Monday, May 2, 2011

New Supreme Court Opinion on Water Law

Today the Supreme Court released its opinion in the case Montana v. Wyoming.  This water law case presented the issue of whether, under the Yellowstone River Compact, an appropriator can use more efficient methods to disseminate water, so long as the appropriator uses the water to irrigate the same amount of acreage.  The Supreme Court held that it could even if changing watering methods would reduce the amount of return flow.

The Court upheld the decision of the Court appointed Special Master--Buzz Thompson--and the decision cites among others David Getches and Mark Squillace, and the great textbook by Sax, Thompson, Leshy and Abrams.

The Court's majority was made up of seven Justices, with Justice Scalia dissenting and Justice Kagan not taking part in the decision.  While I enjoyed seeing the names of law professors I respect in the opinion and enjoyed reading an opinion about water law, for me, the most memorable part of the opinion came from Justice Scalia's dissent when he refused to call the people of Wyoming Wyomingites and instead called them Wyomans.  He did this, because, as he put it, "the people of Wyoming deserve better."

A more detailed summary of the opinion can be found here on SCOTUSblog.

-- Brigham Daniels

 

May 2, 2011 in US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adler on Climate Adaptation and Drought

Bob Adler has posted to SSRN a fascinating new article on drought's role in climate change.  Specifically, Prof. Adler argues that policy will need to shift how it balances the compassionate impulse to offer relief in times of disaster and the ways in which it encourages and discourages risky behaviors.  Noting that we are already "committed" to a certain amount of climate change because of past greenhouse gas emissions, Adler concludes:  

"[V]ulnerability increases with the frequency of the event, which decreases the recovery interval between disasters.  The result will likely be a vicious cycle of relief and increased risk.  Given the likelihood of this scenario, perhaps a more 'compassionate' approach is to implement systemic policies to reduce vulnerability to climate-induced disasters by increasing the sustainability of various economic sectors in advance."  To demonstrate what changes we might make, Adler uses the agricultural industry, though there are of course applications to numerous other economic sectors.

Adler's article is an important addition to the climate change literature, in particular because it adds to the growing discourse on climate adaptation -- and the increasingly clear consensus that we need both climate change mitigation and adaptation.  The focus on water is especially apropos given the close nexus between water availability and one of the key climate change inputs: energy production.

The article is Balancing Compassion and Risk in Climate Adaptation: U.S. Water, Drought and Agricultural Law.  It can be downloaded here.

The abstract:

This article compares risk spreading and risk reduction approaches to climate adaptation. Because of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from past practices, the world is "committed" to a significant amount of global average warming. This is likely to lead to significant increases in the frequency, severity and geographic extent of drought. Adaptation to these and other problems caused by climate disruption will be essential even if steps are taken now to mitigate that disruption. Water and drought policy provide an example of the significant policy tension between compassion and risk reduction in climate adaptation, and how those tensions affect broader national economic policies. Because water is essential to lives and livelihoods, the compassionate response to drought is to provide financial and other forms of relief. Guaranteed, unconditional drought relief, however, can encourage unsustainable water uses and practices that increase vulnerability to drought in the long-term. Moreover, the agricultural sector is the largest consumptive user of water in drought-prone regions, but longstanding U.S. agricultural policy encourages excess production and water use. Effective adaptation to climate disruption will have to strike a balance between providing essential short-term relief from hardship and promoting longer-term measures to reduce vulnerability through more sustainable water use and other practices. It will also require fundamental reconsideration of laws and policies that drive key economic sectors that will be affected by climate disruption. Although water, drought and agricultural law provide one good example of this tension, the same lessons are likely to apply to other sectors of the economy vulnerable to climate disruption, such as real estate development and energy production.

- Lincoln Davies

April 21, 2011 in Agriculture, Climate Change, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roy Gardner on "Lawyers, Swamps, and Money - U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics" (New Book)

Wetlands expert Roy GardnerStetson University College of Law, has recently published a fascinating book on U.S. wetland law and policy.  The book, Lawyers, Swamps, and Money, U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics has recently become available for purchase (Island Press), and you may purchase a copy here. You can read the press release for the book below.

Professor Gardner is one of the nation's leading experts on wetland law and policy. His book reflects not only his expertise, but also his special ability to make the details of wetland law and policy accessible to all - even despite the complex web of constitutional, administrative, and environmental questions raised.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in wetlands, and think it would be great supplementary reading for Natural Resources Law and Policy or related courses.

Professor Gardner is the director of Stetson's Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, and was instrumental in Stetson University College of Law becoming the first school in the country to gain membership to the US National Ramsar Committee, which supports the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in the United States.  Stetson students worked with the site manager of Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to seek its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and it was successfully designated as such in the spring of 2010.

Gardner book cover

 

PRESS RELEASE     

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money

U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics

By Royal C. Gardner

Washington, D.C. (April 2011) — A leading expert on wetlands law and policy has written an engaging guide to the complex set of laws governing these critical natural areas.  

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money explains the importance of America’s wetlands and the threats they face, and examines the evolution of federal law, principally the Clean Water Act, designed to protect them.  Royal Gardner’s writing is simultaneously substantive and accessible to a wide audience — from policy makers to students to citizen activists.

Readers will first learn the basics of administrative law: how agencies receive and exercise their authority, how they actually make laws, and how stakeholders can influence their behavior through the Executive Branch, Congress, the courts, and the media. These core concepts provide a base of knowledge for successive discussions of:

• the geographic scope and activities covered by the Clean Water Act

• the curious relationship between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency

• the goal of no net loss of wetlands

• the role of entrepreneurial wetland mitigation banking

• the tension between wetland mitigation bankers and in-lieu fee mitigation programs

• wetland regulation and private property rights.The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

- Blake Hudson

April 11, 2011 in Biodiversity, Constitutional Law, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Physical Science, Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plater on Deepwater Horizon and TVA v. Hill

Environmental law, by definition, looks forward.  But it also pays to look back.

Today, one of the most experienced leaders in the field, Prof. Zyg Plater, will help us do both.  He will give two lectures at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Plater1

The first, "Lessons from Disasters: What We Are Learning from the BP Deepwater Blowout in the Gulf of Mexico That We Should Have Learned 21 Years Ago in Alaska," draws on Prof. Plater's experience as Chair of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission's Legal Task Force following the Exxon-Valdez disaster.  Any examination of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, of course, raises questions not just of environmental degradation but of energy planning, national security, the debate over peak oil, sustainable development, and the direction of our society itself.

The second talk will be delivered as the annual Wallace Stegner Lecture, sponsored by the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment.  As counsel for farmers, Cherokees, and environmentalists in the U.S. Supreme Court, Prof. Plater is perhaps better equipped than anyone to comment on what one of the most important cases in the field, TVA v. Hill, has to teach us about where environmental law -- and environmentalism -- is headed today.  The title of the lecture is "Classic Lessons from a Little Fish in a Pork Barrel."

Prof. Plater's remarks on the Deepwater Horizon begin at 12:15 p.m. Mountain (2:15 p.m. Eastern; 11:15 a.m. Pacific).

His Wallace Stegner Lecture will begin at 6 p.m. Mountain (8 p.m. Eastern; 5 p.m. Pacific).

If you cannot join live in Salt Lake City, there will be simultaneous webcasts at www.ulaw.tv.

-Lincoln Davies

March 10, 2011 in Biodiversity, Cases, Current Affairs, Energy, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

AAAS Policy Alert

For those of you who try to stay current on science policy, I am a member of AAAS and receive its policy alerts. I encourage all of you to join and subscribe to Science.  Here is today's policy alert:

AAAS Policy Alert -- April 29, 2009 


President Addresses National Academies

President Obama addressed the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 27 and called for a renewed commitment to basic scientific research and education. During his speech he stated that his goal would be to increase our nation's share of federal investment in research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In recent years, the share has hovered around 2.6 percent of GDP. Furthermore, Obama announced the membership of the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST). Members include past AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson of RPI, as well as former Board member Rosina Bierbaum and current AAAS Treasurer David Shaw. They join former AAAS President John Holdren who is both the U.S. President's science advisor and co-chair of PCAST.

Budget News

The House and Senate have nominated the conferees to resolve the differences between their respective versions of the FY 2010 budget resolution. House members include: Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Ranking Member Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Reps. Allen Boyd (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Senate members include Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The conferees met today (April 27) to begin deliberating over a consensus document.

Other Congressional News

Congressional Climate Change Update. The House Energy and Commerce Committee held four days of hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, with much debate on the merits of moving ahead on the climate and energy package. Subcommittee markup of the bill has been pushed back to next week, with details such as how to allocate permits to emit greenhouse gases and how the revenues will be used yet to be determined. Meanwhile Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced the formation of five working groups to find compromises in several areas of concern: regional issues, cost containment, targets and timetables, market oversight and coal research and technology. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, who testified on the diplomatic cost of inaction on climate change and emphasized the need for all countries - developed and developing - to engage in negotiations with "common but differentiated responsibilities." Stern is leading the first session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate on April 27-28, a White House initiative to develop a dialogue among major developed and developing economies on climate change.

New Bill Promotes Science Envoys. Last week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation (S. 838) that recognizes the importance of international scientific cooperation and the work of organizations such as AAAS and the National Academies in this area. The legislation tasks the State Department to appoint Science Envoys to represent our nation and promote international collaboration.

Executive Branch

Presidential Memo on Scientific Integrity. OSTP issued a Presidential Memo on scientific integrity in the April 23 Federal Register and requests public comments on six principles for maintaining and protecting the responsible use of science in decision-making. The memo builds upon a March 9, 2009 memorandum from the President that called on OSTP to issue a set of recommendations within 120 days. OSTP has launched a blog on the subject and is seeking comments on the selection of scientists to serve in the executive branch, peer-review of science used in policy-making, access to scientific data used in policy-making, and whistleblower protection. Comments are due May 13, 2009.

NIH Stem Cell Guidelines Now Open for Comment. The NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research are now open for public comment until May 26.

NCI Director Speaks on Cancer Plan. National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber recently spoke of his institute's plans in the wake of President Obama's cited goal of doubling funds for cancer research. Included would be a boost in the NCI payline to fund more meritorious research grants, as well as more grants to first-time investigators and new faculty researchers. There will also be a focus on personalized cancer care.

EPA Examines Ocean Acidification. On April 14, EPA issued a Federal Register notice requesting information on ocean acidification, the changing of ocean chemistry from increases in carbon dioxide that affects coral reefs and other marine organisms. In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, EPA is trying to determine whether changes are needed to the water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act. Comments are due June 15, 2009.

Toxics Reporting Tightened. As mandated in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, EPA finalized changes to reporting requirements under the Toxics Release Inventory that will take effect July 1. The final rules restore more stringent reporting requirements than those from a Bush-era rule that raised the pollution threshold for reporting. In 2006, AAAS submitted comments stating that the increased threshold would "threaten the ability of researchers to identify and understand potential threats to the environment and public health in a scientifically rigorous manner."

FDA Widens Access to "Morning-After" Pill. The Food and Drug Administration will now allow 17-year-olds to purchase the Plan B "morning-after" pill without a prescription, following a recent federal court order that it do so. The decision has been labeled a "triumph of science over politics" because of widespread concern that the previous administration overruled scientific advice on making the pill available over the counter, leading the FDA's top women's health official, Susan Wood, to resign in protest in 2005.

Nation's First CTO: Clarification. Last week's Policy Alert reported on the President's selection of Aneesh Chopra to be the nation's first chief technology officer. It has since been reported that the CTO will also be one of the associate directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerned with overall technology policy and innovation strategies across federal departments. Chopra's position (which is subject to Senate confirmation) should not be confused with that of Vivek Kundra, recently named Chief Information Officer, who is located in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), overseeing day-to-day information technology spending and interagency operations.

Elsewhere

Climate Risk Report Released. Led by the Heinz Center and CERES, a coalition of insurance, government, environmental, and investment organizations released a report, Resilient Coasts: A Blueprint for Action that listed steps the nation can take to drastically reduce rising coastal hazard risks and their associated economic impacts.

Texas School Board Chairman Up for Confirmation. Texas State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, a vocal opponent of teaching evolution, is up for Senate confirmation by the state Senate, and during a recent hearing some members of the Senate Nominations Committee expressed dissatisfaction with McLeroy's performance. One state senator said McLeroy has "created a hornet's nest" and noted that 15 bills filed during this legislative session would strip powers from the state school board. Even if McLeroy is not confirmed as chairman, he will still remain a member of the board. In other news, the Institute for Creation Research is now suing in U.S. District Court over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's decision to deny its request to offer a master's degree in science education.

Animal Rights Activists Charged. Two animal rights activists have been arraigned on charges of conspiracy, stalking and other crimes, including attempted fire-bombing, against UCLA scientists engaged in animal research.



Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Joanne Carney
Contributors: Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Steve Nelson, Al Teich, Kasey White

NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest.  Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications.  Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and  private use of our members.  Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome.  Please write to alert@aaas.org.



April 29, 2009 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Check out Peter Gleick's blog on water issues

Gleick Joins the Blogosphere

 

Read and discuss everything water with internationally renowned expert Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, on his new blog.

GleickFeatured on City Brights, San Francisco Chronicle's luminary blogger site, Gleick explores the water challenges facing California, the West, and our world. Follow along as he discusses the threats to our freshwater resources and viable solutions to those threats, drawing from not only his experiences and viewpoint, but also by way of numbers: each post will include an important, unusual, or newsworthy "water number" that will highlight some piece of the water issue.

Click to check it out or join the conversation:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/gleick/index

April 28, 2009 in International, Physical Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Findlaw environmental case summaries February 2009

Table of Contents - February 23rd - 27th

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• US v. Holden
• Sierra Club v. EPA
• Am. Farm Bureau Fed. v. EPA

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.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, February 24, 2009
US v. Holden, No. 07-5573, 07-5574
Defendants' conviction for impeding an EPA investigation was affirmed, where the District Court did not abuse its discretion by excluding evidence of a witness's drug use that did not clearly affect his ability to recall events. Read more...

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, February 26, 2009
Sierra Club v. EPA, No. 07-4485
A petition for review of the EPA's decision not to object to a power plant's air-pollution permit is denied where the EPA may alter its position about a power plant's compliance with the Clean Air Act based on intervening events. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, February 24, 2009
Am. Farm Bureau Fed. v. EPA, No. 06-1410
Petition for review of EPA air quality standards is granted in part and denied in part, where the EPA failed to adequately explain why its fine particulate matter standard was "requisite to protect the public health" under 42 U.S.C. section 7409(b)(1). Read more...

Table of Contents - February 9-13th

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Ohio Valley Env't Coalition v. Aracoma Coal Co.
• Friends of Milwaukee v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist.
• Hill v. Gould

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. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, February 13, 2009
Ohio Valley Env't Coalition v. Aracoma Coal Co., No. 071355
In challenge to the Army Corps of Engineers' issuance of permits allowing the filling of West Virginia stream waters in conjunction with area surface coal mining operations, grant of judgment in favor of plaintiffs is reversed and remanded where: 1) the Corps did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in determining the scope of its National Environmental Policy Act analysis; 2) findings regarding stream structure and function, mitigation, or cumulative impacts were not an "abuse of discretion" or "not in accordance with law," 5 U.S.C. section 706(2) (2000); 3) Combined Decision Documents issued with each permit included substantial analysis and explanation about the Corps' impact findings which were within the agency's special expertise and were based on Corps staff's best professional judgment; 4) compensatory mitigation plans contained in the CDDs for the challenged permits were sufficient both for purposes of satisfying the Corps' requirements under the Clean Water Act and ! for justifying issuance of a mitigated finding of no significant impact under NEPA; 5) Corps did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in conducting its required cumulative impact analysis; 6) stream segments, together with the sediment ponds to which they connect, are unitary "waste treatment systems," not "waters of the United States," and the Corps' did not exceed its section 404 authority in permitting them; 7) plaintiff's stream segments claim was not barred by principles of res judicata; and 8) Corps' interpretations of its authority was reasonable in light of the CWA and entitled to deference. Read more...

U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, February 13, 2009
Friends of Milwaukee v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist., No. 081103
In a citizens' suit against defendant-sewer district under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) alleging that certain sanity sewer overflows that occurred were violations of defendant's CWA permit and of the CWA itself, dismissal of plaintiffs' suit is affirmed over claims that: 1) the district court violated court mandate by not "considering and giving due weight to post-stipulation violations of the Act; 2) had the district court considered post-stipulation events it would have had no choice but to find that the 2002 Stipulation did not constitute diligent prosecution by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR); and 3) the district court erred by refusing to admit and consider the letter from the EPA to the WDNR. Read more...

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, February 13, 2009
Hill v. Gould, No. 07-5026
Denial of an application to recover appellant's attorney's fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, brought after she won a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior, is affirmed where the Secretary's position at the merits stage was substantially justified. Read more..




April 28, 2009 in Air Quality, Cases, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Law, Mining, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Watershed Management

Cool new site: US EPA Watershed Central gives you one-stop shopping for anything related to watershed management: Watershed Central link

April 17, 2009 in Governance/Management, Science, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Elizabeth Royte's new blog -- more on bottled water than you'd ever want to know

Go visit Elizabeth Royte's new blog: Water. waste. and whatever   She's got more information on bottled water than anyone else in the world -- remember, she's the author of Bottlemania.

April 11, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Food and Drink, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Water News from Water Advocates

New Congressional Legislation: Strong support for drinking water and
sanitation continues on Capitol Hill, where legislation introduced in
the Senate would put the U.S. in the lead among governments in
responding to the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation.
Companion legislation is expected soon in the House. Titled "The Senator
Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009" (S624), the bipartisan bill
introduced by Senators Durbin, Corker and Murray on March 17 seeks to
reach 100 million people with safe water and sanitation by 2015 and to
strengthen the capacity of USAID and the State Department to carry out
the landmark Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005.

USAID: Dozens of USAID missions, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and
Southeast Asia, are gearing up to utilize increased appropriations to
implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, after years of
lacking the tools to help extend safe, sustainable water, sanitation and
hygiene. USAID this past month announced a number of initiatives
including: new strategic partnerships to extend water and sanitation
access to the urban poor in Africa and the Middle East (with
International Water Association), new multilateral revolving funds (in
the Philippines), new collaborations (with Rotary International) and a
new USAID Water Site http://tinyurl.com/newUSAIDwater.

Appropriations: Through the recently passed Omnibus legislation,
Congress appropriated $300 million for Fiscal Year 2009, for "water and
sanitation supply projects pursuant to the Senator Paul Simon Water for
the Poor Act of 2005." As with last year's appropriations, forty percent
of the funds are targeted for Sub-Saharan Africa. Priority will remain
on drinking water and sanitation in the countries of greatest need.
Report language suggests increased hiring of Mission staff with
expertise in water and sanitation. It also recommends that $20 million
of the appropriation be available to USAID's Global Development Alliance
to increase its partnerships for water and sanitation, particularly with
NGOs.

In Fiscal Year 2010, a broad spectrum of U.S. nonprofit organizations,
corporations and religious organizations are urging $500 million to
implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, as part of an
overall increase of foreign development assistance, a level also called
for by InterAction and the "Transition to Green" Report.

For more water news, visit Drink Water for Life.


April 2, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration Refuses to Acknowledge Human Right to Water

With US encouragement, the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the World Water Forum declined to recognize a human right to water: Its time for US policy to change.

ENS reported today:

Twenty countries have officially challenged the Ministerial Declaration released Sunday at the close of the week-long World Water Forum because it defines water as a human need rather than as a human right.  Latin American states played a key role in gathering signatures on a counter-declaration that recognizes access to water and sanitation as a human right and commits to all necessary action for the progressive implementation of this right. Countries that signed the counter-declaration are: Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Chad, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Panama, Paraguay, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Venezuela. Switzerland has declared its support although a formal signature is expected to take months to finalize.

The U.S. delegation, led by Daniel Reifsnyder, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and sustainable development, took the position that "there is at present no internationally agreed right to water or human right to water, and there is no consensus on what such a right would encompass," according to State Department spokesman Andy Laine.  The Ministerial Declaration was not open to negotiation at the World Water Forum as negotiations on the statement were concluded at a preparatory meeting held in Paris on March 3 and 4.  Laine told ENS that during the preparatory process the United States did oppose language that would have recognized water as a human right. "The United States does not oppose any government adopting a national right to water or sanitation as part of its own domestic policy. We do, however, have concerns with a statement that would require all countries to adopt a national right to water or sanitation or would establish an international right to water or sanitation," Laine said.  "Establishing an international right to anything raises a number of complicated issues regarding the nature of that right, how that right would be enforced, and which parties would bear responsibility for ensuring these rights are met," said Laine. "To date, there have been no formal intergovernmental discussions on these issues. It would therefore be premature to agree to such a right."  Other governments supporting the principle of water as a human need, rather than are human right, are Brazil, Canada, Egypt and the European Union.

Nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations have mounted a campaign to lobby governments to recognize water as a human right  In Istanbul last Friday, Philipp Terhorst of Transnational Institute, speaking for the European Water Network, criticized the recent EU Parliament’s resolution that fails to recognize the human right to water.  The Washington, DC-based NGO Food and Water Watch asked its members to send emails to their Congressional representatives urging them to support water as a human right. Their appeal counters the State Department position, saying, "While it has been argued that there is no international consensus on the existence of a right to water and sanitation, such rights have been enshrined in two ministerial-level declarations of the United Nations."

Maude Barlow, a Canadian national who serves as senior advisor on water to UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, delivered a statement from him in Istanbul. D’Escoto was clear, “Water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a fundamental human right. ... We must challenge the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Those who are committed to the privatization of water ... are denying people a human right as basic as the air we breathe.”  "We must work quickly to guarantee that access to drinking water constitutes a fundamental right of all peoples," said D'Escoto. 

The UN president also questioned the legitimacy of the forum itself. His speech stated, "The forum's orientation is profoundly influenced by private water companies. This is evident by the fact that both the president of the World Water Council and the alternate president are deeply involved with provision of private, for-profit, water services."  He added that future forums should, "conduct their deliberations under the auspices of the United Nations."  The Forum is staged by the World Water Council, a French-based organization whose funding comes in part from the water industry.

Barlow, who is also the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, delivered the president's message to the People's Water Forum, a counter-forum held by hundreds of civil society members from nearly 70 countries whose voices have not been at the formal World Water Forum. The speech was later released to the World Water Forum, which was attended by 25,000 delegates from 150 countries.  "This is a victory for all our groups who have been working for over 15 years for water to be recognized as a human right," said Barlow.

Pope Benedict XVI last July called for recognition of the right to water. In his message to the international exposition on Water and Sustainable Development Spain, the pontiff said, "The use of water, which is regarded as a universal and inalienable right, is related to the growing and urgent needs of people who live in destitution, taking into account the fact that limited access to potable water has repercussions on the well being of an enormous number of people and is often the cause of illnesses, sufferings, conflicts, poverty and even death."

March 28, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Clinton urged by prominent women to place priority on safe drinking water and sanitation

Water advocates sent a letter today to Secretary of State Clinton asking her to prioritize the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation, arguing that women bear a disproportionate share of the burden.  WATER ADVOCATES, a Washington, D.C. group formed to raise awareness of the water issue among policymakers in Washington D.C., issued the press release that follows.



Water Advocates

1506 21st Street NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20036 | Telephone 202 293 4003 | Fax 202 293 4001 | www.wateradvocates.org


For Immediate Release
Press Contact: John Sauer, Water Advocates
(202) 293-4003

Dear Secretary Clinton: “Women of the World Need Safe Water”

Washington, DC—March 25—In an unprecedented letter of concern to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, prominent women have urged enhanced U.S. leadership to reduce the burden on women from inadequate drinking water and sanitation in developing countries. The Secretary of State received the letter between International Women’s Day (March 8) and World Water Day (March 22) to emphasize this critical linkage.

It is the first time that women in America have come together from such diverse fields - non-governmental, corporate, philanthropic, environmental and entertainment – to advocate the global importance of safe water and sanitation from a women’s perspective.

In their letter, the women leaders urged Secretary Clinton to take five actions that would make this issue a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy:
• appoint high-level advocates for water in the U.S. State Department and USAID
• commit U.S. leadership on the world stage
• significantly increase funding
• complete the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act Strategy
• hire qualified field staff

The prominent women leaders characterized the global lack of water and sanitation as an urgent, but solvable, development challenge. Nearly one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not have a safe place to dispose their excreta or a place to wash their hands. Women and their children bear the most severe burden from this crisis.

“If safe drinking water were accessible,” says the letter, “women would not waste 40 billion hours annually fetching water from distant and contaminated sources. Only with safe water will women and their families have a chance to live without debilitating water-borne diseases (such as cholera, typhoid, and amoebic dysentery). Only then will they free their time to engage in income-generating activities, education, and caring for their families.”

Sanitation, a typically ignored women’s issue, is central to the women’s message. The letter points out that “latrines enhance girls’ attendance at school (especially once at the age of menstruation). They would provide dignity to the one billion women who otherwise defecate in the open, and reduce direct exposure to disease-causing pathogens.”

Proven techniques and technologies are readily available to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Experienced developmental organizations stand ready to increase their work with the U.S. government around the world. The letter also calls upon Secretary Clinton to encourage public-private partnerships to solve this global crisis and improve the condition of women and children worldwide.

“It is often forgotten how important water is to women’s lives,” emphasized Andra Tamburro of the non-profit organization, Water Advocates. “Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is an essential step to empowering women.”

The signers include the following:


Harriet Babbitt
Vice Chair of the Global Water Challenge; Former Deputy Administrator, USAID

Kathy Baczko

Carol Bellamy
President & CEO, World Learning

Frances Beinecke
President, NRDC

Katryn Bowe
Water Advocates

Sally Cowal
Senior Vice President and Chief Liaison Officer, PSI

Patricia Dandonoli
CEO of WaterAid America

Monica D. Ellis
President & CEO, Global Environment & Technology Foundation

Helene Gayle
President & CEO of CARE

Molly F. Greene
Founder, Chief Philanthropy Officer
Water Missions International

Sherri Goodman
Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security)

Patricia Hall
President & Founder, H2O for Life

Ashley Judd

Nicole Lee
Executive Director, TransAfrica Forum, Inc.

Lee Lysne
Executive Director, Kind World Foundation

Tanvi Nagpal
Director, Water and Sanitation Initiatives, Global Water Challenge

Melanie Nakagawa
Attorney, International Program, NRDC

Michaela Oldfield
Water Advocates

Rachel Posner
Assistant Director, Global Water Futures Project

Kathleen Rogers
President, Earth Day Network

Jeannine B. Scott
Senior Vice President, Africare

Jane Seymour

Willa Shalit
Founder & CEO, Fair Winds Trading, Inc.

Mrs. Paul Simon

Andra Tamburro
Water Advocates

Christine Todd Whitman
President, The Whitman Strategy Group; Former Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency

March 27, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Check out the Drink Water for Life site

Just How Many Deaths Are Attributable to Lack of Clean Water and Sanitation?

I've been having a hard time pinning down how many people die each year from lack of clean drinking water and sanitation.  The figure I had used for the last three years was 2 million deaths annually.  I read a figure of 4 million in a recent Church World Service paper.  The WHO 2008 report Safe Water, Better Health gave figures that add up to nearly 3 million.  But today I encountered a figure of 8 million deaths  in Water and Wastewater News, a publication for water service professionals.  For now, I'm going with the WHO figures that are obviously low because of the conservative methodology they used, but that seems more realistic.  If anyone can help me sort this out, I'd appreciate it. 

March 27, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | 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)

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. 
Dow_3209
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)