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July 6, 2021 by Dan Rohlf

The Pacific Northwest Heat Wave and Climate Change's 'New Normal'

While most people around the country were enjoying summer, residents of the Pacific Northwest used to joke about "Junuary" — the cloudy and often rainy June days before the sun made its relatively brief appearance in the region after the Fourth of July. But as I wrote this post last week in Portland, Oregon — a city set in a temperate rainforest ecosystem of towering trees and ferns — it was 116 degrees outside, the third consecutive day over 100 degrees and the second in excess of 110. The only time I've personally experienced a comparable temperature was nearly two decades ago when I visited Death Valley National Park with my family. Now Death Valley had come to me.

Life changes at these temperatures in the Northwest. Much of our infrastructure was not designed to withstand such extreme conditions. Portland's light rail system ceases to function, of course forcing more people into cars belching greenhouse gasses. Many restaurants and other businesses have closed; they're simply not equipped to handle the heat. Our house, like most constructed more than a couple of decades ago, lacks air conditioning altogether — there was no need for it due to the normal temperatures the region experienced in the …

July 2, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for all people to dissolve the reliance on finite energy sources, and to assume a sustainable future, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the demands of humankind requires that they should declare an end to fossil fuel dependence. 

Six in ten Americans support dramatic reduction of the country’s fossil fuel use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. While this isn’t a unanimous declaration, it represents a truth that policymakers and big corporations have been resisting: The majority of Americans believe there is urgency in addressing climate change and that transitioning away from fossil fuels is a necessary component of climate action.

To establish our independence from fossil fuels, there is no silver bullet, but a multitiered …

June 28, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez
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This month, environmental justice advocate Sharon Lavigne won the world's largest prize for environmental advocacy for blocking a chemical giant from building a roughly $1.3 billion plastic manufacturing plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana, a majority-Black community. Funded by the late Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the annual Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded to six people around the world who protect and enhance the environment in their communities

At the outset, Wanhua Chemical, the company behind the proposed facility, seemed likely to prevail. Wanhua is the world's largest producer of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), showing its dominance in the global market.

But Lavigne did not falter. Through courage and persuasion, she defeated the petrochemical titan, which wielded power over local and state governments to the detriment of community members. For far too long, the petrochemical industry has targeted low-income communities and communities of color, believing it can …

June 16, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This is the second of of a two-part post. Part I is available here.

In the first part of this post, I briefly touched on the chaotic history of the EPA and Army Corps' definition and regulation of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. I also pointed out that this definition and its varying interpretations across courts and administrations can have significant impacts on water pollution prevention and the protection of our nation's waterways. With the Biden administration tackling a redo of the "waters of the United States" rule, court challenges are sure to follow. In this post, I'll explore three approaches to the rule that might help it survive judicial review.

  1. Openly Acknowledge that Section 404 of the Clean Water Has Hijacked the “Waters of the United States” Discussion and Provide a Corrective

    The Clean Water Act, for better or for worse …

June 16, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This is the first of of a two-part post. Part II is available here.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the regulations defining “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (better known as the Clean Water Act) are once again going to change.

The importance of that announcement is best demonstrated through a quick recap of the chaos that has dominated this element of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In the 1980s, the EPA and Army Corps finally agreed on a regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” a phrase that Congress had used in its 1972 overhaul of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to define “navigable waters.” The phrase is also one of the key jurisdictional terms defining the waters to which the restructured law applies.

“Waters of …

June 15, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez
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A few years ago, the prospects of offshore wind energy seemed lofty, but the industry is finally taking off. As part of his efforts to combat climate change, President Joe Biden has pledged to double offshore wind production by 2030. This commitment stems from the enormous benefits and potential that wind energy can provide as we transition to clean, sustainable energy. 

Harnessing something as intangible as wind may seem like an unlikely source of energy, but it’s downright powerful, thanks to the design and capacity of offshore wind farms. A single rotation of General Electric’s most powerful turbine, Haliade-X, can power a household in the United Kingdom for two days. Results may differ slightly in the United States because the average U.S. household uses about three times more electricity than the average U.K. household. 

Last month, the Biden administration approved the Vineyard Wind …

June 9, 2021 by James Goodwin
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In addition to cleaning up our environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must also clean up the mess the Trump administration left behind.

The Biden EPA recently took an important step in this direction by finalizing its plan to rescind a Trump-era rule that would drastically overhaul how it analyzes the rules it develops to implement the Clean Air Act. If implemented, Trump's "benefits-busting" rule would have sabotaged the effective and timely implementation of this popular and essential law, which protects the public from dangerous pollution that worsens asthma and causes other diseases. The rescission is slated to take effect next week.

On June 9, the EPA held a public hearing to gather feedback on rescinding the rule, which CPR has been tracking for several years. CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies and Amy Sinden joined me in testifying in support.

A New and Better Approach …

June 9, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. California wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. The great Texas blackout. The list goes on.

These mega-events dramatize the need to improve our disaster response system. The trends are striking: escalating disaster impacts, more disaster clustering, more disaster cascades, and less predictability. We need to up our game. Lisa Grow Sun and I discuss the implications in a new paper, but here are a few of the key takeaways.

Escalating impacts. From 1980 to 2020, there were an average of seven billion-dollar events per year. (Interestingly, nearly half of them were in Texas.) But from 2015-2020, the average was 16 per year. 2020 had a record-breaking 22 billion-dollar events. Why? It's partly higher GDP and population, so more people and wealth are at risk. More people and infrastructure are located in high-risk areas, especially coasts …

June 8, 2021 by Clarissa Libertelli
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Today is World Oceans Day, a time to consider how ocean policy connects to human and environmental health. This year’s theme of “Life and Livelihoods” comes as our federal government is finally making energy jobs and climate justice a priority. It is also an opportunity to reflect on one of the most devastating events to impact Gulf Coast waters and those who depend on them — the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Eleven years on, workers continue to raise the alarm over the spill’s long-term health impacts, fighting against a backdrop of weak safety regulations.

Eleven workers were killed and 17 injured in the oil rig explosion that caused the largest marine oil spill in history, flooding over 200 million gallons of oil into the Louisiana coast for more than 87 days. The disaster and subsequent media frenzy rallied politicians and the public against …

June 7, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Some events last week sent a strong signal that the tide is turning against fossil fuels. Each of the events standing alone would have been noteworthy. The clustering of these events dramatizes an important shift.

To paraphrase Churchill, this may not be beginning of the end for fossil fuels, but at least it is the end of the beginning of the campaign against them.

Two of the events involved striking decisions in lawsuits in other countries involving fossil fuels. A federal court in Australia ruled that the government had a "duty of care" toward its young people to protect them from climate change. Accordingly, it could be found guilty of negligence if it failed to take their interests into account when considering a request to expand a coal mine. The court said that "it is difficult …

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