June 18, 2011
In Case You Missed It - The Week of June 12-June 18
* EPA announced that it would delay the release of proposed new source performance standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources (NY Times).
* Five wind companies "filed a claim with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" this week, arguing that the Bonneville Power Administration--which owns the transmission lines that the companies use to sell their power--has violated the Federal Power Act in curtailing wind power (Portland Business Journal).
* Solar installations in the United States were up 66% in the first quarter of this year, reaching 252 MW of installed capacity in those three months (PVTECH).
* Swiss lawmakers voted this week to join Germany and phase out the nation's use of nuclear power by 2034 (AP/Yahoo! News).
* Portland city officials decided to drain an 8 million gallon reservoir after security cameras captured a man urinating into it. The move will cost the city over $40,000. Hopefully NASA will not adopt this policy, otherwise there will be a lot of thirsty astronauts.
* The FDA changed sunscreen labeling rules, prohibiting manufacturers from labeling their product as "sun block," "waterproof," or anything more than 50 SPF. The agency also has determined from animal testing that nanoparticles in sunscreens "do not penetrate the skin," according to the LA Times.
June 16, 2011
On Valuing Lives
Professor Ben Trachtenberg's article entitled "Health Inflation, Wealth Inflation, and the Discounting of Human Life" just went to print in the Oregon Law Review, and it's well worth a read. In this thought-provoking article, Professor Trachtenberg provides new arguments against discounting human lives in agencies' regulatory cost-benefit analyses. He argues that economically (not even ethically) speaking, those who calculate regulatory benefits ignore society's increasingly high willingness to pay for healthcare and the rising standard of living in developed countries. He provides two case studies to support these points, describing greenhouse gas controls and--for any techies out there--the NASA Asteroid Deflector. In a practical application of Professor Trachtenberg's points, might individuals be able to influence agencies' calculation of benefits by arguing in the notice and comment process that the benefits are too low? Under a cynical public choice model, perhaps not. But if agencies do take comments seriously, criticisms like those raised in Health Inflation might just persuade them to change their calculations--at least a bit.
This Year's Top Environmental Law Articles
Each summer, the Land Use and Environmental Law Review reprints articles chosen as the top in the field for the prior year. The articles are voted on by environmental law professors and practitioners. The volume is co-edited by Dan Tarlock and David Callies.
Word has it that this year's articles have been selected. It's a list full of fine scholarship from leading and emerging professors in the area:
- Camacho, Alejandro E. Assisted migration: redefining nature and natural resource law under climate change. 27 Yale J. on Reg. 171-255 (2010).
- Craig, Robin Kundis. “Stationarity is dead”—long live transformation: five principles for climate change adaption law. 34 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 9-73 (2010).
- Freyfogle, Eric T. Property and liberty. 34 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 75-118 (2010).
- Klass, Alexandra B. and Elizabeth J. Wilson. Climate change, carbon sequestration, and property rights. 2010 U. Ill. L. Rev. 363-428.
- Owen, Dave. Probabilities, planning failures, and environmental law. 84 Tul. L. Rev. 265-335 (2009).
- Ruhl, J.B. and James Salzman. Climate change, dead zones, and massive problems in the administrative state: a guide for whittling away. 98 Cal. L. Rev. 59-120 (2010).
- Salkin, Patricia E. Sustainability and land use planning: greening state and local land use plans and regulations to address climate change challenges and preserve resources for future generations. 34 Wm. & Mary Envtl. L. & Pol’y Rev. 121-170 (2009).
- Sax, Joseph L. 5th Annual Norman Williams Lecture in Land Use Planning and the Law, February 5, 2009. The property rights sweepstakes: has anyone held the winning ticket? 34 Vt. L. Rev. 157-172 (2009).
- Serkin, Christopher. Existing uses and the limits of land use regulations. 84 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 1222-1291 (2009).
- Wagner, Wendy, Elizabeth Fisher and Pasky Pascual. Misunderstanding models in environmental and public health regulation. 18 N.Y.U. Envtl. L.J. 293-356 (2010).
Congrats to everyone whose work was selected!
June 15, 2011
A Voice for the Wilderness
This past week former-Secretary of State Brue Babbitt made his way back into the limelight in order to criticize policy decisions made both by Congress and President Obama. In a speech delivered at the National Press Club, Secretary Babbitt did not mince words. For example, he said, “Congress, led by the House of Representatives, has declared war on our land, water and natural resources.” And, he called on President Obama to “take up the mantle of land and water conservation” and criticized him because, up to this point, he has failed to do that. While the New York Times called his defense caustic, and I suppose it was, I found his speech refreshing.
This admission comes to somewhat of a surprise to me because too often when I read the news, I find myself squeamish because of the lack of civility in the public discourse. So, my reaction to Secretary Babbitt's words has resulted in some self reflection. After some thinking, I realized that I could not cringe when our public policy has swerved so far away from the environmental sensitivities of mainstream America. With our political system so out of whack, it seemed appropriate to be sounding alarm bells.
While I am uncertain whether Secretary Babbitt intends to remain in the spotlight, his voice added something valuable to the ongoing debate. His speech may have not had the elegance of other voices who have celebrated landscapes of the West like those of John Steinbeck, Timothy Egan, Willa Cather or Wallace Stegner. His speech did have heart though and more than that, it also had the ear of the Washington establishment. Whether those in Washington were listening though, only time will tell.
-- Brigham Daniels
June 14, 2011
Top 5 Climate & Energy Law Films
Following on past posts of my top 5 environmental law films and top 5 natural resource law films, below are my top 5 climate and energy law films. Too Hot Not to Handle may not really the best film on the list, but it does a very good job of succinctly explaining the science of climate change at the beginning of the film, and I have used this in my classes several times. Crude Impact and Crude Awakening are very similar to each other, but I think the former does a slightly better job explaining peak oil. Gasland is a must-see if you're interested in fracking. Finally, I should note that I have omitted An Inconvenient Truth (2006, 100 mins). I personally have a lot of admiration for this film and Al Gore, but I find that using it in the classroom is politically polarizing.
- Lesley McAllister
Energy and Climate Law Films - Top 5
1) Too Hot Not to Handle (2006, 60 mins): on climate change (Netflix)
2) The Age of Stupid (2010, 92 mins): on climate change, a perspective from 2055 (Netflix)
3) Crude Impact (2006, 97 mins): About the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and their environmental impact (Netflix)
4) A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2007, 83 mins): About the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and their environmental impact (Netflix)
5) Gasland (2010, 104 mins.): about how hydraulic fracturing in natural gas production contaminates drinking water (Netflix)
Oil on Ice (2004): About the controversy over drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Netflix)
Everything’s Cool (2007): On climate change (Netflix)
The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream (2004) (Netflix)
June 13, 2011
Agent Smith on Humans as a Virus
In the spirit of my colleagues posting on environmental films, and following on the Evil Animals post from last week and Professor McAllister's May 24 post on consumption, I thought I would highlight one of the most profound environmental insights in cinema (sci-fi cinema at least!). The movie "The Matrix" came out in 1999. At that time, the thought of my being involved in legal academics had never even crossed my mind, and had it done so I wouldn't even have known what that meant. Yet one clip in the movie had a deep impact on how I viewed our place in the world - and provided a theoretical framework for pushing me further along the path of environmental concern. The clip involves an interrogation of Morpheus by Agent Smith....
...The day after watching "The Matrix" I went to the Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Alabama. I stood at the top of the escalators above the food court and watched the people swarm. Hundreds of people scurried across each others' paths. Shopping bags filled with plastic and metal goodies were draped across arms, backs, and strollers. Hundreds more people sat in the food court stuffing their faces with hamburgers, chicken, pizza, cotton candy, cookies, ice cream and every other American delight you can imagine (a time release camera from 1995-2000 would have demonstrated these people getting larger as well, as the number of obese people worldwide increased by 100 million during that five year period). I couldn't help but feel the pall of depression come over me as I thought "Agent Smith was right!" And worse still I am sure I had just washed down an endorphin rush to the frontal lobe from eating an over-sized burger with an endorphin rush from purchasing some copious quantity of plastic play-things.
If everyone on earth consumed as much per capita as Americans do, we would need at least 5 earths to sustain us. I say "at least" because the number of earths we would need is increasing as our consumption increases. Stating the obvious, something needs to change.
The great thing about humans though, as the robots found out at the end of the Matrix Trilogy, is that we can think and do not always perform according to expected and established protocol. We have the ability to adapt and change and learn from past mistakes and previous destructive behaviors. Though we certainly can operate like a virus, and currently are operating like one at the rate at which we are consuming the earth, we have a chance and ability to change course.
The World Wildlife Fund's Jason Clay, in his talk "How big brands can help save biodiversity," provides some interesting insights into how we can actually harness components of our consumptive culture to protect the environment. His thoughts can be seen here:
- Blake Hudson
June 12, 2011
In Case You Missed It - The Week of June 5-June 11
* EPA revealed the ingredients in 150 chemicals that industry had claimed should be trade secrets. The chemical compounds revealed were from 104 Toxic Substances Control Act health and safety studies (Chemical & Engineering News).
* Surprise! (Not.) The US is falling behind many European and Asian counties in commercial development of green technologies, due in part to lagging U.S. energy policies (NY TImes).
* Environmental groups filed suit in the 11th Circuit challenging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement determination that there would be no significant impact from new exploratory deepwater drilling by Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. off the Alabama coast (Huffington Post).