Saturday, November 12, 2011
One of my Natural Resources Law and Policy students is doing an interesting research paper on how to better control the vast quantities of pharmaceuticals making their way into our water resources. She passed along the below informative image, which depicts "the relative amounts of four pharmaceutical drugs found in fish pulled from Chicago's North Shore Channel," and includes antihistamine, antihypertensive, antidepressant, and antiseizure medications. The visual really drives home the potential threats to our fisheries and human health when we allow the drugs we use to enter our water systems.
- Blake Hudson
She is too humble to mention this herself, so I will take this opportunity to note that Lesley McAllister was selected as the Stegner Center Young Scholar this year. As the Young Scholar, Professor McAllister will be visiting the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law this coming Monday and Tuesday, November 14 and 15. Here is the blurb:
Lesley McAllister will join the Stegner Center as our seventh annual young scholar. The Young Scholars Program, which is made possible by the generous support of the Cultural Vision Fund, is designed to recognize and establish a relationship with promising scholars early in their academic careers. Recipients are selected based on their accomplishments, the quality of their academic work, and their promise in the field of environmental and natural resources law and policy.
While at the University of Utah, Professor McAllister will give two talks. The first starts at noon Mountain time on November 14; it is "Regulation by Third-Party Verification." The second begins at 12:15 Mountain on November 15; it is "Co-Regulation in Mexican Environmental Law."
Both events are open to the public. If you're in Salt Lake, please join us. If you'd still like to participate but can't make it to Salt Lake, you can watch online.
Friday, November 11, 2011
My climate change and clean energy students calculated their carbon footprints this week as part of our discussion of the role of individuals in addressing climate change. While we acknowledged the limits of and differences among some of the calculators, we found them helpful for targeting the places where we could make the most difference in our individual emissions profiles. We also had a good time brainstorming ways to encourage behavior change, including through specific behavior initiatives during Earth Day or getting some broader segment of the law school to engage in this carbon footprint exercise. It was one of the more positive and empowering moments in the class so far (though it was great taking the field trip to MISO and seeing the increasing role that wind energy is playing there).
Given our experiences, I'd be interested in your comments on what you think of carbon footprint exercises and whether you use them in your own teaching or advocacy work.
The Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board has released its second, ninety-day report, which contains several important recommendations. The report is not afraid to point fingers (at least politely), suggesting that although the EPA is currently developing Class II underground injection control permitting guidance under the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracing that uses diesel fuel, this practice should simply be banned. Indeed, the Ground Water Protection Council, a group of state regulators, has historically urged that diesel fuel use in fracing should be "eliminated" even though it believes that "the threat to public health appears to be low." (In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress exempted fracturing--the process of injecting water and chemicals down oil and gas wells--from the definition of underground injection in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It didn't exempt fracing that uses diesel fuel, however.) The report also calls for a federal, interagency study of the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas, mandatory disclosure of fracturing chemicals in a move already supported by the Department of the Interior, industry-led air emissions monitoring, efforts toward immediate air emission reductions, further study of possible methane migration to water reservoirs, and the adoption of best practices for well casing, among other recommendations. In a particularly important suggestion, the report argues for background monitoring of water quality. This could enable a better understanding of baseline levels of methane and other contaminants in water and the potential for improperly-cased wells to add to this contaminant mix. The report also notes the importance of several quasi-governmental groups--the nonprofit State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) and the Ground Water Protection Council--and argues for increased funding for these groups. STRONGER is a partnership of state regulators, industry, and environmental and other public interest groups that emerged after the Environmental Protection Agency (as permitted by Congress) exempted oil and gas exploration wastes from hazardous waste regulation under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The group has developed guidelines for oil and gas development--particularly for the storage and disposal of wastes--and conducts reviews of state oil and gas regulation to see whether these regulations follow the guidelines. It then suggests how regulations could improve. The Ground Water Protection Council similarly recommends best practices in oil and gas development and has recently helped to launch FracFocus, a webpage on which some energy companies voluntarily disclose the chemicals used at their fractured wells. Nonprofit involvement won't be sufficient to address the potential effects of unconventional oil and gas development enabled by fracturing--many of which arise simply from the fact that more wells are being drilled in a big hurry--but it is an important component of improved oversight. It's good to see the Subcommittee focusing on a range of solutions, from enhanced federal attention and research to efforts to involve industry in monitoring.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
A few days ago, the New York Times’ Green Blog ran an interesting little story about bullfrogs. The American bullfrog, it seems, is a particularly virulent invasive species, and the Times reported on a recent study had predicted expansions throughout much of Latin America, with ugly consequences for native species.
If you follow environmental news at all—particularly from smaller-market newspapers that cover issues of regional interest—you see a lot of stories like this. One day it’s bullfrogs in Latin America, then Eurasian milfoil in Midwestern lakes, then Burmese pythons in the Everglades, and once a month, it seems, it’s Asian carp on the cusp of a conquest of the Great Lakes. The newspapers aren’t covering these stories just because they’re colorful, though flying fish and giant pythons probably do make good copy. Instead, invasive species really are a pervasive and costly problem. Indeed, finding an ecosystem management controversy that doesn’t involve invasive species is something of a challenge—they were part of every major water controversy I worked on in my years in practice—and multiple studies have found that they’re a leading threat to biodiversity and the cause of billions of dollars in economic costs.
But while invasive species are just about everywhere, and are causing all sorts of problems, they aren’t in our casebooks. In a quick (and thoroughly unscientific) survey of the complementary copies clogging my bookshelves, I didn’t find one that includes any significant coverage of the law of invasive species. Scarcity remains a popular topic; endangered species are everywhere in our curricula. But discussions of problems of unwanted abundance are much harder to find, and I wonder why.
A few answers leap to mind. Initially, any environmental, natural resources, or water casebook author faces a big challenge just fitting the traditional curriculum into a book, and many important subjects must get short shrift. Surely that’s a partial explanation, though I’m still curious why invasive species never seem to make the cut. Other possible reasons are the relatively small amount of federal law addressing invasive species and the apparent rarity, Asian carp aside, of invasive species litigation. But if the se are primary reasons, I wonder if the rarity of invasive species teaching becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do we have a shortage of invasive species law, not because the problem is unimportant, but at least in small part because we don’t teach the subject, and do we not teach the subject because we have a shortage of law?
So, casebook authors and fellow professors, I’m curious: did you think about including invasive species in your environmental or natural resources casebook? Have you added the subject into any of your courses? If you’ve left it out, why? And are there books or materials out there (I make no claim to have read every environmental law casebook, so apologies if you’ve written some wonderful teaching materials that I’ve missed) that do address the subject?
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Oklahoma has recently experienced a spate of earthquakes. (Those outside of the state may even have felt some of these rumblings; apparently they extended as far as Wisconsin.) People tend to expect tornadoes in Oklahoma, but not earthquakes. (On Monday the state experienced another earthquake and some tornadoes, too, just to add some excitement to the mix.) The earthquake activity has led some people to ponder the causes of this uptick in odd rumblings of the earth. One Associated Press article notes some speculation of a connection between oil and gas development and earthquakes. From my extremely limited perusings and past discussions with a geologist, and with the added reminder that I have no knowledge of geology, there seems to be a consensus that underground injection control wells for the disposal of oil and gas--those that contain salty brine from wells, for example--can cause very small, localized earthquakes if the wells are drilled in certain areas (fault zones, for example). The Oklahoma Geological Survey states: "Cases of clear anthropogenically-triggered seismicity from fluid injection are well documented with correlations between the number of earthquakes in an area and injection, specifically injection pressures, with earthquakes occurring very close to the well." This doesn't tell us, of course, whether UIC wells ever could lead to quakes of a higher magnitude felt across larger areas, such as those that we've recently experienced in Oklahoma. As with many questions, more research is needed, it appears. It seems unlikely that we'll ever really figure out earthquakes: It was interesting to learn, for example, that scientists have trouble predicting when earthquakes will occur--let alone fully understanding their causes.
Monday, November 7, 2011
The surprise October snowstorm in the northeast reminds me of a trip home to New England several years ago, when I arrived in the midst of the "worst ice storm in ten years." (The person traveling with me--from a more southern sunny state--was appalled to learn that this was only the worst in ten years, not one-hundred years.) About an hour after I arrived (and after the state had closed all of the highways leading to my destination) the electricity promptly went out and did not come back on until approximately two weeks later.
The problem comes down to trees and wires. When ice coats trees or wires, or snow falls on trees with leaves, the trees of course fall on wires or simply sag so much that they hit the wires and cause an outage. This has led to an ongoing struggle for utility companies, which often overzealously cut trees away from the wires to avoid outages and comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation reliability standards--which are now mandatory. Alternatively, the companies don't cut as many trees in response to environmental concerns or out of sheer laziness or cost concerns--or even if they do cut them, the trees manage to fall on the wires anyway. Several questions thus arise. First, why not bury the wires? The American Transmission Company claims that "[i]nstallation costs for underground transmission lines can cost up to 10 times as much as an equivalent overhead line," although this does not speak to the millions of dollars invested in overhead line repairs after storms. Scott Sklar of the The Stella Group, Ltd., also claims, however, that "buried power lines make them more suscept[i]ble to damage from floods, earthquakes mudslides and can limit how quickly they can be repaired."
If neither burying the lines nor keeping them above ground works (not to mention the enormous environmental impacts of constructing the lines), why don't we move to distributed generation, wherein we all have enough small solar panels or wind turbines to power our own homes? With the huge centralized power plants and thousands of miles of lines that we've already built, we've dug our way into an infrastructural trench that's hard to escape. Some states also still don't have net metering to pay distributed generators for the power that they feed back into the grid, and installing personal energy infrastructure is expensive. I'd argue, though, that rather than spending all of this money continuing to repair damaged transmission lines or burying them, we should invest it in distributed energy solutions. A consultant for the Department of Energy agrees, pointing out that a smarter grid, which would incorporate distributed generation, would allow neighborhoods to keep their lights on when the larger grid went down (somewhat similar to the microgrids discussed in Sara Bronin's excellent piece). Whether for reasons of a secure electric supply or a move from fossil fuels, it's time to consider distributed generation more seriously.
* North Dakota and its lignate coal industry sued Minnesota, claiming that its Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 violates the U.S. Constitution's dormant Commerce Clause due to its limits on new energy facilities and long-term power purchase agreements that would contribute carbon dioxide emissions.
* A misquote by conservative bloggers of a speech by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, which used the term "jack-booted thugs" to jokingly refer to EPA employeees (the misquote erroneously indicated that she used it to refer to Republicans), sparked controversy.
* Researchers from DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and MIT jointly launched a new online tool called the Materials Project, which operates like a “Google” of material properties, a tool intended to accelerate public-private research on material properties and assist clean energy technology development.
* Thailand's record floods moved closer to its capitol in Bankok.
* Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland reported that Chesapeake Bay is starting to recover after years of efforts to control pollution into it.
* University of Central Florida (UCF) won EPA’s 2nd Annual Energy Star National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings by decreasing energy use by 63.2 percent in a parking garage on the university's main campus.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The Southwestern Law Review will be hosting a symposium on "CERCLA and the Future of Liability-Based Environmental Regulation" this Friday, November 11.
Symposium panels and participants include:
Panel #1: CERCLA and Federalism. This panel will discuss the relationship between state and federal contaminated property and land use law, including issues relating to the evolution of state Superfund statutes and tort law, preemption, and concurrent federal, state and local regulatory authority. Speakers: Prof. Robin Kundis Craig (Florida State); Prof. Alexandra Klass (Minnesota); Prof. William Rodgers (Washington); Moderator: Prof. Ann Carlson (UCLA)
Panel #2: CERCLA, Brownfields and Distributive Equity. This panel will focus on the economic, public health and social welfare impacts of CERCLA liability and remediation process requirements on land use and redevelopment, including the economic benefits and environmental justice implications of state and federal brownfield programs. Speakers: Prof. Joel Eisen (Richmond); Prof. Eileen Gauna (New Mexico); Jay Pendergrass, Esq. (Environmental Law Institute); Nicholas Targ, Esq. (Holland & Knight); Moderator: Romel Pascual (Deputy Mayor for Environment, City of Los Angeles)
Panel #3: CERCLA – Public Enforcement. This panel will focus on the effectiveness and normative value of CERCLA’s liability-based regulatory scheme, including an evaluation of the public health and welfare efficacy of the CERCLA cleanup process under the national contingency plan, and the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Atlantic Research and Burlington Northern decisions on public enforcement and regulatory agency settlement options. Speakers: Prof. Martha Judy (Vermont); Prof. Joel Mintz (Nova Southeastern); Prof. Robert Percival (Maryland); Moderator: Professor Daniel Selmi (Loyola)
Panel #4: CERCLA – Private Enforcement. This panel will explore the impact of the Aviall, Atlantic Research and Burlington Northern decisions on CERCLA private cost recovery litigation, as well as waste disposal and litigation behavioral incentives on the regulated community created by CERCLA and the dispute resolution challenges presented by CERCLA’s liability scheme. Speakers: Prof. Steven Ferrey (Suffolk); Prof. Craig Johnston (Lewis & Clark); Prof. Alfred Light (St. Thomas); Moderator: Prof. Ronald Aronovsky (Southwestern)