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March 10, 2010 by Holly Doremus

Conservation Deal Just a Sugar Fix?

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

When government decides that private economic activity needs to be restricted in order to preserve some part of nature, there are two basic ways to get that result — by demanding cooperation through regulation or by buying it through economic incentives or outright purchase. The second approach is often politically easier, but environmentalists have long been skeptical of relying too heavily on it.  Two major concerns have repeatedly been expressed. First, paying for conservation suffers from obvious fiscal constraints, especially in times of tight government budgets. Second, it may contribute to what economists call “moral hazard” — the tendency of those who anticipate a government bail-out to ignore the extent to which their activity may pose personal or societal risks.

A lengthy story about a conservation deal in the Everglades in Monday's New York Times highlights a third concern: the private side might clean the government’s clock in negotiations. The article focuses on Florida’s plan to buy out US Sugar. The company is both a major landholder in the area between Lake Okechobee and Everglades National Park and, through runoff from its agricultural fields, a major contributor to the phosphorus pollution that is causing the …

Feb. 19, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The past couple of weeks have been crazier than usual on the Bay-Delta. The pumps were first ramped up and then ramped down. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pandered to the irrigation crowd (or at least a part of it) by proposing to ease endangered species protections in the Delta. And the fall-run chinook salmon population, which supports the commercial fishery, crashed.

First, the pumps. Recall that last fall Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the Bureau of Reclamation violated NEPA by implementing the 2008 smelt biological opinion without first undertaking environmental analysis. I think that’s incorrect as a matter of law; it can’t be a violation of NEPA to reduce pumping for conservation purposes, but not a violation to gradually ramp up pumping over the decades that the CVP and SWP have been operating. NEPA analysis should happen, but it should happen …

Feb. 8, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its review of the status of the cute little American pika. The verdict is good news for the pika, at least as far as it goes and if FWS is right about the science. FWS has decided that the pika is not endangered or threatened because, according to FWS biologists, the pika is not as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as has been believed. Unfortunately, the explanation FWS offers is not very persuasive.

Global warming threatens the pika in two different ways. Pikas are prone to overheating; they can die if exposed to temperatures as mild as 77°F (25°C) for several hours. Hiding under and between the rocks in a talus field helps them keep cool, but if air temperatures get too hot, even those refuges won’t be cool enough …

Feb. 3, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has existed since 1970, but it has never had the direct imprimatur of Congress. According to Congressional Daily, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology has announced that an organic act for NOAA is one of his committee’s priorities for this year. NOAA authorization has been proposed many times over the past 40 years. Its time to finally get it done.

Why does it matter? NOAA’s existence does not depend on Congressional authorization, nor would an organic act necessarily change its substantive authority. But it could strengthen NOAA’s hand within the Department of Commerce, reinforce its environmental protection and science mission, and help attract and retain employees dedicated to that mission.

NOAA was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, through a document known as Reorganization Plan No …

Jan. 12, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Last Monday, EPA signed off on the Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act § 404 permit to Hobet Mining for a mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. The decision is important because it’s the first product of the process announced last fall for joint EPA / Corps review of a large number of pending permit applications. It’s troubling for several reasons. First and most simply, it allows a major mountaintop mining project to go ahead, and suggests that more will follow. Second, despite EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s repeated public statements about bringing clarity to the process, this decision offers essentially no window into the principles EPA thinks should guide these decisions. Third, it promises an environmental outcome that can’t be assured through the adaptive management provisions included in the approval.

NRDC’s Rob Perks makes a …

Jan. 5, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

As I pointed out three months ago, the federal government has awakened from its 8-year Bush administration slumber to notice that the SF Bay-Delta is an important environmental and economic resource whose management requires federal input. On December 22, the Obama administration issued an Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta.

The best news about the plan is simply that it was issued. It’s one more sign that the feds are serious about joining in the task of dealing with the Bay-Delta’s collapsing ecosystem and navigating the tricky intersections of water supply and environmental protection. That’s essential to any progress. Federal agencies are key players both on the water management side (the Bureau of Reclamation operates the Central Valley Project) and on the regulatory side (the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service implement the federal Endangered …

Dec. 31, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes had a long story on the California water crisis, featuring Lesley Stahl interviewing (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC Davis professor Jeff Mount. On the positive side, the story accurately portrayed the vulnerability of California’s fragile through-Delta water delivery system to a major earthquake or catastrophic levee break. But CBS News flubbed the overall storyline.

In typical media fashion, it oversimplified the story to “Delta smelt versus farmers,” with barely a mention of the two-year closure of the coastal salmon fishery or the crash of the Bay-Delta ecosystem as a whole. Worse, 60 Minutes swallowed whole a tall tale concocted by anti-regulatory interests: that protecting the Delta smelt has economically crippled California agriculture.

That story is demonstrably false on at least two different levels. First, while the San Joaquin valley has had a tough economic year, its woes …

Dec. 12, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This posting is reprinted, by permission from Legal Planet.

The Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced some very good news — the brown pelican will soon be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. This enormous fish-eating bird has been protected since 1970, when it was included on the very first list of US endangered species under a predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. Its population rebounded after DDT was banned in 197Brown Pelican2. By 1985, the pelican had recovered enough to justify delisting along the Atlantic coast. Now the Service has determined that populations are also stable off the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, such that the species as a whole no longer needs the protection of the ESA. Lest that judgment be wrong, the Act requires that the Service monitor the pelican’s status for at least five years after delisting.

The success of …

Dec. 12, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This posting is reprinted, by permission from Legal Planet.

The Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced some very good news — the brown pelican will soon be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. This enormous fish-eating bird has been protected since 1970, when it was included on the very first list of US endangered species under a predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. Its population rebounded after DDT was banned in 1972. By 1985, the pelican had recovered enough to justify delisting along the Atlantic coast. Now the Service has determined that populations are also stable off the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, such that the species as a whole no longer needs the protection of the ESA. Lest that judgment be wrong, the Act requires that the Service monitor the pelican’s stBrown Pelicanatus for at least five years after delisting.

The success of …

Dec. 12, 2009 by Holly Doremus
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

This posting is reprinted, by permission from Legal Planet.

The Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced some very good news — the brown pelican will soon be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. This enormous fish-eating bird has been protected since 1970, when it was included on the very first list of US endangered species under a predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. Its population rebounded after DDT was banned in 1972. By 1985, the pelican had recovered enough to justify delisting along the Atlantic coast. Now the Service has determined that populations are also stable off the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, such that the species as a whole no longer needs the protection of the ESA. Lest that judgment be wrong, the Act requires that the Service monitor the pelican’s status for at least five years after delisting.

The success of the …

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