levels. Over Antarctica, ozone levels are 70 percent lower in the spring. This new method allows us to more accurately estimate ozone-depleting gases over Antarctica, and how they will decrease over time, reducing the ozone hole area."  International agreements like the Montreal Protocol have banned the production of most chemicals that destroy ozone. But the researchers show that the ozone hole has not started to shrink a lot as a result. The scientists predict the ozone hole will not start shrinking a lot until 2018. By that year, the ozone hole's recovery will make better time.

original 8/23/05 post: The World Meteorological Organzation reports that even though the winter ozone hole above Antarctica is larger than last year, it is still smaller than the largest hole recorded in 2003.  With ozone-depleting substances banned and concentrations of those substances leveling off, the hole is expected to grow bigger for a few more years and then gradually disappear by mid-century.

As reported in Reuters: OZONE

July 2, 2006 in Air Quality, Governance/Management, International, Law, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Multispecies HCPs jeopardize species

Science Daily reports on a study by Rahn et al published July 2006 in Bioscience

(Rahn abstract). 

The Rahn study suggests that multispecies habitat conservation plans provide inadequate

protection for those species that are covered by the plan, but receive no protective measures

because their presence has not been confirmed.  Science Daily report on HCPs

Habitat conservation plans are intended to achieve a balance between development and the long-term conservation of species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Developers seeking permits for the incidental take of listed species often include multiple species in their plans, both listed and nonlisted, because if a species not in the plan is subsequently listed under the act, the continued activities of the permittee could be jeopardized.

[The study] analyzed 22 multispecies plans approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service before 2005. On average, 41 percent of the species covered in the plans had not been confirmed as present in the planning area, a finding the authors describe as "alarming." Furthermore, most of these unconfirmed species lacked any species-specific conservation measures, which means that a multispecies habitat conservation plan could represent a danger.

Rahn and colleagues argue that "assumptions of occurrence should be justified" in multispecies conservation plans. They suggest that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been inclined to issue permits for multispecies conservation plans in the absence of data, relying instead on professional judgment. Rahn and colleagues call that a "dangerous practice" and suggest that it may help explain why species in multispecies habitat conservation plans fare poorly compared with species with dedicated plans.

Multispecies habitat conservation plans that permit the incidental "take" of threatened or endangered species often include species whose presence in the planning area has not been confirmed... The result, the article argues, is that some species that are present but unconfirmed are placed in greater danger.

July 2, 2006 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Law, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Environmental Case Law Summaries

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals

EnergyNorth Natural Gas, Inc. v. Century Indem. Co.
(06/28/06 - No. 05-2149)
Judgment as a matter of law for plaintiffs in a suit over excess liability coverage for plaintiff's potential liability for environmental contamination is affirmed where the district court did not err in refusing to allow the case to go to the jury, in excluding some evidence, and in ordering defendant to reimburse plaintiff for certain costs and fees.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Kempthorne (06/29/06 - No. 05-5663)
In an action brought by environmental groups challenging an agency's environmental assessment and decision-making in connection with a coal mining permit, summary judgment for the agency is affirmed over claims that: 1) an environmental assessment was deficient in failing to consider sufficient alternatives to a proposal; 2) the agency acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing a finding of no significant impact; and 3) the agency should have made the environmental assessment available for public comment 30 days before its final decision.

U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

The Ecology Ctr., Inc. v. US Forest Serv. (06/29/06 - No. 05-4101)
Dismissal of a complaint, challenging a project which would allow logging in a certain area and claiming that the project's Record of Decision did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act, and the APA, is reversed in part as to the National Forest Management Act claim where defendant's "exclusive application of the 1982 Rules and the failure to consider or mention the 'best available science' standard amounted to conduct that is arbitrary and capricious."

Supreme Court of California

Big Creek Lumber Co. v. County of Santa Cruz (06/29/06 - No. S123659)
County zoning ordinances relating to the permissible locations for timber operations are not preempted by state forestry statutes.

California Appellate Districts

Turlock Irrigation Dist. v. Zanker (06/26/06 - No. F047094)
Judgment partially against a town in litigation concerning the scope of its right to receive treated water for domestic use and other needs of the town is affirmed where the trial court correctly found that the districts must continue to provide water to the town, but the reasonable cost of treating the water to make it suitable for domestic use may be passed through to the consumer.

Save Our Neighborhood v. Lishman (06/28/06 - No. C049525)
In a dispute involving a city's approval of a project for the construction of a hotel, gas station, and convenience store complex, a judgment denying plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate is reversed where a city's reliance on an addendum to a mitigated negative declaration for the project violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Schneider v. California Coastal Comm'n (06/28/06 - No. B186149)
The Legislature has not recognized an ocean boater's "right to a view" of the coastline as a factor in regulating development.

July 2, 2006 in Cases, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Land Use, Law, Mining, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thompson goes even further on abrupt climate change than the NRC report confirming rapid rise in surface temperatures

Lonnie Thompson's Inaugural Article published along with Dr. Thompson's election to the National Academy of Sciences, underscores the NRC report results -- but goes quite a bit further.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Thompson, et al., Abrupt Climate Change.pdf

original post 6/22

Video on NRC report

The "hockey stick" reconstruction of surface temperature data in the 2001 IPCC report has long been controversial.  However, an NRC report published today verified that the rapid rise in temperature represented by the  "blade" of the "hockey stick" is accurate, even if we can only be confident about 400 years of the "stick" data.


The NRC panel expressed a high level of confidence that the planet is warmer than it has been for 400 years after a thorough review of scientific studies.  Average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree F during the 20th century. "The numerous indications that recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia, in combination with estimates of external climate forcing variations over the same period, supports the conclusion that human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming,” the panel wrote.

A PDF download of the report is available.  NAP Surface Temperature Report

July 2, 2006 in Climate Change, International, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Movie Reviews: Tom Brokaw's Global Warming: What You Need to Know and Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth

On July 16, 2006, 9-11 pm ET/PT, Discovery Channel, BBC News and NBC News present a two hour special on global warming hosted by Tom Brokaw.

On Friday, I previewed the Discovery Channel special and saw An Inconvenient Truth.  Below I review both from a teaching perspective.

The bottom line of both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth are the same -- global warming is threatening to massively change our planet with severe impacts on our lives and the rest of creation; we have the knowledge and technology to reduce those changes; the real question is whether we have the collective will to do what we need to do before it is too late.

Both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth seek to acquaint the audience with the fundamentals about global warming: the causes of global warming, the evidence that convinces scientists why this is not simply part of a natural cycle of warming and cooling, the magnitudes of impacts that we can expect,  the technical solutions that can slow global warming, the outrageously large contribution of the U.S. to the problem, and the loomingly enormous potential of China and India if they pursue our development path.

Neither program makes the mistake of trying to be "balanced" in presenting the "skeptics" point of view.  Brokaw notes the change in scientific opinion over the last two decades and the agreement of 99.9% of scientists that global warming is real.  Gore uses the results of the sample of scientific literature on climate -- where the score is roughly 978 to 0 -- every study assumed that global warming is occurring.

Global Warming is a powerful statement in three respects.  First, it is presented by a respected journalist rather than a respected, but partisan, politician.  Second, it has an absolutely amazing, all star cast of scientists to help narrate the story.  Third, it has some great footage of glacial rivers, rainforests, pacific islands doomed to disappear, and most of all, cute, little polar bear cubs who, along with the rest of their species, are destined to die within the next few decades as the polar ice disappears.

An Inconvenient Truth, on the other hand, has other wonderful qualities.  First, it gains traction from Al Gore's droll sense of humor (yes, really) as well as his deep, visible commitment to the issue.  Second, it has some incrediblely vivid footage interspersed between the Gore narrative of his life and the Gore global warming slideshow.  Third, it conveys the scientific information in more depth, addressing the questions that people have, and illustrating answers with extremely sharp graphics on how temperature tracks CO2, the 650,000 year natural cycles of both temperature and CO2 and how dramatically the present CO2 levels and temperature exceed historical levels, how hurricanes and other natural storms gain intensity from warming temperatures, how global warming can bring both droughts and floods, how El Nino works, how the ocean conveyor belt works, and how the North America glacier melt affected Europe's climate.  Fourth, it has some unforgettable visual models of the 2002 collapse of Larson B in Antarctica and what will happen to sea level in NY, Florida, Shanghai, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if either a significant portion of Greenland or Antarctica melts [in the only obvious scientific error of the movie, Gore mixed up the sea level change expected from Greenland melting with that of the Antarctic].

So, which one would I have my students see?  Both...they both have unique aspects that are worth a student's while.  I'd give An Inconvenient Truth an edge on content, but only if students can get past the fact that An Inconvenient Truth is a great commercial for why we should all wish that the Supreme Court had selected Al Gore, instead of George Bush as our President.

What I wish someone would do is blend both -- take Gore's slideshow, the great scenic footage from both, the Hansen discussion and other scientists from Brokaw and put them together...but, lacking that, see them both!

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July 2, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting Renewables Discussion

Energy folks might be interested in reading this four part series of articles by Michael Kane on Renewable Energy.  Kane is a peak oiler with a decidedly pessimistic view of the promise of renewables.  Part 1 discusses the problems of centralized power systems. Renewables Part 1 Part 2 focuses on the wind and importance of proximity in renewable energy. Renewables Part 2 Part 3 discusses renewable finance. Renewables Part 3 Part 4 deals with the prospect for replacing oil with solar. Renewables Part 4

[The ironies of the Bush-Cheney energy policy are too many to count, but Mike Kane's research on renewable energy has found a few big ones. For instance, domestic energy demand is growing fast. So are the energy alternatives, but unlike natural gas, coal, and oil, the sun and the wind are not always available. Dependence on renewables will require a back-up system running on the old hydrocarbons, or it will face frequent voltage drops and outages. If demand were to remain static, the old hydrocarbon capacity could serve as the backup; but because demand is surging, wind and solar are just supplements, not replacements. And since the existing hydrocarbon capacity is already in use, new renewable capacity is going to need new hydrocarbon capacity to back it up on windless, cloudy days.

This problem could be solved by a massive decentralization program to replace our national power grid with a multi-centered system that would be much more efficient and therefore less vulnerable to voltage drops (it would allow local consumers to use renewable energy for the actual replacement of hydrocarbon-driven electrical capacity, rather as a mere supplement). And here's another big ugly irony: whereas national rural electrification was achieved through a massive federally funded program comparable to Eisenhower's National Highway System, there is no government left to implement the opposite program which we desperately need for its replacement. As real wages collapse and viable jobs are lost by the millions, a grand-scale public works project would be an ideal way to slow the economic decline before it reaches the point of no return. Such a flicker of rational planning might even restore a shred of confidence in the dollar before that, too, becomes irretrievable. But that, says the devil on the screen, would be Big Government. -JAH]


The problems of centralized power systems


Michael Kane

  • Can Wind Replace Hydrocarbon Consumption?
  • Military & Intel Publicly Back Renewable Energy
  • Proximity & Money

March 18, 2005 1200 PST (FTW)Wind turbines are being built at an accelerated rate across the globe, in Europe, North America, China and other Asian nations. Hydrocarbon depletion will be felt sooner rather than later largely due to politics, and the planning elites are well aware of this.

Many wind farms are currently in operation with plenty more planned to come online within the next three years. Renewable energy is certainly important for sustainable energy systems, but no one - including the environmentalist community - seems to be scrutinizing the social facts surrounding this fairly recent boom in renewable energy projects.

Can Wind Replace Hydrocarbon Consumption?
The answer is no. Not even close.

In fact, renewable energy is not being looked upon as a means to replace or even move away from hydrocarbon consumption. Rather it is being utilized to supplement growing demand. This will ultimately result in the burning of more hydrocarbons than we currently consume.

Why is that?

Germany is further along in utilizing wind energy than any other nation. A report from E.ON Netz - Germany's second largest private energy provider - on the country's total wind capacity recently concluded 60% to 80% of Germany's energy must come from traditional sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric) to ensure there is enough supply to meet demand. Windmills don't always spin, which leads to voltage fluctuation, and that will make any centralized grid unreliable. 1

To keep a centralized grid running, a constant and ever expanding stream of hydrocarbon and nuclear energy is required no matter how many windmills come online.

Centralized grids waste energy.

Sending energy over long distances consumes energy in the process just to keep the grid functioning. This is called 'reactive power.' Additionally, the gigantic grid system that connects all of America - with one sub-national grid for the West, one for the East, and, remarkably, one for Texas - often experiences congestion and bottlenecking resulting in energy loss. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), transmission bottlenecks cost consumers more than $1 billion in the summers of 2000 and 2001 alone. 2

Let's analyze one American state leading the renewable energy wave, New York. Governor Pataki has set a goal for 25% of New York's energy to be renewable by 2013. 19% of the state's energy already comes from renewable hydroelectric power, much of which will be included in New York's RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standards). 3

There is limited additional capacity to increase energy production in that area, so wind turbines are hoped to fill the bulk of the 6% gap. They currently produce a total of 49 megawatts in all of New York, while NYC alone requires a constant stream of 5,000 to 10,000 MW of energy.

Regardless of the Governor's fairly realistic goal, as more wind turbines come online an increase in hydrocarbon consumption will be required to ensure the reliability of our inefficient centralized grid as demand grows. As wind turbines approach 30% of New York's energy supply, more hydrocarbon resources will be needed to avoid voltage fluctuation. That is why both an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) storage facility and new wind farms are currently being considered as projects for Long Island Sound. New York needs both of them to continue its massive, and increasing, over-consumption. As these projects are completed, the grid will need upgrades starting with new, expensive, transmission lines.

  • The perverse and unfortunate reality is that, provided that overall energy demand rises as it is projected to do, additional wind turbines will require the burning of more hydrocarbons and the production of more nuclear power over time to ensure the grid continues to run efficiently. Most likely, within the context of hydrocarbon depletion, this will lead to the eventual downfall of centralized power systems.

Since 1970 America's energy consumption has grown 30% in little over 30 years. Now our consumption is expected to grow a whopping 20% in only 7 years - between 2003 and 2010. 4Our grid is not equipped to handle this, and has led many individuals in the wind energy boom to say an overhaul of the grid needs to happen simultaneously with new turbines coming online.

The only solution that will be sustainable and palatable for everyone is to reduce consumption in a coordinated national program before the effects of hydrocarbon depletion worsen. There is no "renewable fix" to our energy problems without massive conservation efforts. Such a program should have begun long ago. But with Dick Cheney stating, "The American way of life is not negotiable," it is clear that over-consumption will remain America's national energy policy. As George W. Bush has plainly stated: "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption."

Meanwhile George W. has a PV solar system on his Texas ranch whose rain run-off is used to water the surrounding garden. Think about that for a minute.

It's up to individuals to learn and teach about renewable power systems that can be sustained. Renewable energy sources offer solutions in small cooperative settings, but not within a big centralized grid of over consumption. Decentralized power structures - in every facet of human life - are crucial for a sustainable, survivable future, and no one is going to do it for you. While there have been government funded grants for the study of decentralized micro-grids, there's little evidence of the political will to build them. And given the current administration's will-to-disaster, that particular snowball in hell has just about melted.

Perhaps America's "solution" will be the continued exchange of our youth's blood for the blood of mother Earth, as we are unsuccessfully attempting to do in Iraq. That game can't last. But it won't stop anytime soon, because the military-intelligence complex regard renewables as a way to cope with surging demand while avoiding conservation efforts - and peace.

continued below

© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.

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July 2, 2006 in Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Social Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)