ELI In the News
The world is waking up to the growing problem of plastic waste contaminating our ocean and terrestrial environments. Local governments—lauded as laboratories of innovation—have begun enacting bans and fees on single-use plastics, reducing the amount entering the waste stream in the first place. Businesses are stepping up; national and multinational governance bodies are adopting laws cutting down on the manufacture and distribution of single-use plastics. In the United States, California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Maine have initiated statewide restrictions, while Oregon and Washington are considering similar measures.
In response to the sometimes mind-numbing and frightening challenges that climate change presents to humanity, a pair of legal scholars have something to offer — an enormous new book filled with over 1,000 potential solutions. Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States outlines recommendations to help arm policymakers, the legal community, and everyday citizens with a giant menu of legal options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. “No one has done this, at this scale, in the U.S.,” said John Dernbach, director of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center at Widener University in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Dernbach co-edited the book, along with Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. . . .
"The trade in illegal timber products—those harvested and exported in contravention of the law of the producer country—is entangled in corruption, conflict, insecure land rights, and poor governance,” said Sandra Nichols Thiam, Senior Attorney of the Environmental Law Institute. She moderated a panel titled “Citizen Enforcement in the Forestry Sector” hosted by the Environmental Law Institute that explored illegal logging within the forest sector.
Mere days after Dominion Energy powered up its new transmission line across the James River from Surry to Jamestown, VA, a ruling by a federal court of appeals cast the controversial infrastructure’s future in doubt. On March 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an opinion overturning the project’s key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the grounds that the agency did not meet its obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act and directing the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement on the 17-tower, 500-kilovolt line.
Though the Atlantic Coast pipeline's path winds through mountainous Appalachia, the contentious gas project may face its biggest uphill battle in court.
Over the last two months, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed or allowed federal agencies to revisit a slate of critical approvals for the gas pipeline. The court's Dec. 7 delay of a key Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act review, which the 4th Circuit has now twice rejected, led developers to halt construction.
Since that time, the court has returned several other key federal permits and approvals — sometimes at regulators' request. In the meantime, the project's costs and schedule have become moving targets.
Legal scholar Zechariah Chafee, Jr, said it best: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins,” he wrote in 1919, attributing the quote to an unnamed judge – and reflecting the fundamental challenge of all regulation, including the rules and laws that protect the waters of the United States. The Clean Water Act (CWA), for example, evolved over decades, as have the rules that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) develop for implementing it. At the core of these rules is the acknowledgement that it sometimes makes sense to build a road through a wetland or dredge a stream, but only if the developer gets permission from competent authorities and makes up for the damages by restoring degraded areas of equal or greater environmental value. . . .
A United Nations report says that a global failure to enforce environmental protection laws is exacerbating threats.
The report from the United Nations Environment Program released Thursday says there is a lack of monitoring agencies capable of effectively enforcing laws. It says poor implementation is one of the "greatest challenges to mitigating climate change, reducing pollution and preventing widespread species and habitat loss."
It also called attention to the "harassment, arbitrary arrests, threats, and killing of environmental defenders."
The number of environmental protection laws around the world has increased 38-fold since 1972, but a lack of sufficient enforcement has rendered many of them useless, a new United Nations report has found.
In 1972, the year of the first UN environmental agreement, only three countries had national environmental framework laws: Norway, Sweden, and the United States. By 2017, 176 nations had these laws. In addition, 150 countries enshrined environmental protection or the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, and 164 countries had cabinet-level bodies responsible for environmental protection. . . .
When Chinese police found them in the trunk of a smuggler’s car, 33 of the trafficked pangolins — endangered scaly mammals from southern China — were still alive, wrapped in plastic bags soaked with their own urine.
But the fate of the creatures — whose scales are worth nearly their weight in silver on the black market — was not a happy one. Every last pangolin died in government captivity within a few months of the August 2017 seizure.
A pioneering environmental nonprofit in Beijing has launched an investigation, called “counting pangolins,” to figure out what happens to such animals recovered from the illegal wildlife trade. Its findings so far highlight discrepancies between environmental laws and outcomes. . . .
Top federal officials traveled to the Wilson County fairgrounds outside of Nashville Tuesday to promote the Trump Administration's proposal to weaken a federal clean water regulation. Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called on Tennessee farmers to engage in the contentious debate. Trump officials want to limit which bodies of water are subject to the Clean Water Act, the 1972 landmark legislation that protects streams, rivers and other bodies of water from uncontrolled development and pollution. . . .