Making Sense of NOAA's Wildfire Announcement

by Dave Owen | August 10, 2018

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross just released a statement directing NOAA to "facilitate" water use to respond to California's wildfires (the statement follows several tweets in which President Trump implied that the cause of California's wildfires was the state's ill-advised decision to let some of its rivers flow downhill to the ocean). Because I've already seen a few befuddled headlines about what this all means, I thought a short post explaining a few key points about what NOAA can and can't do here would be helpful.

  1. Importantly, NOAA does not itself manage reservoirs, forests, or firefighting equipment. It just regulates activities that might harm threatened or endangered salmon (and other oceanic or diadromous species). So headlines saying that Secretary Ross ordered NOAA to "use" water to fight fires are not accurate. Instead, he has ordered NOAA to look favorably upon the requests of other federal agencies to use water that might otherwise have been allocated to fish protection. 
     
  2. NOAA also does not have general water management authority in California. Instead, the California State Water Resources Control Board, a state agency, is the primary regulator of water rights, including rights held by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. Consequently, NOAA does not have authority to just order that water be devoted to firefighting.
     
  3. This statement has no legal meaning. As a legal matter, NOAA cannot ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Proposed Rollbacks in Vehicle Emission Limits Pose Serious Environmental Threat

by Joel Mintz | August 09, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. Federal laws and regulations play a crucial role determining the quality of our air, water, and natural resources. Well-researched and scientifically supported rules can bring enormous benefits to the American people, but regulatory rollbacks for little more than deregulation's sake can cause great harm. One example of the potential damage that a poorly crafted regulation may cause is the new proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ...

Watered Down Standards at the TRUMP CAFÉ

by Daniel Farber | August 06, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Trump is proposing to gut CO2 standards for cars, freezing 2020 CAFE fuel-efficiency standards in place for years to come. Without the freeze, the standards would automatically ramp up. He also wants to eliminate California's ability to set its own standards, which many other states have opted to adopt. Here are seven key questions about Trump's proposed rollback and some answers. Do the car companies really want this? A: Not so much. It's not that they love being ...

What Hath FERC Wrought?

by Daniel Farber | July 12, 2018
At the end of June, in a vote divided along partisan lines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed down a sweeping order that will impact electricity markets in a wide swath of the country – likely at the expense of renewable energy and nuclear power. Unfortunately, like Trump's power plant bailout, the result may be to delay the closing of coal-fired power plants. That's a serious problem. A new study by researchers at Resources for the Future shows that ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: 'Stopping Rules' Would Say When It's Time to Shift from Debating to Acting

by David Flores | June 11, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding. It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest, ...

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact. Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of ...

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

by Karen Sokol | May 21, 2018
Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the likelihood of an increase in what is now often referred to as "climate change" or "climate justice" litigation. The reason for the increase, according to the IPCC, is that "countries and citizens [will] become dissatisfied with the pace of international and national decision-making on climate change." Just over a decade later, that observation now looks quite prescient, with several cities and counties taking the oil industry to court ...

Let a Hundred (Municipal) Flowers Bloom

by Daniel Farber | May 17, 2018
In the era of Trump, one bright spot remains what's happening in cities across the nation. Here are some numbers: 402 U.S. mayors have endorsed the Paris Agreement and announced their intention of meeting its goals, while 118 have endorsed the goal of making their cities 100 percent renewable. A bit of quick research provides a sample of what some major cities are already up to: Atlanta. Atlanta's city council has set ambitious goals: 100 percent renewable energy for city ...

Connecting the Dots: Rob Verchick and Laurie Ristino Talk Food Security and Climate Change

by Matt Shudtz | May 15, 2018
CPR President Rob Verchick recently sat down to talk with one of our newest Member Scholars, Professor Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School, about the connections between climate change, food security, and policymaking tools like the Farm Bill that could be better used to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We’re excited to share an audio recording of that conversation here as a “soft launch” of a new product at CPR – our “Connect the Dots” podcast. It’s a work in progress. Our ...

Disastrous Inequality

by Daniel Farber | May 10, 2018
Texas and Puerto Rico both got hit very hard last year by major hurricanes. But the federal government moved a lot more quickly to get help to Texas. In a new paper, I document the difference and explore the reasons. Although I won't go into all the details here, this is a situation people need to know about. , though there's a more extensive table in the paper. FEMA says it poured just as many resources into Puerto Rico as ...

New Policy Research from CPR's Verchick Featured in Royal Society Report on Paris Climate Accord

by David Flores | April 05, 2018
A new report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A published earlier this week presents a suite of new scientific and policy research meant to improve and drive forward progress under the Paris Climate Agreement. The report – from the oldest science journal in the western world – is the culmination of presentations first delivered by attendees at the 25th anniversary conference of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. CPR Board President and Member Scholar Rob Verchick ...

Climate Change in the Courts

by Daniel Farber | April 02, 2018
There are three important climate lawsuits pending in federal court. Here's the state of play and what to expect next. In the first case, Oakland and San Francisco sued leading oil companies. They claim that the companies' production and sale of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California state law. They seek an abatement fund to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure needed to address rising sea levels. This lawsuit was originally filed in California state court, but ...

Threat from Climate-Induced Spills Goes Beyond Superfund and Toxic Release Inventory Sites

by David Flores | March 19, 2018
This post is the first in a forthcoming series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities in Virginia. At the tail end of winter, a succession of "bomb cyclones" and nor'easters has brought fierce winds and surging coastal flooding to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. These storms remind us of the deepening vulnerability of our coastal and riverfront communities and infrastructure to intensifying extreme weather and flooding. This "freakish" winter weather comes just ...

If Chesapeake Bay Jurisdictions Are Serious About Restoration, They Must Take Climate Change into Account

by David Flores | February 28, 2018
At a workshop on Friday, March 2, representatives of the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions will meet in Baltimore to make important final decisions about how to address pollution – previously accounted for – from the Conowingo Dam and climate change. Decisions these representatives make about how to address pollution loads through the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) agreement will shape how and whether Bay jurisdictions are able to meet their Bay restoration goals during the crucial third and final phase ...

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

by Daniel Farber | December 27, 2017
The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would require utilities to improve efficiency at coal-fired power plants and reduce the use of those plants in favor of generators using natural gas or renewables. Head of EPA Scott Pruitt claims EPA can only require CO2 cuts that can be accomplished by utilities “inside the fenceline” of a power plant. Under his interpretation, EPA could require a utility to increase the efficiency of a coal-fired plant. But, he assumes, his interpretation would rule ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: Bay Jurisdictions' No-action Climate Policy Puts Restoration in Peril

by Rena Steinzor | December 14, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth. Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Trump Administration's Clean Power Plan Repeal Proposal Is Illegal

by William Buzbee | October 30, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. The Trump administration's efforts to sidestep finalized regulations through stays or delays have so far met with judicial rejection in three straight decisions. As these courts have concluded, such a deregulatory strategy violates settled law that administrative agencies are bound by their own finalized regulations until they undo them through a new full rulemaking process. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt last week published a proposal to repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan ...

The Flood of Takings Cases after Hurricane Harvey

by John Echeverria | October 23, 2017
On August 27, as Hurricane Harvey blew through the Houston area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found itself between the proverbial rock and hard place. Since the 1940s, it had operated a flood control project to control the risk of flood damage to downtown Houston and the Houston Ship Channel. It had accomplished this by carefully controlling the release of flood waters from the project's dams. Now, however, the Corps confronted Hurricane Harvey, a megastorm generating massive, unprecedented volumes ...

Climate Change

Human-caused climate change poses a profound threat to the future health of the planet and all that live on it. We know what causes it, and how to slow it down. But we have barely  begun to make real policy progress, in the face of heavily bankrolled opposition from the energy industry and its allies. CPR Member Scholars are focused on mitigating and preventing climate change, and adapting to what climate change we are too late to prevent.

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