Friday, August 10, 2012

Religion and Environmentalism -- Mitt Romney, Mormons, and the Environment

Over the last few years, I have taught a seminar on Law, Religion, and Environmentalism.  The seminar grew out of my own interest in how cultural value systems impact our collective mark on the natural world, and was spurred on by the growing involvement of churches and faith traditions in environmental advocacy.  It’s a fascinating subject to spend a semester on.

The last few times I have taught the course, we divided it into three segments: (1) an introductory section, in which we take an overview of the historical roots of environmentalism and environmental law, including parsing Lynn White’s argument that the Judeo-Christian tradition caused the environmental crisis; (2) a middle section, in which guest speakers from different faith traditions help us explore a variety of philosophies of the environment; and (3) an end section, in which we attempt to reweave the strands of the semester by asking whether and, if so, how environmentalism and environmental law should change as a result of religious activism.

I plan to teach the seminar again this year and, as with any intellectual exploration, it is certain to evolve.  My law school’s environmental program, the Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, will also focus its eighteenth annual symposium this year on religion and the environment.  In addition, I have found myself becoming increasingly active in exploring the intersection of these ideas, not just from an academic perspective but also from one of trying to put theory into action.  Last year, I accepted an appointment to the board of directors of Utah Interfaith Power & Light, our local chapter of the national Interfaith Power & Light group—one of the clear leaders in helping bring the religious and environmental communities together.  Earlier this year, I also gave a speech to the local chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Society explaining why Mormons should be some of the strongest environmental advocates of any Christian tradition.

Stemming from these interests, I plan to make a series of posts this year exploring different angles on the religion and environment topic.  With the Olympics winding down and the election season about to heat up, however, I thought it might be appropriate to begin with a brief note on something certain to be on many people’s minds this autumn: With Mitt Romney, an active Mormon, apparently the inevitable Republican challenger to President Obama, what role might the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints play in shaping how Romney sees environmental issues?  As a devout Mormon myself, I think the theological answer to this question is abundantly clear.  At multiple turns, Mormon doctrine teaches emphatically that members of the church should value God’s creation, find God in it, and protect and care for it.  Of course, how that unambiguous doctrinal directive mixes with policy decisions is certain to be more complicated, especially when Romney’s own personal views are translated through the matrix of representational politics.

Still, recognizing that this may be a topic for conversation throughout the election season, there are two resources that may be of interest at the outset.  The first is an excellent scholarly exposition of Mormon environmental theology by George Handley, a humanities professor at Brigham Young University and the current chair of the Utah Interfaith Power & Light board of directors.  The second is a recent post from the Yale Climate Media Forum on Mormon views on climate change.

-Lincoln Davies

August 10, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Takings Case Proceeds Against TransCanada

A potentially critical pre-trial hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, August 10, as one Texan seeks to halt TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to facilitate the construction of a pipeline that would transport dense crude oil diluted with liquid natural gas.

As discussed here on this blog earlier this year, Julia Trigg Crawford is challenging TransCanada’s “common carrier” status.  Texas statutory law grants “common carriers” the right and power of eminent domain.  Yet for some time, private pipeline operators seeking to exercise this authority needed to do little more than check a box to indicate their status as a “common carrier” (as opposed to checking a box marked “private line”) on a one-page registration form submitted to the Railroad Commission of Texas.   Reports suggest that the Commission has never denied one of these registration requests. 

In its 2011 decision in Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury, a case involving a carbon-dioxide pipeline, the Texas Supreme Court authorized landowner challenges to an entity’s designating itself a “common carrier,” and generally called for a more thorough process for determining the public nature of pipeline projects.  In other words, the court declared that checking the box is not sufficient in and of itself to establish condemnatory authority.  The court said that it is the applicant—not the original landowner—who bears the burden of proving a “reasonable probability” that the pipeline “will at some point after construction serve the public.”   The strength of this standard remains to be seen, as do larger questions surrounding the very applicability of the Denbury decision in the context of oil and gas pipelines.

Stay tuned to the Environmental Law Prof Blog for updates on this important takings case.

-Tim Mulvaney

August 9, 2012 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Climate Science and U.S. Politics

The last several days have brought continued reminders of the intense and deeply politicized discourse about climate change in the United States.

On August 3, leading climate scientist James Hansen published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled Climate change is here - and worse than we thought.  Referring to a study that has since published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, he stated:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

Unsurprisingly, there have been strong public reactions to the new study, with some praising it and others critiquing its approach.  Meanwhile, with the upcoming U.S. presidential election consistently in the public eye, daily stories about climate change and the presidential election abound, from ones saying it isn't a major issue in the campaign to one today talking about how Romney's climate skeptical communications aide is influencing him.  I hope that we can have a thoughtful dialogue about these issues, which engages nuance and avoids the sound-bite polarization that so often dominates today's political discourse.

Hari Osofsky


August 8, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 6, 2012

University of Montana Law Job Listing for Environmental/Natural Resources Law Position

The University of Montana School of Law invites applications for tenure-track Assistant or Associate Professor of Law position for Environmental/Natural Resources law.  The position is a ten-month contract beginning fall semester 2013.  To view full job descriptions, minimum requirements needed, and to apply, click hereADA/EOE/AA/Veterans Preference

- Blake Hudson

August 6, 2012 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

In Case You Missed It -- Week of July 29 - August 4

* A massive blackout in India left 600 million people without power

* Cass Sunstein stepped down as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and will return to Harvard Law School

* The debate in Congress over whether to extend wind production tax credits began to heat up

* The World Food Program is sending emergency aid to North Korea after torrential rains and flooding have damaged farms, worsening the nation's food crisis

* The swell of western wildfires this summer has left many areas worrying about increased flooding risks 

* A dispute is brewing over a Navajo proposal to install a tramway in the Grand Canyon

* Researchers at UCLA announced a new solar film technology

August 6, 2012 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)