Saturday, April 20, 2013
Over the last year and a half, I contributed a series of essays about my environmental experiences while living in China as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Ocean University of China. A few readers who had missed installments suggested that I create a single post with a roadmap of links to all nine essays. That seemed like a good idea, so with apologies to regular readers for the redundancy, here it is (truly the last of the series):
New Series: Environmental Adventures in China. “This first post provides some context for my series of through-the-looking-glass observations about what it’s like to plunge into China’s modern industrial revolution as an American environmental law professor....”
China Environmental Experiences #2: Rocky Mountain Arsenal. “But as this blog speaks directly to environmental law professors, the first story is one that clutched at my heart while teaching Natural Resources Law in my first semester here….”
China Environmental Experiences #3: Breathing Air with Heft. “…It’s easy to cite the mind-boggling statistics of how bad the air quality can get here. It’s hard to describe the actual experience of it. Harder still to endure it.…”
China Environmental Experiences #4: Wifi Without Potable Water. “This month, I peek beneath one of the more surprising, seemingly contradictory stones in China’s path toward increasing prosperity and world power….”
China Environmental Experiences # 5: Milk, Pesticides, and Product Safety. “Friends joked that given how much of what we use in the United States is actually made in China, we probably didn’t have to bring anything—whatever we needed would be here! But after our arrival, we were surprised to discover how mistaken these assumptions were.…”
CEE #6: Environmental Philosophy and Human Relationships with Nature. “In these final musings from the field, I reflect on a topic that is admittedly delicate but equally important, and which has been simmering behind many of the substantive environmental issues that I’ve addressed to now: environmental philosophy…."
CEE #7: Environmental Philosophy - Conservation, Stewardship, and Scarcity. “[Previously], I opened a discussion about how diverging Chinese and American environmental perspectives may be informed by different baselines in our cultural relationships with the natural world. But other differences in underlying environmental philosophy are also important to understand—and as always, some reflect our two nations’ different stages of economic development….”
CEE #8: Environmental Protection as an Act of Cultural Change. “This essay concludes with parting thoughts about the philosophical roots of some of these differences, the Cultural Revolution and the processes of cultural change, and the significance of all this for environmental protection in China….”
CEE #9: Post Script: Returning from China to the U.S. “This essay is about the experience of coming back to the United States from China, or perhaps more generally, returning to the developed world from that which is still developing. It mixes deep gratitude for the blessings of the American bounty with queasy culpability over the implications of that bounty for international and intergenerational equity….”
April 20, 2013 in Air Quality, Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Food and Drink, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Travel, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The electric utility industry often complains that renewable energy proponents don’t pay enough attention to the intermittency of renewable resources. A common refrain is “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.” The industry then reminds us that, for a reliable electricity grid, supply and demand must be in balance at all times. The implication is that this will be impossible if we rely heavily on renewable energy.
A new report published by the Civil Society Institute models a year 2050 scenario in which renewable energy is used to generate about half of all electricity in the US, and the lights still reliably come on. In the scenario, about 22% of demand is met by solar (almost all PV), 16% by wind, 8% by hydro, and 5% by biomass. The rest is supplied primarily by natural gas and nuclear energy. The scenario includes no coal-fired generation.
The authors explain that the intermittency problem of solar and wind is greatly reduced when you consider generation on a regional rather than local scale. Also, weatherpeople are actually pretty good at forecasting available solar resources (i.e. cloud cover) and wind resources (i.e. wind speed) on the time scale that’s needed for sophisticated grid operators to balance supply and demand – namely, several hours ahead of time. It also helps that as a general matter, solar electricity is most plentiful and reliable when we most use electricity: during daylight hours. To the extent that disparities between energy supply and demand occur in the 2050 scenario, the report shows that reliability can be achieved using interregional transfers of electricity, energy storage, demand response, and other available approaches.
So it seems we can build electric power systems that bank on the reliability of the sun and the wind. A new refrain could be “the sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun!” and we can recall that our forebears didn’t name places Windy Mountain, Windy Plains, and the Windy City for nothing.
- Lesley McAllister
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Perhaps I should not admit it, but I used the picture below in my environmental law class this semester. I showed it after we had had a pretty heavy discussion on the science of climate change, with the thought that it might bring some levity to an otherwise difficult topic. While no one suggested it was inappropriate, I later found myself regretting it. A female professor might get away with it, but I think a male professor could really catch some flack!
Monday, April 15, 2013
Fifty years ago today, in Dugan v. Rank, 372 U.S. 609 (1963) the United Supreme Court did something it has not done since: it issued a decision in a takings case involving water allocation.
That statement might seem surprising. The Court has decided many takings cases in the last five decades. Those decisions have addressed wetlands (Palazzolo), floodplains (Dollan, First English), lakes (Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council), and, with particular frequency, beaches (Nollan, Lucas, Stop the Beach Renourishment). This past term, a flooding case and a wetlands case both occupied the docket. The Court, in short, has shown no lack of interest in water. And in that same period, water allocation controversies have produced a tremendous amount of litigation, some of it involving the takings clause. But not one of the resulting cases has found its way to the Supreme Court.
Is this a problem? Ten years ago, many water lawyers would have said so. In the absence of guidance from the Supreme Court, takings plaintiffs pressed some rather aggressive theories about how the takings clause should apply to regulation of water rights. Most notoriously, in Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District v. United States, 49 Fed. Cl. 313 (2001), they argued, successfully, that a regulatory restriction on water use should be analyzed as a physical taking. The case, and a host of copycat claims, created a fear, widely shared among the many people (including me) who strongly believe in government regulation of water use, that caselaw at the intersection of water rights and takings was in danger of turning seriously astray. And in the wake of the Court’s Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council decision—and with Justice O’Connor the likely deciding vote—the Supreme Court seemed like a promising forum for those seeking a change in course.
Now, however, the picture looks different. In surface water cases, the Tulare Lake case has never gained a following. Only one other decision (Casitas Municipal Water District v. United States, 543 F.3d 1276 (Fed.Cir. 2008)) has adopted a physical takings framework for a regulatory restriction, and that decision involved a rather complicated and unique fact pattern (and the plaintiffs still eventually lost). In groundwater cases, I recently discovered, courts have uniformly rejected that more categorical approach. Many questions remain about the application of takings doctrine to water use allocation, and some academic debate lingers, but most courts at least seem to be moving toward a view that the regulatory takings doctrines the Court has developed for land will serve equally well for water.
If that trend continues, there may be little need for Supreme Court intervention. So, on the fiftieth birthday of Dugan v. Rank, perhaps water lawyers can raise a toast to judicial restraint, lack of interest, fear of the complexities of water law, or whatever else it is that has kept water rights out of the Supreme Court.
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Better Block Baton Rouge event on Government Street here in Baton Rouge. As you can see from the attached images, it was a lively "demonstration project . . . exploring possibilities for transforming the corridor into a vibrant and safe destination for pedestrians and cyclists, while maintaining quality road design that optimizes traffic flow and access to businesses." I bike to work, about 7 miles each way. It takes roughly the same amount of time as driving, I do not have to pay for campus parking, and when I get home I am done with my exercise for the day. I do not ride on the main corridors here in Baton Rouge, however, because it is so very dangerous. As the Louisiana Center for Planning Excellence reports, while Baton Rouge is the worst city of its size in America for traffic congestion, Louisiana has the worst drivers in the nation and ranks 49th (second worst) for bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Louisiana is also the fifth most obese state in the nation. Thus, a city with a great need for more cycling also happens to be one of the more dangerous cities in which to cycle.
Programs like Better Block BR are crucial to raise awareness of what our streets could look like if they were re-designed to take into account a broader suite of societal values than the status quo: more walkable, cycle-able cities, aesthetic benefits, improved traffic flows, greater access to community amenities, environmental benefits, health benefits, among a variety of other positives. I applaud the mayor's office and other organizers for putting on this program and certainly will be looking for opportunities to help Baton Rogue become a more bike and pedestrian friendly city. My life and the lives of many other cyclists may depend upon it.
- Blake Hudson