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Vibrant Environment

The Wrong Place and the Wrong Time: The Rocky Hill Case and a Landmark Legal Win for Climate Action

By Isabelle Smith, Law Clerk
Monday, March 25, 2019

As the global community faces the reality that a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is urgently required, a new class of climate change litigation is emerging. But what impact are these proceedings having?

A recent case from New South Wales (NSW), Australia, has directly challenged development that is at odds with GHG emission reduction targets. Hailed as a “landmark decision” in climate litigation, the case represents the first time an Australian court has refused a coal mining development consent not only on the basis of unacceptable “planning, visual and social impacts,” but also to prevent a new source of GHG emissions.

Trips to the Biotech Frontier: Episode 1

By Kashaf Momin, Research & Publications Intern
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “biotechnology?” Do you tend to think of genetically modified corn or lab-grown meat? Have you ever thought of bricks grown from bacteria or leather bags made from mushroom roots as biotechnology?

Genetically engineered food is one popular form of biotechnology, but the possible products of biotechnology are expanding rapidly beyond food and agriculture, transforming a variety of other industries, such as construction and clothing.

Here are four new and emerging applications of biotechnology that you might have never considered.

An Uncertain Future for California's Vehicle Emission Standards

Monday, March 18, 2019

Last month, the Trump Administration formally ended talks with California over the federal government’s plans to freeze vehicle emissions standards and likely revoke the state’s long-standing authority to set its own standards under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The success of California in mitigating air pollution and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under CAA §209—and that of the 15 states that have invoked waivers under §177—is now in question. And the Administration’s plan to end negotiations and move forward with its proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule will most certainly lead to a heated, lengthy court battle.

Environmental Law Futures

By Jonathan Cannon, Blaine T. Phillips Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law; Hunton & Williams Professor of Law; Director, Environmental and Land Use Law Program, University of Virginia School of Law
Friday, March 15, 2019

In the early 1970s, I told my stepfather, a distinguished judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals, that I wanted to go to law school to study environmental law. He thought that was a silly idea. There wasn’t—and wouldn’t be—a separate field of environmental law. If I wanted to study administrative law with an emphasis on environmental applications, fine. But I was deluding myself to think there would be a new domain of law defined by the environmental issues of the day.

Top Legal Scholars, Policymakers, and Practitioners to Discuss Innovative Law and Policy Proposals at the 12th Annual Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review Conference

By Linda Breggin, Senior Attorney; Director of the Center for State, Tribal, and Local Environmental Programs, and Anna Beeman, Research Associate
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Interested in learning from leading scholars, policymakers, and practitioners about innovative policy proposals related to federal energy leasing, state preemption of local environmental initiatives, or free trade and enforcement of environmental laws? If so, you’ll want to attend the 12th annual Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review (ELPAR) conference on March 29, 2019, in Washington, D.C. The conference is free, and for those of you outside the D.C. area, it will also be available via webinar.

The PG&E Bankruptcy and California's Clean Energy Future

By Matthew Beyer, Research & Publications Intern
Monday, March 11, 2019

On January 29, 2019, PG&E, the largest utility company in California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The announcement comes after a spate of wildfires in California have been linked to the company’s equipment and hardware—including a PG&E-operated transmission tower that investigators suggest may have sparked the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California. While the corporation struggles to maintain its public integrity amidst financial reorganization and internal reshuffling, energy consumers and producers alike have been left with an uncertain future.

Legislating a Net-Zero Carbon Future in New Zealand

By Isabelle Smith, Law Clerk
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

“We’re a long way off, to tell you the honest truth.” A candid statement from New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw, made days out from the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP24 Katowice—on the possibility of New Zealand meeting its emission reduction commitment under the Paris Agreement. 

The Global Pact and the Future of Environmental Governance

By Matthew Beyer, Research & Publications Intern
Monday, March 4, 2019

In the international system, there are over 3,500 environmental agreements governing thousands of distinct ecosystems across hundreds of different nations. This complex spider-web of treaties, protocols, and commitments often lacks coherence, obscuring the role of environmental law in the international community. Despite efforts to consolidate international environmental governance with the inception of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 and the Paris Climate Accords in 2015, barriers to a consolidated system of environmental law still remain. While UNEP has certainly filled an important role in moving toward such a system, it has historically been unable to act as a unifying central authority in the way that U.N. bodies like WHO, FAO and UNESCO have.

Wrestling the Nanotechnology Genie

By Bill Looney, AECOM Senior Program Manager, Director AECOM Nanotechnology Initiative
Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Nanotechnology (nanotech) has been described by some as the next Industrial Revolution. After more than 20 years of focused research and development, its application is growing and providing benefits and challenges. It already has footing in diverse commercial industries that span from cosmetics to aerospace with expectations of exponential growth. Its extraordinary properties make the unimaginable possible, but in that magic come concerns around environment, health, safety, and ethics that sometimes make nanotech seem more like the Wild West. Here are some takeaways from my years of wrestling with the nanotech genie.

Cooperative Federalism 2.0: Rethinking the Federal-State Relationship

By Matthew Beyer, Research & Publications Intern
Monday, February 25, 2019

In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt outlined a series of environmental priorities in his “Back-to-Basics Agenda.” Among them was delegating more responsibility to state governments—a call that evoked over 40 years of “tug of war” between state and federal authority over environmental regulation. This question of the proper distribution of power in environmental policy—referred to as federalism—first became salient in the early 1970s with the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the crystallization of the federal government’s role in environmental issues.