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Vibrant Environment

Strategizing Against the Flame: What’s Next for California’s Wildfires?

By Helena Kilburn, Educational Programming Intern
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The 2018 wildfire season in California has been the state’s deadliest on record, and the 10 most deadly fires in California’s history occurred in the last four years. In a deviation from historic records, documentation of these recent fires show that their occurrence has become nearly year-round rather than seasonal. These fires pose extreme threats to 25 million acres of California’s wildlands, as well as to the 11 million people who live within the threatened area. In addition to intensifying climate change, faulty equipment and electric transmission from utility companies have contributed to the increase in wildfires in these high-risk regions. However, taking full monetary responsibility for these fires can lead to near or certain bankruptcy for the utility companies.

Toward Citizen Science Policy Outcomes

By Kasantha Moodley , Manager, Innovation and Governance, and George Wyeth , Visiting Scholar
Wednesday, May 22, 2019

In ways that did not exist even ten years ago, everyday people are acting as scientists: contributing their time and data to make notable discoveries, answer lingering questions, and develop awareness. Motivated by technology innovations, public concern, and limited institutional capacity, citizen science is gently reshaping the conventional systems that address human health and environmental protection.

Trips to the Biotech Frontier: Episode 3

By Kashaf Momin, Research & Publications Intern
Wednesday, May 8, 2019

By now, you have seen how biotech is transforming the food industry. You have also seen how it can revolutionize the construction and textile industries. In this final episode, we will explore biotechnology products you may find in your home in the near future.

The same platform used to brew hoppy beer without the hops, discussed in our last episode, is also transforming the fragrance business. In partnership with a Swiss perfume company, the bioscience firm Amyris synthetically produced patchouli, one of the essential oils that constitutes traditional perfume. This product, called CLEARWOOD®, was created using engineered yeast as its microbial platform, a more sustainable alternative to the costly and lengthy cultivation and extraction process of the patchouli plant. Meanwhile, Ginkgo Bioworks has designed its own aromatic oil....

Tribal Regulation of Single-Use Plastics

By Cynthia Harris, Staff Attorney; Director of Tribal Programs; Deputy Director of the Center for State, Tribal, and Local Environmental Programs
Monday, April 29, 2019

The world is waking up to the growing problem of plastic waste contaminating our ocean and terrestrial environments. Local governments—lauded as laboratories of innovation—have begun enacting bans and fees on single-use plastics, reducing the amount entering the waste stream in the first place. Businesses are stepping up; national and multinational governance bodies are adopting laws cutting down on the manufacture and distribution of single-use plastics. In the United States, California, the District of ColumbiaHawaii, and Maine have initiated statewide restrictions, while Oregon and Washington are considering similar measures.

Trips to the Biotech Frontier: Episode 2

By Kashaf Momin, Research & Publications Intern
Monday, April 22, 2019

If you read Episode 1 of Trips to the Biotech Frontier, you know that biotechnology has far-reaching applications beyond genetically modified crops. But even within the food and agriculture industry, the industry is seeing the use of biotechnology in ways we may never imagined. In this episode, we will explore some of these new and emerging applications in food.

Rethinking “Compliance”: Lessons Learned From the First INECE Compliance Conversations

By Taylor Lilley, Public Interest Law Fellow, Avital Li, Research Associate, and Jessica Foster, Research & Publications Intern
Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lack of access to safe wastewater management infrastructure and improved sanitation is a global challenge that affects over 2 billion people worldwide. While large-scale wastewater treatment plants are common throughout the world, off-grid communities that exist outside of areas covered by centralized water infrastructure are often geographically isolated or economically marginalized, making these services not only unaffordable but inaccessible. In the absence of these networks, many communities have chosen to adapt. Although it is typically considered to be unlawful or illegitimate by their national governments, communities have begun to build decentralized systems to treat and reuse wastewater for agricultural purposes.

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.

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.

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.