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Vibrant Environment

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.

Reflections of an Unabashed Enforcer

By Leslie Carothers, Visiting Scholar
Friday, February 22, 2019

My long professional experience as an environmental enforcer and corporate compliance officer persuades me that strong enforcement of environmental laws, including sanctions for noncompliance, is essential to deliver their benefits to the public. To borrow from ELI’s slogan, enforcement “makes environmental law work” by reinforcing the accountability of both government agencies and the organizations they regulate for achieving compliance.

“L’Affaire du Siècle”: Over 2 Million Supporters of Groundbreaking Climate Lawsuit

By Miriam Aczel, Visiting Researcher, Environmental Law Institute
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Just weeks after the widespread Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests swept across France for the better part of December, a petition commonly known as the L’Affaire du Siècle—the Case of the Century—has garnered over 2 million supporters.

Brought by four nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—Greenpeace, Notre Affaire à Tous, OXFAM, and the Fondation Pour la Nature et l’Hommethe December 18 petition contains over 40 pages alleging the French government’s inaction on climate change, claiming that the government has “defaulted its environmental obligations” by failing to take crucial steps to halt rising global temperatures.

WOTUS Proposal Poses Challenge for States

By Rebecca L. Kihslinger, Senior Science and Policy Analyst
Monday, February 18, 2019

On February 14, 2019, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to redefine “federal authority under the Clean Water Act.” The proposed rule is the second part of the Trump Administration’s two-step process to repeal and revise the Clean Water Rule adopted in June 2015. The 2015 rule is currently in effect in 22 states as the courts sort out numerous challenges.

Standing on Public Lands

By James M. McElfish, Jr., Senior Attorney; Director, Sustainable Use of Land Program
Wednesday, February 13, 2019

In litigation involving public lands, the first response from today's U.S. Department of Justice is almost always to contest plaintiffs’ standing.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions and numerous federal court decisions over the last several decades have effectively resulted in two evidentiary phases in most of these cases—first, proof of standing as a constitutional threshold, and second, only if standing is maintained, consideration of the evidence supporting the case on the merits. The standing phase is particularly relevant for public interest plaintiffs in public lands cases; it can require a more exacting showing from those seeking to vindicate public interests than from those asserting private economic interests.

CERCLA and the DOD Dilemma: Challenges and Opportunities

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

In the late 1970s, revelations about the hazardous waste contaminating sites like Love Canal and Valley of the Drums captured the American public’s attention. In response to concerns about the risk these hazardous dumps posed to both public and environmental health, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980. Commonly referred to as Superfund, CERCLA gives EPA the authority and resources to clean up and remediate sites contaminated by hazardous substances and pollutants.

All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.