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Posts tagged "law"

Looks like a fun lawsuit to watch.

This is about energy and carbon, and not adaptation. Just thought some of y’all might enjoy this super short (3 pages!) summary of current happenings in federal laws on the “cure” side of climate change under Obama.

Maybe even worth printing out.

For legal peeps - an interesting regulatory takings theory in play against Gov. Cuomo! Fun stuff.

The pika is toast. More specifically, the American pika is running out of places to live, and global climate change appears to be the primary cause of its decline. This tiny rabbit-like species has the unfortunate trait of being remarkably well-adapted to the cold, highaltitude, montane habitat of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges in the North American Great Basin.

The pika’s problem is that as global climate change causes surface temperatures to rise, the altitude below which pikas cannot find suitable conditions for survival also is rising.

The pika’s recent decline and gloomy future call to mind the protective capacity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), often referred to as the “pit bull” of environmental laws. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the ESA for terrestrial and freshwater species, has identified over 1250 animal and plant species in the United States for protection and has exercised its regulatory authority throughout the nation to fulfill the statute’s goal of conserving imperiled species.

The pika’s recent decline and gloomy future call to mind the protective capacity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), often referred to as the “pit bull” of environmental laws. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the ESA for terrestrial and freshwater species, has identified over 1250 animal and plant species in the United States for protection and has exercised its regulatory authority throughout the nation to fulfill the statute’s goal of conserving imperiled species.

Great read. JB Ruhl is one of the best writers on climate law in the US.


Why you’re paying for everyone’s flood insurance

Two members of the Natural Resources Defense Council explain how the taxpayers, coastal homeowners and climate change are all connected.

Shopping list of corporate giveaways, most skirt pollution regulations - even elimination of disclosing environmental harms. One anti-science measure was snuck in by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. His amendment would defund (in part) the United States’s world renowned scientific research institute called the NSF (National Science Foundation, widely known as the NSF).

The NSF supports science in universities around the US and is a beacon/model for science around the world - from cancer research to climate change. It is speculated that Coburn has failed over the years to get his pet anti-science bill passed through regular procedural votes, so he’s attaching it to an emergency budget bill which will keep government running only temporarily.

None of the amendments promote economic stability or aim to create jobs.

(M)any of 110 amendments offered by Republicans to the Democratic-authored legislation would amount to giveaways to major industry groups. The amendments, unveiled Thursday, are expected to see floor action by Friday evening.

“Giant corporations are hoping to sneak provisions into the rushed Senate budget bill to undermine the core regulatory protections on which Americans rely to make our country stronger, better, safer, cleaner, healthier and more fair and just,” said Robert Weissman, who serves as co-chair of the coalition and president of Public Citizen.

“The American people aren’t so easily tricked, and they demand Senators vote down these corporate-gift amendments,” he added.

Wants to include climate change risks in environmental permits. When you build something, such a house or store, you typically need a permit (or three) from the local or state government. Bigger projects require federal approval, such as an oil pipeline or a rail line. So, the larger the project, the more information the government requires as part of those permits.

In order to get a permit, you need to conduct some studies and write a few reports, typically these include an economic feasibility and an environmental impact statement. For federal permits, these studies are made public. This “public comment period” gives everyone, including other businesses, a chance to voice their opinions on the project.

Now, Obama wants to change the rules. He is proposing that the federal permit process should include risks and impacts from climate change. These climate risks will be part of the environmental impact statement.

Businesses do not like permits - but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s very expensive to conduct the required economic and environmental studies. Businesses have to hire specialists just for these permits. Often, these studies delay projects, which makes the projects more expensive to build.

The biggest complaint is that rules are inconsistent - they’re difficult to comply with, unclear in their intent, guidelines are always changing, and (worst of all) they’re unevenly enforced. Sometimes a politician will intervene - essentially subverting the law. Political intervention creates an atmosphere of unfairness and favoritism (but, that is discussion for another post).

In the permitting world, lawsuits abound. And lawsuits compound the costs of building and it generally pisses off a lot of people.

So, when you hear complaints that “environmental permits hurts jobs” it’s not that the developer hates the environment, it’s that the rules are a convoluted, expensive mess. It’s also a clever way for politicians to dismantle environmental regulations because, after all, the rules “hurt jobs” - a line that resonates with the voting public.

Thus, from the perspective of business, Obama’s proposal to increase the rules for environmental permits has businesses - and the politicians that they’ve bought - shaking in their boots.

Queue a big political fight on this one.

President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.

The result could be significant delays for natural gas- export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn.

It’s got us very freaked out,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Southern Co. (SO) The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.

In taking the step, Obama would be fulfilling a vow to act alone in the face of a Republican-run House of Representatives unwilling to pass measures limiting greenhouse gases. He’d expand the scope of a Nixon-era law that was first intended to force agencies to assess the effect of projects on air, water and soil pollution.

“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said last month during his State of the Union address. He pledged executive actions “to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Via the excellent



Wyoming’s House of Representatives is the latest legislative body pass a “ag-gag” law, a new breed of legislation which makes it illegal to record video or photograph inside factory livestock farms. From Food Safety News:

In her bill, [Republican Sue Wallis] makes it a crime to “knowingly or intentionally” record images or sounds of an agricultural operation with concealed devices without the consent of the owner. Six months in jail and a $750 fine are provided as penalty. But anyone reporting animal abuse to local police within 48 hours is immune from civil liability.

If the bill passes in Wyoming’s state senate, it would become the fourth state to pass anti-whitsleblower laws. Iowa, Utah, and Missouri all passed similar bills last year, though Wyoming would be the only state to mandate jail time for those (including employees) who film in slaughterhouses. 

New Hampshire, Indiana, Nebraska and Arkansas are all also considering their own versions of ag-gag laws. Last year saw 10 states attempting to pass similar piece of legislation, with many backing down after public outcry or worries about the constitutionality of the proposed bills.

Ag-gag laws have sprung up in response to the increasing number of videos taken in large-scale slaughterhouses showing a dizzying number of abuses. In Wyoming’s case, a video taken at a Wheatland, WY hog farm showed workers beating sows and tossing piglets. A later investigation turned up a number of abuses. From the Casper Star-Tribune:

A subsequent investigation by the Wyoming Livestock Board uncovered numerous harrowing incidents.

Among them:

— Workers cut off the testicles of piglets and fed them to their sow.

— A woman worker who weighed more than 200 pounds sat on a sow that couldn’t walk because of a broken leg and was screaming in agony.

— Workers throwing piglets as if they were balls.

— Keeping pigs in crates so small, the animals were nearly immobilized and helpless.

— A sow with a prolapsed uterus that was left to die slowly after a worker botched an attempt to pull her piglets from her uterus

The hog farm is now under new management, and nine employees were charged with animal abuse.

When not working as a state legislator, Wallis heads up Unified Equine, LLC,  a company that is seeking to build horse slaughterhouse in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Wyoming. Wallis has attempted to pass numerous bits of favorable legislation for large-scale animal production plants, winning her a fun nickname: “Slaughterhouse” Sue.

(Image: Thomas Bjørkan/CC 2.0)

Chemical companies get permits from the government to dump pollution into our rivers and lakes. But, as this PBS investigation shows, companies can and do dump chemicals in violation of environmental laws. And get away with it.

In part one of a two-part series, PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O’Brien travels to Hinkley, CA — the town whose multi-million dollar settlement for groundwater contamination was featured in the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Now, almost 30 years later, O’Brien explores the reasons why the groundwater in Hinkley still has dangerous levels of the chemical chromium and its link to cancer.

Via BoingBoing

(And, can we pause to reflect just for a minute that Miles O’Brien is one of America’s great modern journalists. I really admire his work.)

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Canada’s conservative government, which has been pressing the Obama Administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, has come under sharp criticism for allegedly muzzling Canadian government scientists who talk about the pipeline, climate change and other controversial topics.

The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria released a report called “Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy" that documents the ways in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration has prevented public scientists from speaking freely about their research.

The Law Centre and Democracy Watch, a leading Canadian public accountability group, have requested an official inquiry into whether these practices violate Canada’s Open Government laws.

This should go over well with politicians.

"Coming Soon: Long-Delayed Decisions on Endangered Species

The Oregon spotted frog, a four-inch-long amphibian that prefers the Pacific Northwest’s dwindling marshy spots, is to be considered this year for federal protection as an endangered species.

It has been languishing for 22 years — since 1991 — awaiting its day in the bureaucratic sun.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake has been a candidate for protection since 1982, a legless bridesmaid, never a bride. Ditto the elfin-woods warbler. Like them, the Dakota skipper butterfly, a cucumber-bodied flier that zips unusually fast (for a butterfly) over the Minnesota and Dakota prairies, is dying out as development shrinks its habitat. It nevertheless has hung on, its candidacy deferred since 1975.

Belatedly, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is giving them all — and 258 more — a thumbs up or down for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law that was among the early triumphs of the environmental movement.

It is evidence of the law’s travails that it took a federal judge to get them to this point.

Under a 2011 settlement of two lawsuits by conservation activists, the wildlife service has pledged to decide the fates of all the backlogged species by 2018. A schedule issued by the service on Feb. 8 promised to decide by September whether to add 97 species to the endangered list, including 70 covered by the lawsuit settlement.

Moreover, the service has finished preliminary work on more than 550 other potential candidates for the endangered-species list, almost all of which will be further evaluated after the backlog is erased.

“They’ve dramatically increased the number of decisions they’re making — both positive and negative decisions, but the vast majority of decisions are positive,” said Kierán Suckling, the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona conservation organization that is a party to the settlement.

It is the most feverish activity on imperiled wildlife in two decades, an improbable feat amid ferocious attacks from conservative critics and in an economy with little money to spare for environmental frivolities.”

Via NYTimes


Polar bears remain a threatened species

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to keep polar bears protected by broad federal measures Friday,

The court rejected the argument that the 25,000 remaining polar bears, most of which live in relatively stable populations, were perfectly fine without “threatened species” status. But many scientists worry that the effects of climate change on the Arctic climate could prove dangerous for the remaining bears.

And it looks like polar bears may remain on that list for the foreseeable future, according to Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“So for practical purposes, the listing of the polar bear is final, and really no longer under any serious threat from these challenges.”

Read more about the court’s decision here, via Nation Now.

Photos: Jeon Heon-Kyun, Koen Van Weel / EPA, Sven Hoppe / Associated Press