Friday, December 16, 2011

"Baby's Drinkin' Coke From a Plant-made Bottle and Wearin' Tight-fittin', Air-purifyin' Jeans"

Conway TwittyConway Twitty - "Tight Fittin' Jeans"

Yes, that does sound like the title of a country song - albeit one with an environmentally conscious message. Indeed, it is an occurrence that may soon come to pass given the increased focus of big name brands on environmental protection.  I have posted previously about the problems that plastic contamination poses as a general matter, but here is a great new technological advancement that can alleviate some of those concerns: Coca-Cola and Pepsi are currently battling to be the first to bring fully recyclable, fossil-fuel-free plastic bottles to the market - bottles made entirely from plant product. Coca-Cola actually plans to replace all of its petroleum-based plastics with bio-based materials over the next decade.

I also posted previously about Puma's compostable clothing line. Designer Helen Storey has taken a similar approach, designing dresses that dissolve in water and, even more interestingly, jeans laced with titanium dioxide that allow wearers to clean the air as they go about their daily business. As NewScientist explains,

Manufacturers have long used nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in products from paint to cement to improve air quality. TiO2 is a photocatalytic compound, reacting to sunlight to turn harmful nitrogen oxide gases into harmless nitrates that can be washed away. Where TiO2 has been used on roads and buildings, NOx levels have been cut by as much as 60 per cent...To cut 3 tonnes per day - roughly the amount needed to lower NOx to optimal levels in Sheffield [UK] - you would need some 300,000 people walking around in treated jeans.

So maybe "Baby's Drinkin' Coke From a Plant-made Bottle And Wearin' Tight-fittin', Air-purifyin' Jeans" will hit the shelves of music stores soon. After all, it would not be completely without precedent. Perhaps I am taking liberty with the lyrics here, but David Allen Coe made a similar point in his classic "You Never Even Called Me By My Name,"

Well, I was installing a solar panel on my roof...the day my out of prison

And I pick her my hyyybrid

But befoooorree I could get to the station in my 40-mile-per-gallon pickuuup truck

She got runned over by a damned new high-speed-rail traaaiiiinn

- Blake Hudson

December 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Impervious Cover TMDLs

This morning, I sat in on a public meeting where representatives from EPA Region 1 and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection answered questions about Maine DEP’s statewide impervious cover TMDL.  “Statewide impervious cover TMDL” may sound like a mouthful, even by environmental law standards, but when you unpack the terms and look at what DEP and EPA are trying to do, it’s pretty intriguing.

For decades now (as wonderfully chronicled here), TMDLs have been the neglected step-child of the Clean Water Act.  Getting TMDLs drafted, let alone turning them into a meaningful set of pollution controls, has been a challenge.  The difficulties have been particularly acute for streams impaired by urban stormwater runoff, which, unfortunately, means just about every stream in urban or suburban America.  Those streams generally are impaired by wide variety of stressors, only some of which would meet the Clean Water Act’s definition of “pollutant,” which makes them poor candidates for the pollutant-by-pollutant mass budgeting that Clean Water Act section 303 seems to require.

To address those problems, Maine (with the blessing of EPA Region 1) is trying something different.  Its first innovation (also pursued in Connecticut and, in slightly different form, in Vermont) was to prepare TMDLs for impervious cover (meaning roads, roofs, parking lots, and other surfaces that prevent rainwater from infiltrating into the ground) rather than for individual pollutants.  Scientifically, that makes good sense.  Impervious cover either causes or at least correlates with most of the stressors that degrade urban streams, and one of the best ways to protect urban watersheds is to limit the construction of new impervious cover and to treat stormwater running off existing impervious surfaces.  Maine’s second innovation was to try preparing an impervious cover TMDL for twenty-nine streams at once (in a more urbanized state, that number could be much higher).  Again, this makes sense; similar dynamics affect urban watersheds across the state, and there are obvious efficiencies in treating similar problems in a single document.

But, as today’s meeting revealed, there are also challenges.  A statewide impervious cover TMDL may address some of the standard problems with creating TMDLs, but it doesn’t resolve all the problems with protecting urban watersheds.  We still tend to develop our communities in ways inimical to protecting water quality.  And by the time we realize we our waterways are impaired, and we begin preparing TMDLs, the potential fixes aren’t at all cheap.  A better approach to writing TMDLs doesn’t make those problems go away.  It may help people understand them, but it also places them in a spotlight.  That can make municipal governments, which expect that they will eventually bear primary responsibility for addressing the problem, a little uncomfortable, and the discomfort was readily apparent at today’s meeting.  The great future challenge for urban water quality, then, is to find ways to help local governments address those challenges, or, better yet, to find effective regulatory approaches that help us develop in ways that stop water quality impairment before it starts.

-Dave Owen

December 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

World's Tallest Buildings - Now and In the Future


Did you know there was a "Council on Tall Buildings"? I didn't. The Council has coined a new designation known as "megatall" buildings, some of which can be seen in the above image. Kingdom Tower (seen in the image below left), to be completed in 2018, will be over 1 kilometer tall, nearly twice as tall as the new One World Trade Center! More information on the info-graphic can be found at SmartPlanet. I posted previously about Skyscraper Forests (see image below right). Now, if we only had a few forests rising 1 kilometer into the sky that could be a useful way to sequester carbon and assist in the battle against climate change.

Kingdom_tower_jeddah_render Vertical Forest

- Blake Hudson

December 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Six U.S. States Withdraw from the Western Climate Initiative

This is last month’s news, but I didn’t discover it until a few days ago when I was updating my draft casebook on Climate Change Law & Policy (Aspen, forthcoming 2012, with Hari Osofsky): all the U.S. states except for California withdrew from the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) in November. Having lost Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington, the WCI now consists of California and four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec).

What happened? In 2010, Arizona and Utah both announced that they would remain WCI partners but not participate in the WCI cap-and-trade program. In both states, the governor who had agreed to the pact was no longer in office, and the new governor decided that the program was not in the state’s interest (see, e.g., State of Arizona Executive Order 2010-06). By late 2010, the only U.S. states that had passed enabling legislation for the regional cap-and-trade program were California and New Mexico. Then, New Mexico elected a new governor who didn’t support the pact, and she removed all members of the board working on the regulations four days after taking office on January 1, 2011. In the end, the announcement last month that California would be the only remaining WCI partner in the U.S. was not particularly surprising.

Why did it happen? One part of the answer is “the Great Recession.” Another part comes from acknowledging the instability inherent in sub-national regional agreements like the WCI. Finally, it is instructive to consider the reasons that climate-related regional agreements emerged in the first place. In my article, Regional Climate Regulation: From State Competition to State Collaboration, 1 SAN DIEGO J. CLIMATE & ENERGY L. 81 (2009), I gave three explanations for the high degree of state collaboration in climate change policy:

1) Policy diffusion: that states were creating forums for sharing and developing climate policy information;

2) Cap-and-trade efficiencies: states wanted to use a cap-and-trade approach but needed larger markets to increase efficiency and reduce leakage; and

3) The existence of a regional race to national influence: regions were essentially competing to become the model for federal legislation.

It follows that states presently have less interest in sharing information about climate policy, less interest in a cap-and-trade program, and/or less confidence that there will be federal legislation in the near future. For various (generally depressing) reasons, all three seem to be true.

- Lesley McAllister

December 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Case You Missed It - The Week of December 4-December 10

* Canada withdraws from the Kyoto Protocol. Coal Mine

* Vermont Law School releases its Top 10 Environmental Watch List for 2012.

* Iraqi veterans are finding jobs in green industries.

* An LSU mathematician helps develop marine robotic methods for studying the Gulf oil spill.

* "Climate Strategists: To Cut Emissions, Focus On Forests."

* There were at least 2,941 monthly weather records broken by extreme weather events in 2011 in the US.

* University of Georgia researchers have developed a "super-yeast" that more effectively converts pine trees into ethanol.

* Australia and New Zealand could link their respective carbon trading schemes in 2015.

* Israel desalination plant could make the country a net exporter of water.

December 12, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)


Reporting to the Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program, the Policy Director will lead the policy component of the HLS Environmental Law and Policy Program and work closely with environmental law faculty, who will determine the Program’s priorities. The Relationship between the Policy Component of the HLS Program and the existing Clinical Component will be synergistic.   

The Policy Director will:  1) Coordinate with HLS’s Emmett Law and Policy Clinic to build out clinic projects into longer term, broader research efforts aimed at producing a range of deliverables, including white papers for legislators and regulators; guides and model codes for state and local actors and journal articles and books for academic audiences and think tanks; 2) Initiate research and policy projects that, in turn, may be pursued in the Clinic; 3) Work closely with environmental law faculty in developing constructive approaches to pressing environmental issues and overcoming hurdles to effective lawmaking; and 4) Be responsible for convening programs that bring law and policymakers to Harvard for meaningful dialogue, and also for reaching out to law and policy makers to promote the research of HLS environmental faculty and students via written submissions, oral testimony, or policy papers.    

Topics to be addressed by the Policy Director will include a variety of energy/environment issues including climate change mitigation and adaptation, water resource management, environmental impacts of energy technologies (including fracking and carbon capture and sequestration), renewable energy, and energy efficiency. In certain years, some topics may achieve more attention than others, and topics of focus may expand or contract over time depending on the HLS Program’s priorities, and relevant legal and political developments. The scope of the projects (local, state, national, international) will vary, as will the intended audience for the research or policy deliverables.      

Note: this is a two year term appointment, with possibility for renewal based on funding and business need. This position is not tenure-track, and does not include teaching responsibilities. This is a professional, exempt position.  Regular work schedule is anticipated to exceed 35 hours in a work week, sometimes exceeding 50 hours including some nights and weekends    

Credentials: JD, and 8-10 years minimum experience preferably in a variety of roles in public and private sector e.g., several years at an NGO, on the Hill, US DOJ ENRD, EPA, DOI, at a think tank and/or private practice.   Bar membership required.     
A combination of experience and training in different arenas will be preferred to experience in just one. The Policy Director must be nimble and able to work well with multiple constituencies both across the university and in the public and private sectors.     Outstanding legal analytic, research and writing ability; experience convening public-private events such as workshops and conferences; ability to effectively translate and deploy student work product in public policy and legal arenas; excellent communication skills; track record as a team player.  

Hari Osofsky

December 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Big Picture after the Durban Climate Change Negotiations

The Durban Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is finally over two days after talks were scheduled to conclude.  These extra two days were very productive, resulting in some good news on the big picture of treaty negotiations that needs to be contextualized in the big picture bad news for addressing emissions in the timeframe scientists say are needed.

The Good News (as reported by UNFCCC):

Parties made significant progress on the one track (everyone reduces emissions) v. two track (major developed country emitters reduce emissions) debate critical to a long-term functional agreement.  COP17 resulted in an agreement to reach a universal agreement by 2015 and established an "Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action" to begin working on this agreement immediately.  In addition, 35 governments--but unfortunately not the United States, Canada, Japan, or Russia--committed to a new Kyoto Protocol commitment period with binding commitments, which will begin in January 2013.

Beyond these big picture developments, COP17 represented progress on a number of the Cancun commitments to helping developing countries with funding through the Green Climate Fund; adaptation assistance through the Adaptation Committee; obtaining and implementing technology through the Technology Mechanism; and a registry to help developing countries get support for their mitigation actions.  In addition, it established a forum and work program to address unintended consequences of climate change actions and policies, created procedures to allow carbon capture and storage projects under the Clean Development Mechanism

The Bad News:

None of these developments put humanity on track for reducing emissions adequately in the next few years, a period that consensus climate change science says is critical to reducing the risks.  Scientists from "The Climate Action Tracker" stated, that despite these legal breakthroughs, "the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly....The Climate Action Tracker estimates that global mean warming would reach about 3.5°C by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to 2°C."

The Bottom Line:

These negotiations reinforce the complexities of using law to address a "super wicked" problem like climate change at the interface of law and science.  Although the progress at Durban should be commended as a step forward in the international community addressing this serious problem, the timeframe for legal action isn't matching the timeframe for needed action.  And unfortunately the time lag between emissions and impacts means that it's very hard to galvanize political will on the timframe needed.  Humanity needs these efforts at treatymaking because they are creating emissions reductions that would not have happened otherwise, but we also need to focus on the many other initiatives at multiple levels of government to try to get us closer to what scientists say is needed.

Hari Osofsky

Cross-posted at Intlawgrrls and SaltLaw Blog.

December 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)