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Making a Difference: ELI in Action

ELI has a proud record of making law work for people, places, and the planet for nearly 50 years. Here we highlight some of our more recent accomplishments with regard to environmental law, policy, and protection.

Identifying Proposed Changes to the “Magna Carta” of Environmental Law
On January 10, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality published in the Federal Register its proposal for a comprehensive rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations that govern how federal agencies identify, analyze, and mitigate for the anticipated environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions. Comments to the proposal were due March 10. Given the impact the proposed revisions could have on environmental governance in the United States, ELI released the Practitioners’ Guide to the Proposed NEPA Regulations—an issue-spotter to assist commenters and others in determining what changes have been proposed and how they may relate to familiar NEPA regulatory concepts. The report is available at https://www.eli.org/research-report/practitioners-guide-proposed-nepa-regulations. And in Season 2, Episode 4, of ELI’s People Places Planet Podcast, ELI Senior Attorney Jim McElfish spoke to Nick Yost, one of the nation’s most experienced NEPA lawyers and the primary drafter of the original 1978 NEPA regulations, to gain further insight on the proposed changes. To listen, visit www.eli.org/podcasts or find us on your favorite podcast app.

Improving Indoor Air Quality
Particulate matter (PM) remains one of the most significant air pollutants in terms of public health impact. PM exposure affects the cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous systems, causing illness and premature death. And recent research has shown that health effects are associated with PM levels below current federal air quality standards. While the health risks from particle pollution have been understood for some time, it is less widely recognized that most of our exposure occurs indoors. Fortunately, building science provides solutions that can help reduce indoor exposure to outdoor pollutants. A new report, Reducing Indoor Exposure to Particle Pollution From Outdoor Sources: Policies and Programs to Improve Air Quality in Homes, offers a range of policy and program opportunities for reducing exposures in homes and also highlights strategies for addressing school environments. States, tribes, and local governments can improve public health by strengthening building design, construction, operation, and maintenance practices to reduce indoor exposures, especially for people who are most vulnerable to the health effects of particle pollution. By taking action now, policymakers and agency officials can increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of individuals and buildings in the years ahead. Download the report here: https://www.eli.org/research-report/reducing-indoor-exposure-particle-pollution-outdoor-sources-policies-and-programs-improving-air-quality-homes.

Arming Local Communities With Tools to Combat Climate Change
Towns and cities all across America are increasingly finding themselves at the front lines in protecting their citizens from the impacts of climate change. Fortunately, a number of tools just waiting to be used can already be found in many local communities’ toolbox, as illustrated in Jonathan Rosenbloom’s book, Remarkable Cities and the Fight Against Climate Change: 43 Recommendations to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and the Communities That Adopted Them, released in March by ELI Press. The book presents a variety of approaches local governments can use to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and/or increase natural features that absorb GHGs, such as trees and wetlands. The recommendations focus exclusively on enacted ordinances (i.e., not policies or informal statements), and the book is organized by actions that remove code barriers, create incentives, and fill regulatory gaps. For more information or to purchase, visit: https://www.eli.org/eli-press-books/remarkable-cities-and-fight-against-climate-change.

Understanding Brexit’s Impact on the Environment
The United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) departure from the European Union (EU) this past January raised a number of legal issues, including its impact on national environmental law and policy. EU directives serve as the foundation for a large contingency of environmental standards, environmental protection regimes, conservation schemes, and enforcement in the U.K. Additional looming implications include those at the interface of agriculture and the environment, business and trade implications, sustainability efforts, chemical regulation, renewable energy development, the Paris Agreement and other climate goals, and a variety of multinational treaties and directives. The anticipated impacts are enormous and far-reaching, and a number of questions remain unanswered. For example, how is the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs preparing for regulations post-Brexit? What role will the U.K. play in the EU emissions trading scheme, in meeting Paris Agreement goals, and with other leading multination environmental treaties and conventions? And what are the looming challenges and the most significant areas of opportunity for the U.K. with respect to national environmental law in the post-Brexit world? On February 3, ELI hosted a “Breaking News Webinar,” where leading experts discussed the future of environmental law in a post-Brexit world. For more, visit https://www.eli.org/events/breaking-news-brexit-environmental-law.

Advancing Environmental Protection in the Courts
A wide range of plaintiffs have pursued climate litigation encompassing federal statutory claims, public trust claims, adaptation issues, and more on both the domestic and international fronts. Climate science is a vital element of such litigation, which can serve as an important avenue for the communication of climate science to the public. But what should courts be focusing on to ensure justice as the number of environmental protection cases continue to increase? And how can these cases be communicated to key audiences to ensure engagement and public education? On February 25, ELI and the Climate Media Lab at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health hosted a webinar workshop where expert panelists tackled the multifaceted aspects of climate cases and explored strategies to successfully communicate climate change in the context of litigation. Learn more at https://www.eli.org/events/confronting-climate-change-primary-forces-advancing-environmental-protection-court-law.

Food for Thought: The Business Case for Co-Digestion
Diverting food waste feedstocks like fats, oils and grease, food scraps, and food processing residuals to anaerobic digestion at water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) can provide significant benefits to WRRF finances, as well as to our environment and community well-being; however, WRRFs face a number of hurdles that leave this potential sustainability strategy largely untapped. Fewer than one in 10 WRRFs use anaerobic digestion to process wastewater solids, and only one in 10 of these are co-digesting high-strength organic wastes. In hopes of stimulating and informing further evaluation and adoption of co-digestion, a new report, Food Waste Co-Digestion at Water Resource Recovery Facilities: Business Case Analysis, provides insights about the strategies WRRFs have used to address the range of risks and impediments they face in adopting co-digestion. The report also outlines a diagnostic framework that individual WRRFs can use to analyze opportunities and potential business strategies for co-digestion at their own facilities. Download the report here: https://www.eli.org/research-report/food-waste-co-digestion-water-resource-recovery-facilities-business-case-analysis.

Supporting the Next Generation of Environmental Lawyers
Jim Rubin was a stalwart environmental advocate and highly respected environmental attorney who left an enduring mark on the field of international environmental law both as a private practitioner and a public servant. Building on Jim’s legacy with the generous support of Jim’s wife, Nancie, ELI launched the Jim Rubin International Fellowship program to support rising environmental lawyers who are committed to building the next generation of environmental protection law and policy. Under the Fellowship, selected environmental lawyers from developing countries will work with ELI staff and other fellows on cutting-edge issues and transferable approaches in environmental law and policy. Successful fellows will embody Jim’s focus, both on the substantive elements of environmental law, and on dispute resolution, capacity building, and citizen participation. Visit https://www.eli.org/jim-rubin-international-fellowship-program to learn how you can help carry forward Jim’s legacy.

Helping States Navigate the Navigable Waters Protection Rule
On January 23, 2020, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a final Navigable Waters Protection Rule to redefine “waters of the United States.” This new rule repeals a Ronald Reagan-era definition rule and adopts an even more limited definition of the waters of the United States that are subject to the federal CleanWater Act. The result of the current rule is the narrowest reading of the Clean Water Act’s reach since the original 1972 Act, a reading narrower than any federal practice since the 1977 Clean Water Act. The preamble to the rule assumes that many states are likely to regulate the excluded waters and wetlands in response to changes in federal jurisdiction. Every state does have at least some authority to regulate activities that affect “waters of the state.” This may include wetlands affected by the rule. But currently, less than one-half of the states have their own permitting programs for freshwater wetlands. In a recent blog, Water Act Rule Poses Challenges for States, ELI offers insight as to what the new rule means for states. Read it here: https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog/water-act-rule-poses-challenges-states.

Streamlining ELR’s Product Line
Now entering its 50th year, the The Environmental Law Reporter has been the go-to resource for environmental law and policy professionals for decades. But the profession, and the times, are changing. Beginning in 2020, we renamed our flagship journal, News & Analysis, to “ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter” or “ELR” for short. We’ll continue to offer insightful articles and commentary on today’s most pressing environmental topics, but we’ve restructured its back pages to highlight more timely, detailed summaries of the most interesting developments in the field each month. Our weekly e-mail summary is now “ELR Update,” and we will continue to fine-tune its format to ensure you receive the most useful information in a manner that is easy to digest. The entire collection, which includes ELR, ELR Update, and 50 years’ worth of reference material, is available on our website at www.elr.info. “ELR Online.” ELR has always been integral to the mission of ELI. That’s why we’ve made these improvements at no added cost. And a subscription to ELR helps support all the work that ELI does to help make law work for people, places, and the planet. For more information on these and other subscription options, visit https://elr.info/subscription-information. Questions? Call Customer Service at our toll-free number, 1-800-433-5120, or send an e-mail to orders@eli.org.


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As climate concerns increase, many countries and businesses are reassessing the role of nuclear power in a climate-sensitive future. Questions are emerging around scheduling retirement of nuclear plants, even as barriers remain to siting new plants, including compliance with state and federal law, mitigating public concerns surrounding risks, and steep financial burdens such as building and operational costs. What does the future of nuclear energy look like in our evolving landscape? How do the environmental challenges of nuclear energy stack up against the possible advantages from the vantage point of climate change, whether those tasks be decommissioning reactors, disposing of nuclear waste, storage issues, or others? Should nuclear energy be seen as a bridge fuel while other renewables scale up to meet energy demands, or even as a fixed piece in a U.S. lower-carbon energy mix? The January-February issue of The Environmental Forum examines these questions, as well as the complex history, the multifaceted regulations, and the future of nuclear energy. Also be sure to check out our March-April issue, where we take a look at the state of environmental law 50 years after the first Earth Day.



Check out season 2 of People Places Planet Podcast. Recent episodes include: 


For nearly 50 years, ELI’s flagship journal, ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, has provided insightful articles on the most pressing environmental topics of the day. Recent articles include: 


Curious about ELR’s full suite of offerings? Learn more here.



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