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Vibrant Environment

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.

Freshwater Lakes are Warming at Surprising Rate

U.S. Great Lakes, NASA
By Stephen R. Dujack, Editor, The Environmental Forum®
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

There is an alarming new study out, funded by NASA and the National  Science Foundation. It was published in Geophysical Research Letters and announced at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting. Together, these are the heavyweights in climate change research and analysis. Their findings: The world’s lakes are warming at an alarming rate, much faster than the oceans or the atmosphere. The study monitored 235 lakes, spanning six continents and representing half the world’s freshwater supply, for 25 years.

FOOD WASTE: City and State Strategies for Source Reduction

Farmers Market Produce
By Emmett McKinney, Research Associate, Linda Breggin, Senior Attorney, and Carol Adaire Jones, Visiting Scholar
Monday, February 20, 2017

Strategies for cities and states to reduce food waste can be thought of through the lens of the “Three Rs” of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy—reduction, reuse, and recycling. In food waste terms, the Three Rs mean preventing wasted food at the source, donating wasted food leftovers, and recycling food waste through composting or anaerobic digestion.

The recent ReFED report on reducing food waste quantifies the economic value and diversion potential of different strategies related to each of the Three Rs. According to ReFED, source reduction and donation generate the most economic value per ton of food saved, while food recycling and composting have the potential to divert a much greater quantity of food from landfills.

How Private Actors Can Keep Climate Action Moving Forward

The Paris Gap, Mike Vandenberg
By Brett Korte, Staff Attorney; Director, Associates Program
Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Early in the fall of 2016, there was growing cause to celebrate the international momentum building around climate mitigation. In October, United Nations actors reached agreements to limit airline emissions and later HFCs. On November 4, the Paris Agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change went into effect. Then, four days later, Donald J. Trump was elected president, casting doubt on the U.S. climate commitments made by President Obama’s Administration. Though his Tweets and stump speeches may not equate directly to his eventual climate policy, the surprise election results have certainly caused consternation among advocates of climate mitigation and adaptation.

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.