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Vibrant Environment

The Ecological Impacts of a Border Wall

Rio Grande River
By Caitlin Meagher , Research & Publications Intern - Spring 2017
Monday, April 3, 2017

Often lost in discussions of efficacy and payment relating to the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall is what would happen to the environment if a concrete divider were placed across a nearly-2,000 mile swath of habitat. While wall-like barriers already stand on hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, expanding to a full-border wall would constitute a massive transformation of the rest of the United States’ southern borderlands, posing substantial threats to the wildlife that roam the area.

The Environmental Forum Reports: News That’s Reused

A tree standing
By Stephen R. Dujack, Editor, The Environmental Forum®
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Higher Power: “A Unitarian Universalist church is suing the town of Bedford, Massachusetts, for denying a request to install solar panels on its property,” reports the ThinkProgress website. The church is “arguing that authorities are infringing on the congregation’s right to express their religious belief in clean energy solutions.”

The church applied for a “certificate of appropriateness” that would allow it to install solar panels on its sanctuary, but the town’s Historic District Commission turned it down.

Floodplain Buyouts for a Better Future

Flooded homes in MN, Andrea Booher, FEMA Photo Library
By Rebecca L. Kihslinger, Senior Science and Policy Analyst
Monday, March 27, 2017

Flooding, storms, and other hazardous conditions cost billons of dollars in damages annually across the United States. Hazard mitigation programs attempt to break the cycle of repeated disaster damage by identifying and addressing a community’s disaster vulnerabilities in anticipation of future events. One such hazard mitigation solution is the voluntary acquisition of flood-damaged properties from their owners, using the federal hazard mitigation grant program and other state and federal grant programs. The acquisition and restoration of these floodplain properties can increase community resilience while improving wildlife habitat, enhancing ecosystem services, and providing much-needed open space and recreational facilities to a community. Buyouts present an opportunity for communities to create public assets while restoring the ecological integrity of the floodplain and strengthening the community’s resilience to future disasters.

FOOD WASTE: Food Donation Receives a Technology Boost

smart phone and food
By Linda Breggin, Senior Attorney, Carol Adaire Jones, Visiting Scholar, and Emmett McKinney, Former Research Associate
Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In a Vibrant Environment blog post on February 17, 2017, we provided an overview of the types of approaches that cities and states can use to address the environmental and social justice implications of wasting 40%  of the food that is produced in the United States. We addressed reducing food waste before it happens, but because that is not always possible, we turn now to the next best alternative—rescuing or donating wasted food.

EPA's Report on Fracking and Water Quality: Too Little Too Late?

Fracking roads, pipelines, and well pads, Simon Fraser University
By Miriam Aczel, Visiting Researcher, Environmental Law Institute
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Since 2008, there have been numerous reports of drinking water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Footage from the film Gasland famously showed residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, igniting water from their taps, arguably demonstrating that methane had migrated into their water sources during the fracking processes.

Environmental Whistleblowing in the Federal Government

The Office of the Whistleblower Symbol
By Michael D. Kohn, Partner, Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP, and Stephen M. Kohn, Partner, Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP
Monday, March 13, 2017

With the change in the administration there is renewed interest in whistleblower protections by federal employees. Federal employees who are troubled by what is occurring within their agency should take a moment to better understand their rights and consult with lawyers who are knowledgeable about these complex laws before taking action that could result in adverse employment actions. What turns out to be protected or not protected may surprise you. The starting point to understand federal employee whistleblower rights and some things to watch out for are outlined below.

This Month in ELR—Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, and Access to Water

Native American totem pole, Ketchikan, Alaska, Jeremy Keith
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Access to water is a fundamental climate change issue. It is related to significant political, social, and ecological struggles that indigenous peoples face internationally and here in the United States, as recent protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline clearly illustrate. Yet, governments and courts have done little to address such climate change inequities. So argues Dr. Itzchak Kornfeld, the Giordano Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in The Impact of Climate Change on American and Canadian Indigenous Peoples and Their Water Resources.

TRADE & ENVIRONMENT: Why Include Environmental Provisions in International Trade Agreements

World airline route map, 2009, Jpatokal
By Greta Swanson, Visiting Attorney
Monday, March 6, 2017

Rising levels of global consumption are having significant impacts on biodiversity worldwide. The world is facing its sixth extinction, a massive loss of biodiversity, with extinctions occurring at 100-1,000 times pre-human levels. International trade increases these threats. A Nature article documenting the impacts of trade in thousands of commodity chains concluded that 30% of threats to threatened and endangered species globally were due to international trade. It found that while wealthy countries drive most consumption, the greatest threats to species are found further down the supply chain, in the developing countries that produce the commodities sought after by the richer nations.

Schrödinger’s Brexit: Letting the Cat Out of the Box

Cat on a Union Jack, Colicaranica
By Miriam Aczel, Visiting Researcher, Environmental Law Institute
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Although it’s been several months since the United Kingdom’s populist vote to leave the European Union, it seems as though the U.K. is trapped in a bit of Euro-divorce limbo. Some have even gone as far as to call it “Schrödinger’s Brexit,” invoking quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment to explain the government’s policy folly. Like the fate of Schrödinger’s cat, Britain’s future is unclear: Article 50 in the Treaty of Lisbon, which delineates the rules for exiting the European Union, has not yet been triggered. In other words, despite the outcome of the popular referendum, Britain has not yet officially declared whether it is leaving the EU.

Which Wetlands Can Reduce Risk From Climate Change Impacts?

Wetlands, Svetlana Makarova
By James M. McElfish, Jr., Senior Attorney; Director, Sustainable Use of Land Program
Monday, February 27, 2017

Climate change presents immense challenges to coastal communities and to ecosystems affected by sea-level rise, salt water intrusion, changes in average temperature, storm frequency, and species composition. Existing wetland complexes are among the “natural and nature-based features” that currently buffer human communities from catastrophic storm events and that help ecosystems rebound from major stresses and impacts.