Wednesday, September 9, 2009

GAO Report on Wildfire Management

GAO on September 9th published a report "Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action is Needed to Capitalize on Those Steps." GAO-09-877 . A summary, the GAO Highlights, is contained in this link. 


September 9, 2009 in Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sustainable Fisheries Law

I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring.  Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area.  A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law

As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.

This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.

The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law

September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

World Council of Churches Statement on Eco-Justice and Ecological Debt

Many of us attempt to bring ethical perspectives to bear on issues raised by our classes in addition to ecological and economic perspectives.  Although it may be a bit late for those of you who have already started class, here is the most recent statement by the World Council of Churches on eco-justice and ecological debt.  In a related, but fascinating, note, the WCC as part of its current  programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line -- in addition to the more typical poverty line.  This would provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much.  Check it out!!!


WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt

02.09.09

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee adopted a "Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt" on Wednesday, 2 Sept. The statement proposes that Christians have a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. The statement addresses ecological debt and includes hard economic calculations as well as biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.

 The statement identifies the current unprecedented ecological crises as being created by humans, caused especially by the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called "natural resources". Churches are being called upon to oppose with their prophetic voices such labeling of the holy creation as mere "natural resources".

 The statement points out that it is a debt owed primarily by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.

In its call for action the statement urges WCC member churches to intervene with their governments to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt a fair and binding deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, in order to bring the CO2 levels down to less than 350 parts per million (ppm).

 Additionally the statement calls upon the international community to ensure the transfer of financial resources to countries of the south to refrain from oil drilling in fragile environments. Further on, the statement demands the cancellation of the illegitimate financial debts of the southern countries, especially for the poorest nations as part of social and ecological compensation.

In a 31 August hearing on "ecological debt" during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Dr Maria Sumire Conde from the Quechua community of Peru shared some ways that the global South has been victimized by greed und unfair use of its resources. In the case of Peru, Sumire said mining has had particularly devastating effects, such as relocation, illness, polluted water,and decreasing biodiversity.

 The concept of ecological debt has been shaped to measure the real cost that policies of expansion and globalization have had on developing nations, a debt that some say industrialized nations should repay. Dr Joan Martinez Alier, a professor at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, said climate change, unequal trade, "bio-piracy", exports of toxic waste and other factors have added to the imbalance, which he called "a kind of war against people around the world, a kind of aggression."

 Martinez went on saying: "I know these are strong words, but this is true." He beseeched those present, at the very least not to increase the existing ecological debt any further.

 The WCC president from Latin America, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, said ecological debt was a spiritual issue, not just a moral one. "The Bible is an ecological treatise" from beginning to end, Ortega said. She described care for creation as an "axis" that runs through the word of God. "Our pastoral work in our churches must be radically ecological," she said.

 Full text of the statement

 More on the 31 August hearing on ecological debt

 WCC countdown to climate justice

WCC programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology

More information on the 26 August - 2 September 2009 Central Committee meeting

 

September 3, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Religion, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good news: world fisheries could avoid collapse by using new management tools in both developed and developing countries

Planet Ark reported that Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and colleagues are publishing a paper in Science that suggests world fisheries may avoid a total global collapse by using proven management tools in both the developed countries and the developing countries.  This is notable because Dr. Worm had predicted total global collapse of fish and seafood populations by 2048.  But, the effort will require rebuilding 63 percent of fish stocks worldwide and applying proven management tools not only to the ecosystems primarily affected by developed countries, but also those primarily affected by developing countries.   These management tools include: restrictions on gear like nets so that smaller, younger fish can escape; limits on the total allowable catch; closing some areas to fishing; certifying fisheries as sustainable; offering shares of the total allowable catch to each person who fishes in a specified area. Researchers indicated that fishing limits must be set well below the maximum sustainable yield, which is the highest number of fish that can be caught in an area without hurting the species' ability to reproduce. Maximum sustainable yield should be an absolute upper limit, rather than a target that is frequently exceeded.

Worm's optimism was provisional, because the current research only looked at about one-quarter of the world's marine ecosystems, mostly in the developed world where data is plentiful and management can be more readily monitored and enforced. Of the 10 major ecosystems studied, scientists found five marine areas had cut the average percentage of fish they take, relative to estimates of the total number of fish. Two other ecosystems were never overexploited, leaving three areas overexploited. The fisheries in the study were the Iceland Shelf, Northeast U.S. Shelf, North Sea, Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf, Celtic-Biscay Shelf, Baltic Sea, Southern Australia Shelf, Eastern Bering Sea, California Current, and New Zealand Shelf. 

Strict fisheries management in the developing world has put increasing pressure on fisheries controlled by developing countries, particularly African countries that struggle to provide food for their populations.  To deploy effective fisheries management globally will require addressing the management capacity and governance problems of developing countries and reducing the poverty that makes effective management and governance so difficult.

July 30, 2009 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How this virus developed and why it may be a killer

The Mexican swine flu virus is a swine influenza A/H1N1 virus hybridized (mixed) with human and bird viruses.  We have some immunity to human flu and to some strains of swine influenza A/H1N1;  We don't have immunity to bird flu, which is why that virus is so virulent - with a kill ratio of almost 50% -- and why so much pandemic planning and preparedness focused on bird flu.

New Scientist reports:

This type of virus emerged in the US in 1998 and has since become endemic on hog farms across North America. Equipped with a suite of pig, bird and human genes, it was also evolving rapidly.  Flu infects many animals, including waterfowl, pigs and humans. Birds and people rarely catch flu viruses adapted to another host, but they can pass flu to pigs, which also have their own strains.If a pig catches two kinds of flu at once it can act as a mixing vessel, and hybrids can emerge with genes from both viruses. This is what happened in the US in 1998. Until then, American pigs had regular winter flu, much like people, caused by a mutated virus from the great human pandemic of 1918, which killed pigs as well as at least 50 million people worldwide. This virus was a member of the H1N1 family - with H and N being the virus's surface proteins haemagglutinin and neuraminidase.  Over decades, H1N1 evolved in pigs into a mild, purely swine flu, and became genetically fairly stable. In 1976, there was an outbreak of swine H1N1 in people at a military camp [Fort Dix] in New Jersey, with one death. The virus did not spread efficiently, though, and soon fizzled out.

But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.

By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus. All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.

But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes. This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.

The virus's rapid evolution created the potential for a pandemic to emerge in North America.  Our immune response to flu, which makes the difference between mild and potentially lethal disease, is mainly to the H surface protein. The Mexican virus carries the swine version, so the antibodies we carry to human H1N1 viruses will not recognise it. That's why the CDC warned last year that swine H1N1 would "represent a pandemic threat" if it started circulating in humans. The avian polymerase genes are especially worrying, as similar genes are what make H5N1 bird flu lethal in mammals and what made the 1918 human pandemic virus so lethal in people. "We can't yet tell what impact they will have on pathogenicity in humans," says Webby. It appears the threat has now resulted in the Mexican flu. "The triple reassortant in pigs seems to be the precursor," Robert Webster, also at St Jude's, told New Scientist.

While researchers focused on livestock problems could see the threat developing, it is not one that medical researchers focused on human flu viruses seemed to have been aware of. "It was confusing when we looked up the gene sequences in the database," says Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London, who has been studying swine flu from the recent US cases. "The polymerase gene sequences are bird and human, yet they were reported in viruses from pigs."

So where did the Mexican virus originate? The Veratect Corporation based in Kirkland, Washington, monitors world press and government reports to provide early disease warnings for clients, including the CDC. Their first inkling of the disease was a 2 April report of a surge in respiratory disease in a town called La Gloria, east of Mexico City, which resulted in the deaths of three young children. Only on 16 April - after Easter week, when millions of Mexicans travel to visit relatives - reports surfaced elsewhere in the country.

Local reports in La Gloria blamed pig farms in nearby Perote owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US hog giant Smithfield Foods. The farms produce nearly a million pigs a year. Smithfield Foods, in a statement, insists there are "no clinical signs or symptoms" of swine flu in its pigs or workers in Mexico. That is unsurprising, as the company says it "routinely administers influenza virus vaccination to swine herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza." The company would not tell New Scientist any more about recent tests. USDA researchers say that while vaccination keeps pigs from getting sick, it does not block infection or shedding of the virus.

All the evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen. But it got little research attention, perhaps because it caused mild infections in people which didn't spread. Now one swine flu virus has stopped being so well-behaved.

This leads us to the policy question: why should humans keep pigs?  Like other meat, pigs consume an extraordinary amount of resources to provide nutrition.  Maybe the ancient Israelites had an insight that we have lacked -- there may be more wisdom in the Torah and its laws than we knew.  Perhaps it is time, or past time, for our eating habits to evolve lest an even more virulent strain of swine flu develop.  Assuming that this pandemic passes without too many deaths, we may need to rethink whether it is good to keep large quantities of pigs.  For now, the virulent bird flu does not seem easily communicable.  Let's keep it that way. 

April 29, 2009 in Agriculture, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, North America, Religion, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bush Administration Midnight ESA Consultation Rule Revoked

  FWS Press Release:

Salazar and Locke Restore Scientific Consultations under the Endangered
             Species Act to Protect Species and their Habitats

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the two departments are revoking an eleventh-hour Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the two agencies that administer the ESA – before taking any action that
may affect threatened or endangered species.

“By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law,” Salazar said. “Because science must serve as the foundation for decisions we make, federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened and endangered species will once again have to consult with biologists at the two departments.”

“For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected threatened species and their habitats,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “Our decision affirms the Administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment.”

April 28, 2009 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Findlaw environmental case summaries - March 30 - April 3

Table of Contents

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc.
• New Jersey Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. US Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n
• Columbia Venture LLC v. S.C. Wildlife Fed.
• Center for Biological Diversity v. Marina Pt. Dev. Co.

FindLaw's case summaries are copyrighted material and are not intended for republication without prior approval. You may, however, freely redistribute this e-mail in its entirety.
To view the full-text of cases you must sign in to FindLaw.com. [Findlaw registration is free]

U.S. Supreme Court, April 01, 2009
Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc., No. 07-588
In a petition for review of EPA national performance standards for cooling water intake structures, the grant of the petition is reversed, where the EPA permissibly relied on cost-benefit analysis in setting the national performance standards and in providing for cost-benefit variances from those standards. Read more...

U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, March 31, 2009
New Jersey Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. US Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, No. 07-2271
Petition for review of an Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision denying NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection request to intervene in relicensing proceedings for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is denied where in reviewing the application to relicense the nuclear power facility, the Commission is not required to make an environmental impact analysis of a hypothetical terrorist attack on the facility as the relicensing of Oyster Creek does not have a reasonably close causal relationship with the environmental effects that would be caused by a terrorist attack. The NRC also already addressed the environmental impact of such an attack in its Generic Environmental Impact Statement and site-specific Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Read more...

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 03, 2009
Columbia Venture LLC v. S.C. Wildlife Fed., No. 05-2398
In a challenge to a FEMA decision regarding certain base flood elevation determinations, the District Court's order vacating those determinations is reversed, where Plaintiffs failed to show that they were prejudiced by FEMA's failure to timely publish notice of the decision in the Federal Register. Read more.

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 30, 2009
Center for Biological Diversity v. Marina Pt. Dev. Co., No. 06-56193
In an action under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA), judgment for Plaintiffs is reversed, where: 1) Plaintiffs did not give sufficiently specific notice of intent to sue under the CWA; and 2) the ESA action was moot because the species at issue had been delisted during the pendency of the appeal. Award of attorney's fees to Plaintiffs is affirmed, where the mootness of the ESA action did not affect the fee award. Read more...

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April 28, 2009 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Cases, Governance/Management, Sustainability, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Call for Entries - 4th International Water Film Festival

If you're traveling this summer, you might want to film something about water and submit your masterpiece to the 4th International Water Film Festival.  Entries are due July 31st.  For more info, visit  Drink Water for Life blog - water film festival.


April 17, 2009 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Film, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 13, 2009

E.O. Wilson seeks to create networked encyclopedia of life

E.O. Wilson's TED talk pleads for a networked encyclopedia of life, because of the dimensions of the unknown regarding life on earth. E.O. Wilson is, of course, the sage advocate for biodiversity protection and the most famous voice associated with conservation ecology -- although Jane Lubchenko may have surpassed him with her rise to power.  Here's his bio.  EO Wilson bio.  Here's his talk:

April 13, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Refuge regulations limiting commercial fishing operations are not a taking

Palmyra Pacific Seafoods, L.L.C. v. U.S., No. 08-5058 (Fed. Cir. April 09, 2009) PDF

Yesterday, the Federal Circuit decided a takings case where the U.S. created a wildlife refuge around an island on which the plaintiff had acquired contractual rights to operate a base and pier for its commercial fishing operation. The refuge regulations prohibited commercial fishing within the refuge and allowed limited sports fishing to facilitate operation of a camp owned by the Nature Conservancy.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the
Court of Federal Claims' dismissal for failure to state a claim.  The Federal Circuit reasoned that the government's regulation of activities in the waters surrounding Palmyra may have adversely affected the value of plaintiff's contract rights, but did not take the contract rights themselves.  The plaintiff is left with an ability to fish beyond the 12 mile limit of the refuge.  Even if the government regulation targeted plaintiff's contract rights in order to promote the interests of another party, creation of the refuge and its regulations  still did not constitute a compensable taking as those actions regulated conduct in which plaintiff had no protected property interest.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity, Cases, Constitutional Law, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spotted Owl Taking a Dive

The Justice Department has signaled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revisit the northern spotted owl recovery plan and the reduced critical habitat designation issued last year at the end of the Bush administration. The Bush administration's plan opened 23 percent of 1.6 million acres designated as critical habitat in Oregon to increased logging.

The recovery plan may be too little, too late.  Even as the Fish and Wildlife Service revisits last year's controversial plan, there is scientific concern about whether the owls can recover in light of continued loss of habitat from logging, a shrinking gene pool in some areas, increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires due to climate change, and competition from barred owls invading spotted owl habitat. 

Northern Spotted Owl
  U.S. Geological Survey.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oil Spill along Australia's Sunshine Coast

Reuter's reported tomorrow -- the joys of the international dateline -- that Queensland premier Anna Bligh declared Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast to be disaster zones after an oil spill from a cargo ship spread over 60 kilometers of beach.  The cargo ship carries 100 tons of oil and the spill from the ship is far larger than initial reports indicated.  The cargo ship's hull was pierced by a container swept overboard in heavy seas caused by a cyclone near the area.  The clean-up of the spill will be difficult due to the heavy seas and high tides from the cyclone and the spill is being carried into rivers in the area.  The Queensland EPA reports that the spill has already affected seabirds and turtles.

By the standards of major oil spills, the Australian spill is unremarkable.  The Exxon Valdez spill involved nearly 11 million gallons or 5500 tons of crude oil.  But, like the Exxon Valdez, this spill occurred in an ecologically sensitive area and an area dependent in part on a large tourist industry.  When we weigh the small probabilities of large spills associated with various activities, such as offshore oil drilling, with the possible benefits of that activity, we need to carefully examine how close any spill might be to ecologically sensitive areas and areas dependent on tourism.  The lesson of the Exxon Valdez is that even the most expensive cleanups cannot fully recover many of the living resources that are destroyed by oil spills close to shore.

For those of you who were not alive or may have forgotten, the Exxon Valdez spill was one of the most destructive oil spills in history.  Here's an account of that spill that I recently wrote:

EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Corporation, went aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  The oil tanker had just departed the Valdez terminal with over 53 million gallons of crude oil, transported from Prudhoe Bay Oilfields through the Alaskan pipeline bound for Exxon’s West Coast refineries.  The vessel spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, and the oil eventually covered 11,000 square miles of ocean and 1300 miles of shoreline.  The oil spill immediately killed between 250,000 to 500,000 seabirds, more than 1,000 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 orca whales, and billions of herring and salmon eggs. 

Today, twenty years after the spill, 26,000 gallons of oil remain contaminating roughly six kilometers of shoreline.  Of the thirty-one natural resources identified by the Natural Resources Trustee as affected by the spill, ten have recovered during the last 20 years, fourteen are still recovering, two have made no progress toward recovery (herring and pigeon guillemot), and five lack sufficient data to determine the extent of recovery. 

The Exxon Valdez oil spill is still considered the most environmentally damaging oil spill to date, even though it is no longer in the top 50 oil spills in terms of the size of the spill.  As the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has indicated, “[t]he timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills.”

The Accident

After a harbor pilot successfully navigated the Exxon Valdez through the Valdez Narrows, he returned control of the ship to Captain Joseph Hazelwood.  To avoid icebergs in the outbound shipping lane, Hazelwood maneuvered the ship into the inbound shipping lane.  Hazelwood then put the ship on autopilot and left a third mate in charge of the wheelhouse and an able seaman at the helm.  The crew failed to reenter the outbound shipping lane.  While Hazelwood was relaxing in his stateroom, the Exxon Valdez went aground on Bligh Reef, rupturing eight of her eleven cargo holds. 

Hazelwood, who Exxon knew was an alcohol abuser who had not completed treatment and had stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, had drunk five double shots of vodka, amounting to 15 ounces of 80 proof alcohol, shortly before leaving Valdez.  In addition, neither of the crewmen Hazelwood placed in charge of the tanker had their mandatory rest period before beginning duty.  The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the accident identified five factors that contributed to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez: the third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue and an excessive workload; the captain failed to provide navigation watch, possibly due to impairment from alcohol; Exxon failed to supervise the captain and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the vessel; the U.S. Coast Guard failed to provide an effective vessel traffic system; and lack of effective pilot and escort services from the Valdez terminal through Prince William Sound.

Litigation

Five separate sets of lawsuits arose out of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. 

First, Exxon Shipping pled guilty to negligent discharge of pollutants under Clean Water Act (CWA) section 309 as well as criminal violations of the Refuse Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  Exxon pled guilty to criminal violations of the MBTA. Exxon was fined $150 million, the largest fine ever imposed for an environmental crime. The court forgave $125 million of that fine in recognition of Exxon’s cooperation in cleaning up the spill and paying certain private claims. Of the remaining $25 million, $12 million went to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and $13 million went to the national Victims of Crime Fund.   As criminal restitution for the injuries caused to the fish, wildlife, and lands of the spill region, Exxon agreed to pay $100 million, evenly divided between the federal and state governments.

Second, the federal and state governments sue Exxon Shipping and Exxon under CWA section 311 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act section 107, to recover damages to natural resources for which the governments are trustees.  In settlement of those civil claims, Exxon agreed to pay $900 million with annual payments stretched over a 10-year period. The settlement also contained a $100 million reopener for funds to restore resources that suffered a substantial loss or decline as a result of the oil spill, the injuries to which could not have been known or anticipated by the trustees at the time of the settlement.  The United States demanded the full $100 million under the reopener provision in 2006.

Third, within two or three years of the accident, Exxon settled the claims of various fishermen and property owners for $ 303 million. 

Fourth, a class action involving tort claims against Exxon, Hazelwood, and others by commercial fishermen, Native Americans, and property owners resulted in a $ 5 billion jury verdict against Exxon.  That jury verdict was reduced by the 9th Circuit to $ 2.5 billion and the U.S. Supreme Court in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker vacated the 9th Circuit award, limiting punitive damages against Exxon to $ 507.5 million, the same amount of compensatory damages, in addition to the compensatory damages due to plaintiffs. 

Finally, Captain Hazelwood was prosecuted by the State of Alaska for operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and negligent discharge of oil.  Despite evidence that Hazelwood had consumed numerous alcoholic beverages before departing Valdez and still had alcohol in his blood many hours after the accident, an Alaskan jury found him not guilty of the operating under the influence charge. The jury did find him guilty of negligent discharge of oil.  Hazelwood was fined $50,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service in Alaska. 

Resulting Legislation

Frequently environmental legislation is the result of a dramatic event or environmental accident.  In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress reacted by enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which created a fund to finance oil spill cleanup when parties do not voluntarily clean up oil spills for which they are responsible, set up a broad liability scheme to provide a federal cause of action for cleanup and other damages arising out of oil spills, set standards for oil tankers and oil storage facilities to avoid future spills and improve spill response, and sought to improve emergency responses to oil spills through regional contingency planning. 

For more information about the environmental impacts of the spill and the clean-up that was undertaken under the auspices of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, visit the Council's website.   http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/



 

March 15, 2009 in Australia, Biodiversity, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Columbia Basin Bulletin e-book on Columbia River salmon lititation

I'm not a big fan of paying for PDFs, but here's a resource that students of the Columbia River salmon litigation should be aware of. CBB link If you're not familiar with CBB, go take a look.  You can sign up for their free weekly newsletter and you can subscribe to their archives.

Salmon and Hydro

An Account of Litigation over Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinions for Salmon and Steelhead, 1991-2009

First Edition, February 2009

A NOAA Fisheries "biological opinion" is the federal government's primary guide for recovering13 species of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act . A "BiOp" must insure that these ESA-listed fish survive and thrive in the Columbia/Snake River Basin hydropower system . Yet, since the first salmon ESA-listings in 1991, these biological opinions have been the subject of continual litigation. It is in federal court where one sees most clearly the divisions and difficulties of Columbia Basin salmon recovery. This issue summary offers a historical account of this continual litigation since the first ESA listings and summarizes the major issues that have dominated Columbia Basin Salmon recovery since 1991.

Salmon and Hydro: An Account of Litigation over Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinions for Salmon and Steelhead, 1991-2009, a 77-page document in an easy-to-read Adobe PDF format, is available for digital download through our secure payment system. Price: $19.95

 


Salmon and Hydro book
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

For Excerpts Click These Links:

INTRODUCTION

 

I. 1991-1995: Three ESA Listings, Four Biological Opinions, Five Court Challenges

II. 1995-1998: Reasonable And Prudent Alternatives, Spread The Risk, Long-Term Configuration, Adaptive Management; River Governance; Regional Parties Stake Their Positions; A BiOp Finally Passes Legal Muster

 

III. 1998-1999: More ESA Listings; A Supplemental Steelhead BiOp Guiding River Operations; Independent Science Advisory Board Weighs In On Smolt Transportation; Appeals Court Upholds 1995 BiOp; Supplemental BiOps On New Listings, Snake Water

IV. 1999-2004: Not Just Hydro, But All The ‘Hs’; Recovery In 48 years?; Mitigation Must Be Certain To Occur; Another BiOp Bites The Dust; A Remand; Corps Rules On Snake River Dam Removal

V. 2004-2008: A New BiOp Says No Jeopardy From Hydro Operations; A New ‘Environmental Baseline’; Redden Says No Again; Discretionary Actions vs. Non-Discretionary (Dams’ Existence); Court Runs The River; Upper Snake River Gets Own BiOp

VI. 2008-2009: A ‘Collaborative’ BiOp; New Fish Funding Agreements, New BiOp Support; Montana Finally Likes The Reservoir Plan; Earthjustice Says New Approach Inadequate; Oregon Left As Only State Opposed To BiOp; Should Independent Scientists Evaluate BiOp?; Parties To Litigation Grows; Clean Water Act Now An Issue; A New Round Of Briefings

VII. Conclusion: Rushing To Redden’s Finish Line

March 3, 2009 in Biodiversity, Cases, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Obama Directs Agencies to Consult with FWS and NMFS on Endangered Species

President Obama today told federal agencies to consult with the expert fish and wildlife agencies concerning whether a decision may affect threatened or endangered species.  The memorandum effectively suspends a December 2008 rule issued by the Bush administration, which waived requirements that agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when deciding whether projects like building dams affect threatened or endangered species.  Today’s decision did not throw out the Bush administration rule, which had prompted lawsuits from California and a number of environmental groups. Instead, Mr. Obama asked that the secretaries of commerce and the interior “review” the Bush regulation and determine whether new rules are needed.  “Until such a review is completed,” Mr. Obama wrote, “I request the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices” involving the Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

The text of the memorandum appears below:


THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                  March 3, 2009

March 3, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16U.S.C. 1531 et seq., reflects one of the Nation's profound commitments. Pursuant to that Act, the Federal Government has long required a process of broad interagency consultation to ensure the application of scientific and technical expertise to decisions that may affect threatened or endangered species. Under that interagency process, executive departments and agencies (agencies) contemplating an action that may affect endangered or threatened species have long been required, except in certain limited circumstances, to consult with, and in some circumstances obtain the prior written concurrence of, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)-- the expert agencies that have the primary responsibility to ensure that the ESA is implemented in accordance with the law.

On December16, 2008, the Departments of the Interior and Commerce issued a joint regulation that modified these longstanding requirements. See 73Fed. Reg. 76272. This new regulation expands the circumstances in which an agency may determine not to consult with, or obtain the written concurrence of, the FWS or NMFS prior to undertaking an action that may affect threatened or endangered species. But under the new regulation, agencies may continue the previous practice of consulting with, and obtaining the written concurrence of, the FWS and NMFS as a matter of discretion.

I hereby request the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce to review the regulation issued on December16, 2008, and to determine whether to undertake new rulemaking procedures with respect to consultative and concurrence processes that will promote the purposes of the ESA.

Until such review is completed, I request the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices involving the FWS and NMFS.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person. Agencies shall carry out the provisions of this memorandum to the extent permitted by law and consistent with statutory authorities.

The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

 

                  BARACK OBAMA

March 3, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The New Subsistence Society

Sometimes its a good idea to stand back and contemplate the universe.  Today's early news that the Dow Jones Industrial Index took another header because of AIG's $60+ billion loss prompts me to do that. 
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What is the vector of our society?  What will it look like after all the dust has settled?  It is not just the financial crisis that prompts me to contemplate this.  Although the phrase is over-used, we are in the midst of a perfect storm -- a global economy that creates and distributes goods and services through the internet, computerized machines and cheap labor virtual collapse of the financial system, the advent of peak oil, and the climate crisis.  How will all of these things cumulatively affect our future?

We've lived with the first problem for decades now -- what do people do as they  become less and less important to production of goods and services.  The science fiction of our times: what happens when people and their primary asset, labor, becomes virtually superfluous.  Certainly countries with high labor costs relative to Asia and South America already are beginning to experience the problem.  Computerized machines can plant, water, and harvest the fields; robots can make the cars and prefabricated housing; department stores, bank branches, car dealers, even retail grocery stores can be replaced by internet marketing; 100 law professors lecturing to law students and 1000 college professors lecturing to college students is more than enough -- creating the prospect of a British or continental education system, with those professors raised to unseemly heights and the remainder left to do the grunge work of tutors; even more radically, 100 K-12 teachers can teach a nation of students with computer graded exams, if we believe that convergent answers are the goal of education; priests and ministers can be replaced by TV showmen and megachurch performers. 

So what do the other 6.95 billion of us do?  Now, we consume.  Voraciously.  If we don't, then the basics can be provided by a very few and the rest of us become unwanted baggage.  A non-consumer is a drag on the system.  We depend on the velocity of money, excess consumption, and inefficiency to provide each of us with a job and to maintain the current economy.

And what happens when money moves at a crawl, when people stop consuming, when production becomes life-threatening to the planet, and when a key resource for production, oil, reaches the point of no return???  The answer is a new subsistence economy.  A new world where a few are need to produce, a few more can consume, and the remainder have no economic role and are left to subsist as best they can.

Admittedly, it will be subsistence at a higher level -- through the internet, computerization, and technology, each of us will have the capacity to do things for ourselves that are beyond the imagination of today's impoverished subsistence farmers.  But, relative to those who own all of the means of production, a few entertainers (be they basketball players, lecturers, moviestars, or mega-church leaders), and a few laborers (building the machines, computers, the information infrastructure and doing basic and applied research), we will all be poor.  Perhaps only relatively and perhaps only in material terms.  But poor, living at a subsistence level, consuming food from our own gardens, building our own houses, wearing clothes for function not fashion, educating our own children through the internet, capturing essential power through distributed energy, and buying very little of goods that are bound to be too expensive for most -- probably just computers.  It won't necessarily be bad.  Perhaps we can refocus on relationships, family, community, art, music, literature, and life, rather than define ourselves in terms of our job and our things.  Perhaps we can refocus on spirituality instead of materialism. Who knows?  Maybe the new society won't be such a bad thing after all -- at least if we insist that the few who have the privilege of production have a responsibility to share the wealth with the many.

March 2, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Saga of Snowbasin - Book Review

Here's a book review I published in American Scientist about Stephen Trimble's recent book.  AmSci link

BARGAINING FOR EDEN: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in America. Stephen Trimble. xiv + 319 pp. University of California Press, 2008. $29.95.

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The strikingly beautiful Utah landscapes Stephen Trimble writes about in Bargaining for Eden—the craggy Wasatch mountain range, the desolate desert mesas—change subtly in appearance with each passing moment, as light and shadow dance over them. The same could be said of the book’s evolving perspective—every time I thought I understood Trimble’s position regarding the battles being waged over the precious wild lands that remain in the western United States, his point of view subtly shifted.

The first part of the book, aptly named “Bedrock,” sets the stage and sketches the main characters. The citizens of Ogden, Utah, are fighting billionaire oil magnate Earl Holding, who wants to transform Snowbasin, a community ski area on Mount Ogden, into a posh resort in time for the 2004 Winter Olympics. Trimble avoids the temptation to make this starkly partisan struggle into a morality play, perhaps because the story doesn’t end happily. Although the local environmentalists win a few battles, they lose the war, and the majesty of Mount Ogden is marred by development.

Rather than framing the Snowbasin saga as a tragedy, Trimble deftly uses it as a device for exploring a far more complicated theme, addressing himself directly to those who treasure wild land out West. They yearn for the romance, simplicity, community and connection they draw from open space and wilderness. Yet they also benefit from the roads, rural retreat homes and high-tech ski lifts that development provides. The poles of maximum development and maximum preservation are extremes at the ends of a continuum. Attaching oneself unthinkingly to either extreme creates destructive antagonism that severs ties to people and values on “the other side of the moral mountain.” A better, more sustainable approach to managing the lands of the West is needed.

Continue reading

February 25, 2009 in Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Legislation, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

President Obama's "State of the Union" Speech

The White House has published the "Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress" as prepared for delivery on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009. White House link   The President called for Congress to send him a cap and trade bill to address climate change and stressed investments in clean energy as the path to America's future.  What a difference from last year!

As the President says about the long term investments that are absolutely critical to our economic future:

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

Continue reading

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Creating a Sustainable Society - the Role of Social Entrepreneurs and Volunteers

Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor had a Congressional hearing on volunteerism. Both Van Jones and Cheryl Dorsey testified to the value of volunteerism for the future of the green movement and social entrepreneurship.  Cheryl Dorsey’s video testimony can be found here Dorsey video link  and her written testimony is here. Dorsey written link  Van Jones’ video testimony is here Jones video link  and his written testimony is here.Jones' written link   Although we frequently focus on using regulation to control traditional profit-oriented business endeavors, it's good to remind ourselves that social entrepreneurs and volunteers can make a real difference in the quality of life in our communities as well as the quality of the environment.

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition

Congratulations to all of the participants in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition held at Pace University during the last few days.  Roughly 70 law schools participated in the competition, which featured a difficult and oft-times confusing problem about salvage of a Spanish shipwreck.  The law covered by the problem included admiralty law, administrative law, international law such as the UNESCO treaty and the Law of the Sea, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and for good measure, the Submerged Military Craft Act.  Just typing that list makes me tired!

The learning is in participating, but the honors for Best Briefs go to University of Houston, Georgetown, and University of California at Davis, with Houston winning overall Best Brief.  The Best Oralist Honor goes to Louisiana State University.  The final round of the competition featured Lewis & Clark law school, University of Utah, and Louisiana State. Lewis & Clark prevailed, winning the overall competition for the 2d time in a row.  If I recall correctly, that may be the first back to back win.  Congratulations to everyone!

The students of Pace University deserve special mention for sacrificing their ability to compete and for running a flawless competition.  More details can be found at the NELMCC site.

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Red Queens or Court Jesters: How Species Evolve

A review in this month's science by Michael Benton discusses two prominent models of evolution.Science article  The abstract and some snippets of the article are below:

Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors, as in the Red Queen model, or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a mixture of both. The two models appear to operate predominantly over different geographic and temporal scales: Competition, predation, and other biotic factors shape ecosystems locally and over short time spans, but extrinsic factors such as climate and oceanographic and tectonic events shape larger-scale patterns regionally and globally, and through thousands and millions of years. Paleobiological studies suggest that species diversity is driven largely by abiotic factors such as climate, landscape, or food supply, and comparative phylogenetic approaches offer new insights into clade dynamics. 

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February 5, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Energy, North America, Physical Science, South America | Permalink | TrackBack (0)