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Vibrant Environment

FOOD WASTE: “Smart Technology” Promises to Revolutionize Recycling

Enevo Sensor System
By Carol Adaire Jones, Visiting Scholar, Linda Breggin, Senior Attorney, and Emmett McKinney, Research Associate
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Imagine the dumpsters behind restaurant row in your community signaling their hauling company to come pick them up because they are full and about to overflow, or their food is rotting and about to stink up the neighborhood. Such are the promises for waste management of new “smart technologies,” based on sensors, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, big data, and social networks.

The Uncertain Fate of WOTUS

Emerald Bay, Michael
By Robert Kelsey, Associate Editor, Environmental Law Reporter
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In a series of executive orders, the president has requested that agencies review several environmental protection rules, and if deemed necessary, repeal or modify rules to better facilitate economic growth. One such rule, the Clean Water rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), has been in the crosshairs of industry for some time.

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.

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.

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.

Angus Macbeth: An Environmental Lawyer’s Lawyer

Angus Macbeth
By Sam Gutter, Senior Counsel, Sidley Austin LLP
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Angus Macbeth died in his sleep on January 22. With his passing, the environmental bar lost a founding father, an extraordinary advocate who helped establish the Natural Resources Defense Council, built and led the environmental practice in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and grounded the environmental practice group at Sidley Austin LLP.

Along with many others, I lost a friend and mentor—a man who shaped our collective approach to the law not through lectures or pronouncements, but by brilliant example, always finding the best analytical path, the right words to sum up the central theme, the most convincing advocacy.

No Return: Reagan-Era Anti-Environmentalism Won’t Work for Business or Government

President Reagan and VP Bush
By Cassie Phillips, Director, Private Environmental Governance Initiative
Monday, February 13, 2017

The public debate around President Trump’s environmental nominees follows an old script, playing jobs against the environment. But the script’s not just old, it’s obsolete. Being anti-environment hasn’t been a winning political strategy since at least President Reagan’s first term, in which he famously appointed three people who were hostile to the environmental programs they were named to lead: James Watt as Secretary of Interior, the late Ann Gorsuch as EPA Administrator, and Rita Lavelle as head of the Superfund program. In the name of deregulation, the “gang of three” cut staff, budgets, and agency enforcement actions. Whatever success they enjoyed was short-lived, however, as a strong backlash drove all three from office in 1983.

Environmentalism in the Next Machine Age

Cybernetics
By Dave Rejeski, Director; Technology, Innovation and the Environment Project
Monday, February 6, 2017

Can our machines become self-motivated environmental learners?

The environmental movement has always been challenged by machines—the internal combustion engine, steam-powered turbines, production devices of every type and size—mechanisms consuming resources and generating waste during the long chain of events required to produce products (which often ended up themselves as waste). Old machines had rudimentary feedback systems like governors, gyroscopes, and other servomechanisms. These systems rarely provided any control of environmental parameters, but they did have an important characteristic: they operated independent of human operators—a precursor of things to come.

In Case You Missed This . . . The Future of Biotechnology

Plants on agar, Sabisteb
By Dave Rejeski, Director; Technology, Innovation and the Environment Project
Wednesday, January 11, 2017

For the past seven months, an effort has been underway to change the way we regulate biotechnology—an effort that involves the White House (driven by the Office of Science & Technology Policy and including CEQ, OMB, and the U.S. Trade Representative); three of the most important regulatory bodies in our government: EPA, FDA, and USDA; and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). No regulatory modernization initiative in recent history has come close to this effort in terms of the level of government engagement and potential scope of impact.