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Vibrant Environment

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.

Fourth Circuit Vacates Permits Authorizing Pipeline Construction in National Forest

By Hunter Leigh Jones, Associate Editor, ELR
Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On December 13, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service authorizing a pipeline, known as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to be constructed across two national forests and the Appalachian Trail. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a proposed 604-mile natural gas pipeline that would stretch from West Virginia to North Carolina.

Feeling the Burn: the Future of California’s Electric Utilities and Homeowners Insurance in Continual Wildfire Season

By Sierra Killian, Research Associate
Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Months after the devastating Camp, Woolsey, and Hill fires in California, the fallout of the blazes continues to rock the state. In the past month, PG&E, the state’s largest electric utility, transitioned out several top executives, had its credit rating downgraded to junk status, and was mandated to inspect its entire electric grid in a sharply worded court order. Last week, the company announced plans to file for bankruptcy by January 29. Citizens, insurance companies, and the state government are also feeling the heat as expected damage costs rise and climate change intensifies the frequency of wildfires. The strain on California’s public and private institutions foreshadows the difficult decisions to come across the fire-prone American West.

Insight on Compensatory Mitigation: Progress and Opportunities

Monday, January 14, 2019

Natural resource mitigation—avoiding impacts to important species and habitat, minimizing impacts, and then providing offsets for remaining, residual impacts—is a valuable tool for developers and agencies to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, a variety of federal statutes that regulate impacts to important wildlife species and habitat, and/or public land management statutes requiring that uses of public lands be balanced with protection and conservation.

The Future of the Amazon Under Bolsonaro

By Avital Li, Research Associate
Monday, January 7, 2019

On the campaign trail, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised to eliminate existing protections of the Amazon. Despite some restrictions on his power to fulfill those promises, his administration will have a huge role to play in determining the delicate future of the earth’s largest rainforest, 65% of which is located within Brazil’s borders. Indeed, limiting the ability of agencies to enforce existing laws is more than sufficient to enable the proliferation of illegal logging, farming, and mining in the rainforest.

This Is America’s Food Policy—This Is the 2018 Farm Bill

By Caitlin F. McCarthy, Director of the Associates Program
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“Our nation's food security depends on strong agricultural policy that provides stability for America's farmers and ranchers; protects our land and natural resources; develops new trade opportunities while leveling the playing field for our producers; strengthens rural communities; and helps Americans of all stripes access the nutritious foods they need to keep their families healthy. This is America's food policy. This is the Farm Bill.” (The House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture)

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Law: The Canadian Case (Part II)

By Cynthia Harris, Staff Attorney
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Continuing from ELI’s December 10 post  on the legal authorization and applications of TEK in the United States, today, we explore incorporation of TEK into Canadian law.

Around the world, decisions impacting indigenous peoples’ traditional territories historically have been made without the participation, input, and consent of the indigenous communities themselves. Natural resource management relied solely on Western science, excluding rich knowledge gained over centuries of direct experience and practice.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the United States: Contributions to Climate Adaptation and Natural Resource Management (Part I)

By Greta Swanson, Visiting Attorney
Monday, December 10, 2018

Well before the world’s atmospheric level of carbon dioxide reached 400 ppm, residents and scientists in the Arctic were documenting dramatic changes taking place in the Arctic environment, which is warming at twice the rate as lower latitudes. The Arctic has seen loss and deterioration of summer and fall sea ice, melting of permafrost, migration of shrubby plants into the region, fires, and changes in the phenology of birds, animals, insects, and plants such that their seasonal cycles have become out of sync.

“Every Culture Has a Science”: An Introduction to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Indigenous Scientific Representation

By Hannah Dale, Research & Publications Intern
Monday, October 29, 2018

In the Alaskan Arctic, Inupiat hunt bearded seals for food and blubber—a tradition spanning generations, and based on hunters’ extensive knowledge of the weather, ice, seal habitats, and how to prepare and pay respects to the animal after killing it. But over the past few generations, their ability to harvest seals has been significantly affected with the warming oceans, melting ice, and changing patterns of marine animals in the Bering Sea. Last spring, hunters in Unalakleet, Alaska, could not participate in the harvest because there was little ice cover. Since seals use ice pans as a place to rest above water, reduced ice cover impedes hunters’ ability to find and hunt the animals. Inupiat worry about what these environmental changes will mean for future generations.