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Nov. 21, 2019 by Karen Sokol

The Essential Role of State Courts in Addressing Climate Harms

This post was originally published by Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.

In her opening statement on the second day of the House public impeachment hearings, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch recounted how President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani undermined the State Department's ability to "promote stated U.S. policy against corruption." "If our chief [diplomatic] representative is kneecapped," she said, "it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States. These events should concern everyone in this room."

Although this particular instance of the Trump administration's "kneecapping" of a civil servant who had dedicated her life to safeguarding us may be the most high-profile to date, it is unfortunately one among many. In fact, many of the other civil servants kneecapped by the administration were attempting to implement the environmental and public health protections that are statutorily assigned to their agencies in the face of the greatest national security threat we have ever faced; namely, the climate crisis.

Such alarming presidential abuses of power bring into sharp relief the importance of other governmental centers of power in our constitutional system, particularly Congress …

Nov. 15, 2019 by David Flores
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David Flores co-authored this post with Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper, an on-the-water advocate who patrols and protects the Maryland and northern Virginia Eastern Shore coastal bays and stands up to polluters.

Last month, former CPR policy analyst Evan Isaacson wrote in this space about Maryland's proposal to revise and reissue its Clean Water Act pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). He made a convincing case that those who love the Bay need to advocate for effective and enforceable CAFO regulations.

Traditionally, air pollution permits have been and will continue to be a critical component of climate policy in the United States, controlling emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants. But strong water pollution standards, including permits, are also a vital tool in addressing climate change because they are so important to state efforts to adapt.

Maryland's CAFO permit is what's described as a "general permit" because …

Nov. 10, 2019 by Lisa Heinzerling
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Heinzerling's argument preview for this case.

The Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition to the navigable waters of any pollutant that comes “from any point source.” Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined this clause during oral argument in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The question in this case is whether a permit is required for pollutants that originate from a point source but travel through groundwater before reaching a navigable water.

The textual crux of the case is the word “from”: Does “from” mean that a pollutant must be directly delivered to a navigable water by a point source or that a pollutant must merely originate at a point source?

If “from” means the former …

Nov. 7, 2019 by David Flores
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As Californians endure yet another round of devastating wildfires, they are rightly wondering if blazes of such frequency and reach are the new normal. The hard truth is that they may very well be. The fingerprints of climate change are all over this disaster, as they have been all over recent hurricane damage, and the trendline is unmistakable. With that in mind, a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform takes a look at the situation in the Golden State and elsewhere and highlights the crucial role state courts play in securing justice for those harmed by climate change.

Just as climate change heats the ocean’s waters, thus increasing the intensity of storms, it also helps drive the drought, wind, and vegetation conditions that provide the fuel and fan the flames of larger and more intense wildfires. Tracing the climate crisis back to its corporate …

Nov. 4, 2019 by Lisa Heinzerling
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

The central regulatory construct of the Clean Water Act is the requirement of a permit for the addition to the nation's waters of any pollutant that comes "from any point source." Congress' high hopes for the cleansing power of the act's permitting system are reflected in the name Congress chose for it – the "national pollutant discharge elimination system" – and the attendant statutory goal that "the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985." Yet in requiring permits only for point sources of water pollution, Congress excluded nonpoint sources from the permit system's reach. County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, which will be argued Wednesday, asks whether the act "requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but …

Oct. 31, 2019 by Katie Tracy
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On Halloween, nothing seems spookier than a chance encounter with a ghost or goblin, except maybe a zombie. But there is something much more haunting that happens every day. Across the United States, an average of 137 people die daily from occupational diseases caused by on-the-job exposures to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. Nearly 200,000 more suffer from nonfatal illnesses annually.

This is no trick. There is no mystery here. In fact, in 2017, more people died from occupational diseases than from motor vehicle accidents or firearms. And that same year, 41 workers died from acute inhalation of a chemical on the job, according to data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) earlier this month. With such a high number of deaths, working with chemicals makes every day at work a fright fest.

Chemical exposures may not be the stuff of nightmares or …

Oct. 28, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reposted by permission.

The oil industry is enormous – something like 2 to 3 percent of global GDP. Individuals firms like ExxonMobil earn tens of billions of dollars each quarter. Controlling climate change will mean drastic curtailment in the coming decades of the industry’s major products. There’s no way that the industry will accept this lying down, and it’s a formidable opponent. To be successful, we will need a combination of strategies, aside from the rightness of our cause. There’s no doubt that there will be major battles with the industry. The question is only whether we can strengthen the forces on our side or reduce the stakes for the industry now and then. Here are some strategies of both types.

  1. Expand transparency. Most obviously, everything that undermines the political clout of oil companies is good. That means more …

Oct. 23, 2019 by Dave Owen
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Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies.

For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a depressing, if unsurprising, picture. In 2011, federal agencies participating in an environmental justice working group agreed to develop and periodically update environmental justice strategic plans, but some agencies have never developed plans, and others have stopped updating their plans. Ideally, those plans would include ambitious goals for progress and measurable indicators for evaluating progress toward (or past) those goals, but many agency plans include no such things …

Oct. 22, 2019 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

Ever since Ronald Reagan declared government to be the problem rather than the solution, the federal bureaucracy has been the target of criticism from right-leaning think tanks, regulatory skeptics in academia, and politicians of all political persuasions. Lately, members of the federal judiciary have visibly joined this chorus of criticism.

Among the charges leveled against regulation and the agencies responsible for issuing and enforcing rules is the claim that, even assuming the validity of regulatory goals, traditional regulatory approaches too often fail to achieve them or impose unjustified social costs. Others assert that regulatory "intrusions" on the operation of the free market are antithetical to the protection of individual liberty and the economic system on which our nation was built.

We take a different view.

Government regulation serves a critical role in promoting the public interest by, for …

Oct. 21, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet.

There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion.

The Supreme Court

The Court agreed last spring to hear two environmental cases this year. The first, County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, No. 18-260, will be argued on November 6. The issue is whether the Clean Water Act requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater.

The second case was Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, No. 17-1498. It's …

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