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Sept. 2, 2021 by James Goodwin, Robert Verchick

The Hill Op-Ed: A Legal Pillar of Environmental Justice Is Now Under Attack

This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

A few weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers made a startling announcement: It would give Sharon Lavigne and her neighbors in St. James Parish, La., a chance to tell their stories. The fact one of the world’s largest chemical companies has fought for years to keep Lavigne quiet tells you how commanding her stories are. Those stories may stop this particular company from building a multi-billion dollar chemical plant surrounding her neighborhood.

For this, we can thank a simple law, signed by President Nixon in 1970, called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA doesn’t tell agencies what choices they must make — like where to erect a levee or whether to permit a plastics plant. But it does insist their choices be informed. So, before the Army Corps can approve a company’s wetlands development permit it has to study whatever effects that chemical plant might have on the health of people in that community and on the properties they own.

One critical way that agencies like the Army Corp learn about such effects is by giving people — particularly local residents a chance to share …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Joel Mintz
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

Scientific concerns about the impacts and risks of global climate change are scarcely new. In 1988, those concerns became sufficiently widespread in the scientific community that the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a committee that included hundreds of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, to study the emerging climate problem and its implications. Since its creation, this panel has issued five full extensive reports. These assessments were soundly criticized by some independent climate scientists as understating the significance and dangers of climate change. However, earlier this month, the IPCC seems to have rectified that purported problem.

In the first segment of its Sixth Assessment, issued earlier this month, the IPCC report states that it "provides a full and comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change that builds upon the previous …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.

Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.

In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.

Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …

Aug. 23, 2021 by Rebecca Bratspies
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This blog post is based on my testimony before the New York City Racial Justice Commission, which it tasked with dismantling structural racism in the city’s charter.

This November, New York voters will decide whether to enshrine an explicit environmental right in their state constitution. If adopted, the new section will read, “Every person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” New York would join several other states, as well as the United Nations and roughly 150 countries across the globe, in recognizing a fundamental human right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

We all deserve to live in healthy communities. Yet, the grim reality is that Black communities, communities of color, and low-income communities frequently have to fight tooth-and-nail for these basic human rights. This situation is neither accidental nor inevitable. New York City is a clear …

Aug. 18, 2021 by Karen Sokol
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The Interdisciplinary Panel on Climate Change report released Aug. 9 declared that evidence is now unequivocal that human activity is driving global warming, and immediate steps must be taken to mitigate profound changes. Karen C. Sokol, professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, says two essential international policies must be taken — ending fossil fuel production and providing communities with the resources to adapt.

Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its massive report on Aug. 9, the report’s “key takeaways” have been widely covered. One of the scientists who authored the report powerfully distilled its import down to one key takeaway.

"[W]e know enough,” Dr. Joeri Rogelj of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change said. “Let’s get on with working towards addressing this challenge that will define humanity over the next …

Aug. 13, 2021 by Karen Sokol
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On Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first installment of its latest report assessing the state of scientific knowledge about the climate crisis. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it in a press release, the report is nothing less than “a code red for humanity.”

“The alarm bells are deafening,” Guterres said, “and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

The good news is that the science indicates that there is still time to respond by taking drastic and rapid action to shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy and to keep people safe in the face of the dangerous changes in the climate system that have already taken place. That is, we must …

Aug. 12, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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It came as no surprise to environmentalists this week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent climate report paints a stark picture: Climate change is happening faster than previously predicted, and the precipice we’re standing on is quickly disintegrating. But there are still plenty of things we can do to battle the climate crisis and adapt to current and future impacts.

Building off the IPCC’s last report in 2013, this assessment brought more than 200 scientists together from around the world to consider all climate research available. The result is the most comprehensive analysis on climate change to date.

Since the last assessment, climate models have become increasingly accurate, making the links between human activity and climate change irrefutable and drawing direct correlations between specific weather events and climate change. 

Other key findings:

  • The last decade was the hottest in 125 …

Aug. 9, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez
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In his first week of office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order, "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad," that responds to climate change with an emphasis on environmental justice. Notably, the order creates a government-wide "Justice40 initiative," which sets a goal for disadvantaged communities most impacted by climate change and pollution to receive at least 40 percent of overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy.

In attempts to provide key foundational principles for the initiative, the White House recently released a draft guidance document that details how federal agencies should advance the programs covered by the Justice40 Initiative. While the interim guidance provides some direction for the scope of the initiative, the commitment to direct 40 percent of spending to disadvantaged communities is not so straightforward.

The hope of Justice40 is that frontline communities, the ones most burdened …

July 30, 2021 by Daniel Farber
Solar Energy and Electricity

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

On Wednesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a package of four clean energy bills. These bills move the state to the forefront of climate action. They ban new fossil fuel plants and set aggressive targets for the state's two major utilities, requiring emission cuts of 80 percent by 2030, 90 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2040. This is not only a major step forward for the state; it should also clear the path to closer collaboration among Washington State, Oregon, and California on climate issues.

In signing the bills, Brown observed, "As we have all been experiencing, climate change is no longer a distant threat. It is here. In Oregon, and across the West, we are feeling its impacts every day."

The bill setting the state's aggressive targets passed the Oregon Senate on …

July 22, 2021 by Karen Sokol
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On the last day of June, an entire village in Canada was engulfed in a wildfire after the country recorded its highest temperature ever. That same day, Greenpeace UK's investigative team published a striking tape of two Exxon senior employees' candid accounts of the fossil fuel industry's surreptitious lobbying efforts to undermine climate action.

ExxonMobil and other major oil and gas companies have long been deceiving the public about the catastrophic dangers of their products in order to undermine international and national climate policy and maintain their social license. This latest tape is a significant contribution to mounting evidence of the industry's ongoing disinformation campaign in the service of protecting its highly lucrative and planet-destroying business, particularly at this pivotal moment.

On the tape, the lobbyists detail how the industry is currently applying its deceptive tactics to wipe climate initiatives out of President Joe Biden's original $2 …

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