Taking Aim at Toxic Ammunition

Posted on February 3, 2017 by Stephanie Parent

On his way out the door, former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe issued an order to establish procedures and a timeline for expanding the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to conserve wildlife. The order sets forth policy to require the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle “to the fullest extent practicable” for all activities on Service lands, waters and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement or to address health and safety issues.  The order also provides for collaboration with state fish and wildlife agencies in its implementation.

In addition to continued education and research, Ashe set forth three basic steps to achieve this policy. To provide more consistency, the Service is to identify existing state, Federal or tribal requirements to use nontoxic ammunition or tackle and, through amendment of Service hunting and fishing regulations, to apply and enforce those requirements on Service lands. Second, Regional Directors must take steps to require the use of nontoxic ammunition and tackle when available information indicates that the lead content negatively impacts sensitive, vulnerable or trust resources. It also directs the Service, in consultation with National Flyway Councils, to establish a process to phase in the use of nontoxic ammunition for hunting mourning doves and other upland birds. In other words, the order is a measured plan to be implemented through collaboration, consultation and rulemaking over the next five years.

The phase-out of lead ammunition is nothing new. The Service phased out the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl starting in 1986, but rejected an alternative that would have extended to all migratory bird hunting based on insufficient data. For decades, scientific evidence regarding the detrimental effect of lead ammunition on wildlife has been mounting. A recent Service assessment concluded that numerous lines of evidence in the scientific literature point to spent lead ammunition as the primary pathway for widespread lead exposure to scavenging birds such as bald and golden eagles and the California condor in the United States, that reducing this route of exposure will result in the greatest alleviation of mortality and other adverse effects to these species from lead in the environment, and that lead can be replaced in ammunition by alternative metals that are currently available and present limited environmental threats.

Unfortunately, Ashe’s timing was terrible. Predictably, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rifle Association characterized the order as government overreach, unchecked politics and not based on sound science. They called for the next Director to rescind the order, and Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Blake Farenthold, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy, and the Environment, have instructed the Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce all documents referring or relating to issuance of the order by February 13, and to provide a briefing on the Service’s outreach efforts to the states and the “sportsmen’s community” in anticipation of the order’s issuance. Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, poised to become U.S. Secretary of the Interior, is likely to ensure that the order is very promptly rescinded.

Waterfowl hunters have successfully used nontoxic shot for over twenty-five years. Absent further leadership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some states are phasing out lead ammunition. Hunters currently have a reasonable choice to avoid unintended harm – wildlife does not.

It’s Getting Hot in Hells Canyon

Posted on February 2, 2017 by Martha Pagel

The state of Oregon has turned up the heat in Hells Canyon.  The burning question, so to speak, is whether a state can require passage and reintroduction of anadromous fish as a condition of certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for relicensing of an existing hydroelectric project.  The issue gets hotter because the particular project involved  -- the Hells Canyon Complex (“HCC”), owned by Idaho Power Company (“IPC”) -- is located on the Snake River, which forms the border between Oregon and Idaho.  The State of Oregon has issued a draft 401 certification with detailed conditions for passage and reintroduction of anadromous fish into a tributary on the “Oregon side” of the river.  Idaho is opposed to reintroduction of any fish species above Hells Canyon Dam, leaving IPC in the middle.

Making a very long and complicated story short, for more than 13 years IPC has been working with state and federal agencies and stakeholders toward relicensing of the HCC.  The project consists of three developments, each with a dam, reservoir, and powerhouse.  In 1955, FERC issued a 50-year license with recognition that construction of the project would block fish passage and eventually lead to extirpation of anadromous fish above the dams.  As a result, the initial FERC license included mitigation conditions to offset fish impacts, and additional mitigation was provided under a subsequent settlement agreement. 

After more than a decade of studies, meetings, and negotiations, it looked like IPC and the states were on track for general agreement as to the terms and conditions of compatible, but separate 401 certifications to be issued by Oregon and Idaho – except as to the issue of fish passage and reintroduction. Despite Idaho’s objections, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) issued its draft 401 certification for public comment on December 13, 2016.  The draft relies on a number of existing state water quality standards as the legal basis for requiring fish passage and reintroduction, though none of the standards is directly on point. ‎

Public comments on the proposed 401 certification are due February 13.  Objections relating to the fish passage and reintroduction conditions are likely to focus on whether such conditions are generally within the scope of 401 certification for FERC-licensed hydroelectric projects, and, if so, whether Oregon’s specific water quality standards provide a sufficient regulatory basis for the proposed ODEQ action.  ‎The comments may also raise questions about the baseline for mitigation and whether impacts to fish due to construction of the project – as opposed to on-going operations -- have already been fully mitigated.  And then there’s the question of Idaho’s opposition. 

ODEQ will consider the comments before issuing a final 401 certification decision.  If the states are unable to resolve their differences over the passage and reintroduction issue, it’s likely to get a lot hotter in Hells Canyon. 

And finally, a disclosure that the HCC relicensing issues hit close to home for ACOEL:  I am part of a team representing IPC, and other College members are very much involved on both sides of the issue.  There’s a lot we won’t be able to talk about at the next annual meeting! 

Paris: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Posted on February 1, 2017 by Eugene Trisko

The Paris Agreement reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a tobacco-style mass tort settlement cloaked as a global agreement to control greenhouse gases.  Remaining in or departing the agreement involves a host of complex diplomatic, economic, and environmental issues.

Paris is the culmination of ten years’ of negotiations following the 2005 agreement in Montreal by industrial and developing nations to pursue talks aimed at “Long-Term Cooperative Action.”  Prior to COP-10 in Montreal, and in the discussions leading to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, developing nations steadfastly refused to consider taking on any substantive greenhouse gas emission control obligations, citing their need for economic growth, the eradication of poverty, and the historic responsibility of industrial nations for increased global greenhouse gas concentrations. Today, developing nations are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.   

The U.S. and 174 other nations signed the Paris Agreement in New York on April 22, 2016. The agreement entered into force on October 6, 2016, and has been ratified to date by 122 of its signatories. If all of the emission reduction pledges submitted thus far were implemented, Paris may accomplish a modest reduction in the rate of growth of global greenhouse emissions, but will not come close to achieving its goal of limiting post-industrial temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius.

More important to many of its signatories is achieving the other central purpose of the Paris Agreement: transferring upwards of $100 billion annually from industrial nations to less-developed countries to support emission mitigation and adaptation programs. 

If the Paris agreement falls apart – by the defection of the U.S. or other major emitting nations, or through subsequent recognition that its ambitious climate targets and financial promises are unlikely to be achieved – the result could be mass tort litigation against major sources of carbon emissions such as international oil companies and other fossil fuel interests.

Tobacco and Climate Change

In the late 1990s, tobacco companies were sued by several states seeking compensation for higher health care costs caused by sick smokers. The tobacco companies ultimately agreed to a multi-billion dollar structured payout to the states, to be used for tobacco education programs or other purposes deemed appropriate by the plaintiffs. This financial settlement was reached in exchange for the states’ agreement not to pursue further litigation against the companies.

Now consider the structure of the Paris Agreement. Virtually all participating nations have submitted non-binding pledges to reduce or limit the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. In many cases, these pledges are explicitly contingent upon the transfer of financial and technological resources from industrial nations. The $100 billion annual pledge for developing country support – equivalent to about two-tenths of one percent of the GDP of all OECD industrial nations - was offered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009. When those negotiations broke down, the U.S. financial compensation offer was not forgotten. It later became a centerpiece of the talks resulting in the Paris agreement.

Responsibility without Liability

At the opening session of COP-21 in Paris, President Obama accepted “historic responsibility” for the United States’ contribution to increased greenhouse gas concentrations since the industrial revolution.  Since 1780, global CO2 concentrations have risen from 280 ppm to more than 400 ppm, largely due to increased emissions from fossil fuel sources and mass deforestation by some developing nations.

While the President was accepting a share of the blame, his lawyers were hard at work. First, they quashed proposals to establish a new “climate court” to adjudicate claims of climate-related damages. Next, they fine-tuned a provision that could help to protect major industrial emitters from future liability for “loss and damages” associated with climate change. The liability provision included as Paragraph 51 of the COP-21 Decision adopting the Paris Agreement states that the Conference of the Parties “Agrees that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”  FCCC/CP/2015/10 Add.1.

Insurance for Parties at Risk

Article 8 of the Paris Agreement establishes an insurance program - the Warsaw International Mechanism - designed to make affordable climate-related insurance available to nations vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as low-lying island states. To this end, Paragraph 48 of the COP Decision“(r)equests the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism to establish a clearing house for risk transfer that serves as a repository for information on insurance and risk transfer, in order to facilitate the efforts of Parties to develop and implement comprehensive risk management strategies.” Id.

If Paris remains in full force and effect, it will serve as the exclusive multilateral entity charged with regulating the causes, consequences and remedies appropriate for climate change. The agreement thus may provide an effective shield against the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction by any court outside the U.S. in cases involving claims for damages associated with the effects of rising sea levels or other environmental consequences of climate change. Within the U.S., the Supreme Court already has decided (AEP v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410, 2011) that for federal courts the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law nuisance actions, placing jurisdiction over climate-related remedies in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The AEP Court’s holding was limited to federal common law nuisance actions, thus leaving open the possibility of tort recovery based on state common law nuisance claims.

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

The decision to remain in or depart from the Paris Agreement is a high priority for the new Trump Administration. Some see advantages to simply walking away, or just ignoring the agreement given its lack of enforcement provisions. The President could issue an executive order withdrawing President Obama’s signature, or submit the agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent.

For some proponents, the case for walking away is strengthened by the collateral impact this would have on U.S. EPA’s future ability to exercise authority under Section 115 of the Clean Air Act to impose a carbon cap-and-trade program or similar measures to abate international air pollution. Environmental interests have advocated such a course in light of the legal difficulties besetting EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Other advocates see a benefit to continuing U.S. participation in Paris to preserve it as a “global” forum for the discussion and resolution of climate-related issues. Through both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. has been an effective interlocutor in all 22 Conferences of the Parties to the 1992 Rio Framework Convention.

Being at the table in international negotiations, especially where the potential liability of mass tort litigation is implicitly at issue, does not entail slavish implementation of unrealistic climate policies. The two degree Celsius target of the Paris Agreement is at the low end of targets considered appropriate by many in the scientific community. Meeting this target implies decarbonization of the U.S. energy sector by 2050, as documented by the Mid-Century Climate Strategy disseminated by the Obama Administration at COP-22 in Marrakech last November. This target, along with the pledge of a future “floor” contribution of $100 billion annually to developing nations, could be revisited and renegotiated in the regular “pledge and review” processes established by Paris.  

The decision to withdraw from Paris should be weighed in light of its prospective trade and diplomatic impacts with other major carbon emitters, including the EU, China, Russia and India. The potential legal consequences of disengagement need to be thoroughly evaluated, along with the risks that U.S. withdrawal could precipitate widespread defection by many developing nations more eager to pursue litigation than to purchase insurance.

*The writer is an attorney in private practice (NYU, 1972; Georgetown U. Law Ctr., 1977). He has participated as an NGO representative of U.S. labor interests in all major negotiating sessions of the UN FCCC since 1993. He may be contacted at emtrisko@earthlink.net.

The Conservative Case For Chevron Deference

Posted on January 30, 2017 by Seth Jaffe

With GOP control of Congress and the White House, conservatives appear to have Chevron deference in their crosshairs.  Put simply, I don’t get it.  There are at least two good reasons why conservatives should prefer Chevron deference to no deference.

First, the alternative is for courts to decide all questions of agency authority.  But haven’t conservatives railed against unelected judges for years?  Bureaucrats are unelected, but at least they work for the elected President.  Isn’t EPA more likely to be responsive to President Trump than federal judges would be?

Second, the EDFs and NRDCs of this world would laugh hysterically at the notion that they have more sway with EPA than the regulated community.  Anyone ever heard of “Regulatory Capture”?

The argument in support of Chevron was made cogently by Ed McTiernan in a recent blog post, but the strength of the argument was really brought home by the decision this past week in Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited v. EPA, in which the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals – to fairly wide surprise – reversed a district court decision that had struck down EPA’s “water transfer” rule.  

The rule was much favored by the regulated community, but there were very good jurisprudential reasons to affirm the District Court.  Indeed, the decision was 2-1 and even the majority opinion repeatedly noted that, were it writing on a blank slate, it might well prefer an interpretation that would strike down the rule.

Why, then, did the Appeals Court reverse the District Court and affirm the rule?  Chevron deference, of course.

Conservatives, be careful what you wish for.

“Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated”

Posted on January 27, 2017 by Robert M Olian

So said Mark Twain (actually, he didn’t), and now the same can be said for EPA’s rule exempting water transfers from NPDES permitting requirements. When I last addressed this topic nearly three years ago in “Ashes to Ashes; Waters to Waters – The Death of EPA’s Water Transfer Rule”, a federal district court had just vacated the rule seeking to clarify EPA’s position that transfers of water between navigable bodies of water do not require NPDES permits. See Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency (SDNY, 3/28/2014)

Displaying a prescience that would make Carnac the Magnificent proud, I closed that earlier post with the assertion that “the only certainty is that litigation over the Water Transfer Rule will continue to flow.” I am therefore personally pleased to report that flow it has, the Second Circuit having now overturned the district court decision in a 2-1 opinion issued on January 18, 2017. The majority opinion upheld EPA's interpretation of the Clean Water Act to exempt water transfers, finding it was a “reasonable construction of the Clean Water Act supported by a reasoned explanation” and was entitled to deferential review under the Supreme Court’s Chevron doctrine.

 Not content to rest on my laurels, I’m going to make another prediction. The Second Circuit won’t agree to rehear en banc and, if certiorari is sought, the Supreme Court won’t take the case. All of which means that, except perhaps for one last post to gloat yet again about my ability to see into the future, this is the last you’ll hear about litigation over the water transfer rule.

Trump Greenlights Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, but the Battle is Far From Over

Posted on January 26, 2017 by Patrick A. Parenteau

President Trump wasted no time making good on his promise to reverse President Obama’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move U.S. energy policy towards cleaner energy sources.  On January 24 Trump signed two executive memoranda, one inviting TransCanada to resubmit its application to build the 800,000 barrel a day Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast; the other directing the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the review and approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to carry approximately 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to oil markets in the United States. But a close reading raises some sticky legal and economic issues that will have to be resolved before the oil starts flowing.  [LINKS to Keystone and DAPL Memos]

In announcing the Keystone Memo, Trump said that approval was contingent on TransCanada’s  willingness to “renegotiate some of the terms” – including perhaps a commitment to use US steel and a share in any profits. The problem is that tar sands oil is not only the dirtiest fuel on the planet, it’s also the most expensive to extract. To be profitable oil prices need to be above $80 per barrel; today they sit around $52, and it is unlikely they will rise much higher in the foreseeable future given the competition from shale oil and the fracking boom that is flooding the market in the US. The break-even point for Bakken shale oil is $29 per barrel. Seventeen major oil sands projects were canceled after oil prices crashed in 2014, as companies took major losses. Major investors in the oil sands have begun to leave, including Norway-based Statoil, which pulled out of the oil sands in December 2016. So cutting a deal to the President’s liking may be harder than it looks.

Assuming the deal goes down, the Keystone Memo issues several directives to clear the way for the project. It directs the State Department to make a final decision within 60 days of the date TransCanada re-submits its application, and it further specifies that “to the maximum extent permitted by law” the final supplemental EIS issued in 2014 shall satisfy the requirements of NEPA as well as the consultation requirements of the Endangered Species Act, and “any other provision of law that requires executive department consultation or review.” The Keystone Memo also directs the Corps of Engineers to use Nationwide Permit 12 to summarily authorize the stream crossings needed to complete the project. These fast track measures are sure to be tested in court by the opponents who are not about to let their hard won victory be snatched away without a furious fight—in the courts as well as in the streets. While courts have ruled that the presidential permit itself is not reviewable, there is presumably no bar to challenging the decisions of the Corps and the Department of Interior that are necessary to complete the project.

The DAPL Memo directs the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of the Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate, requests for approvals to construct and operate the DAPL, including easements or rights-of-way to cross Federal areas under section 28 of the Mineral Leasing Act.” The Memo also instructs the Secretary to consider whether to rescind the memorandum issued by the Obama administration requiring preparation of an EIS on DAPL’s   request for an easement to cross Lake Oahe, and to deem the previously-issued Environmental Assessment sufficient to satisfy NEPA.

The Standing Rock protest over DAPL has become an historic confrontation that has united an Indigenous land-and-water movement and climate activism to confront a fossil-fuel corporation protected by a militarized police force.  At one point in December thousands of veterans arrived to provide a safe space for the protesters who call themselves “water protectors.” Litigation filed by the Standing Rock Tribe and other tribes challenging the Corps’ issuance of permits under the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act is pending in federal district court in the District of Columbia.  Judge Boasberg denied a preliminary injunction but has yet to rule on the merits of the case. At the moment, the court is considering DAPL’s motion for summary judgment to declare that the project already has all of the approvals it needs and the Corps should not be able to reverse its earlier decision that an EIS was not required. Though the Justice Department has vigorously opposed this move, it will be interesting to see whether the Trump administration adopts a different posture. In any event, the Tribe has raised serious questions about whether the Corps properly evaluated threats to its water supply intake and alternative routes that would lessen the risk. One of the allegations invokes environmental justice concerns arguing that the project was re-routed away from Bismarck in response to concerns about threats to its water supply. The Tribe has also raised novel questions about whether granting the easement would violate treaty rights under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

At the hearing on DAPL’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Boasberg acknowledged the uncertainty about what the new administration might do but observed that “It’s not my business to guess.” For now the rest of us will have to guess at what the final outcome of this epic confrontation that has galvanized indigenous peoples from all over the world will be.

The New Administration’s Initial Executive Order and Memoranda On Energy and Environmental Issues

Posted on January 26, 2017 by Theodore Garrett

The Trump administration has issued a key Executive Order and several memoranda relating to energy and the environment.  The goal of the Executive Order -- Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects – is to expedite environmental reviews and approvals.  It provides that action by the Chair of the Counsel of Environmental Quality to designate an infrastructure project as high priority would trigger an expedited review and approval process, as described in the memorandum Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing.

Two other memoranda – those addressing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline – are intended to clear the way for approval of these two controversial pipelines.  The President also stated that he wants pipe for U.S. pipelines to be made with American steel.     

Finally, the White House issued a memorandum providing for a regulatory freeze of regulations that have not taken effect and withdrawal of regulations that have not yet been published in the Federal Register. In accordance with this directive, EPA has issued a notice postponing to March 21, 2017 the effective date of 30 regulations that were published by EPA after October 28, 2016.  The delay is intended to provide further review of these regulations by the new Administration.

The Order and memoranda do not change the requirements of relevant environmental statutes.  It remains to be seen to what extent these policies will affect future permitting or regulatory decisions.  Interested parties will wish to carefully monitor how these developments unfold. 

The DOJ Environment Division and State Joint Enforcement

Posted on January 25, 2017 by John Cruden

As I reflect on my tenure as Assistant Attorney General, I have been especially proud of the Division’s cooperation with state and local governments in matters encompassing all aspects of the Division’s work – affirmative and defensive, civil and criminal. When we combine forces with our state and local partners, we leverage the resources of multiple sovereigns and, ultimately, achieve more comprehensive results for the American people.

In 2016, we had unprecedented success in civil enforcement with states, due primarily to the record‐breaking settlement with BP in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill litigation. In April 2016, the trial court entered the final consent decree in the litigation, thereby resolving civil claims of the United States and the five Gulf Coast states against BP. The claims arose from the 2010 blowout of the Macondo well and the resulting massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP will pay the U.S. and the five Gulf States more than $20 billion under the consent decree, including: 1) a $5.5 billion civil penalty; 2) more than $8.1 billion in natural resource damages; 3) $600 million in further reimbursement of clean‐up costs and some royalty payments; and 4) up to $6 billion in economic damage payments for the Gulf States or their local units of government. This resolution is the largest settlement with a single entity in Department of Justice history; it includes the largest civil penalty ever awarded under the Clean Water Act, the largest ever natural resources damages settlement and massive economic damages payments to our state partners.

And, just this month we announced our plea agreement and civil consent decree with Volkswagen.  In addition to the combined $4.3 billion penalty, corporate felony plea, and individual prosecutions, the previous civil consent decrees also provide $2.7 billion to all states for projects they select from the CD options to offset NOx pollution caused by the illegal car emissions.  When the various settlements with VW are combined, and their value estimated, it approaches $20 billion. 

Our state connections were vital to our criminal work. Cooperation ranged from providing training to state partners to close coordination in wildlife and pollution investigations.  Prosecutors from ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section presented at several events where state investigators learned of opportunities and methods for developing wildlife and environmental crimes cases, either in concert with federal counterparts or independently. Our prosecutors also trained their counterparts on the Division’s recently acquired authority over worker safety matters.

But environmental enforcement is not where ENRD’s work with state and local partners ends. We also are working with our counterparts at the state and local level in a relatively new area of responsibility for the Division – civil and criminal enforcement of federal laws that provide for humane treatment of captive, farmed, and companion animals across the United States. In July 2016, ENRD and the Office of Justice Programs co-hosted a roundtable discussion on Animal Welfare Enforcement. We were joined by more than 100 leaders in the area, including representatives of federal agencies, states and local governments, as well as researchers, scientists and others in the animal welfare field. The roundtable allowed us to focus collectively on information sharing, organizational strategies and cooperation in animal welfare enforcement.

Finally, ENRD continued to develop and enhance relationships with our state counterparts by participating in several forums designed to share experiences and expertise. In the spring of 2016, for example, I had the honor of being the first ENRD Assistant Attorney General invited to speak to the annual meeting of the Environmental Council of the States, the national association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders. I joined colleagues from EPA, New Mexico and academia to discuss innovative ways to measure the success of environmental enforcement. ENRD attorneys also partnered with the National Association of Attorneys General to present webinars on topics of mutual interest, such as e‐discovery, and share expertise regarding federal bankruptcy law in the context of environmental cases. Finally, just this week we collaborated with the National Association of Attorneys General to publish Guidelines for Joint State/Federal Civil Environmental Enforcement Litigation, which is now available on the DOJ website.

As I depart from the Division, we are in good shape. In December, the Division accepted an award by the Partnership for Federal Service, which ranked the ENRD as the #2 best place to work in all of the federal government, as well as the best place to work in the Department of Justice. With more than 300 Federal agency subcomponents competing, our new rank places us well into the top 1% of all Federal workplaces.

Bears Ears Monument Designation Was the Right Decision at the Right Time

Posted on January 24, 2017 by Zach C. Miller

On December 28, 2016, President Obama by Proclamation under the federal Antiquities Act designated 1.35 million acres of federal lands in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument.  That action culminated nearly a century of efforts to protect this unique, canyon-country site, which is archaeologically rich, ecologically diverse, and the ancestral homeland of a number of southwestern Indian tribes.

Immediately after this designation, the Utah governor and congressional delegation, some local officials, and various conservative pundits railed that the designation was an illegal and inappropriate “federal land grab,” was done without proper public input, will unduly impede traditional tribal and local activities, and can and should promptly be reversed and rescinded by the incoming Trump Administration.

Each of those claims has no factual or legal merit.  The most recent Bears Ears proposal was initiated several years ago by local Navajo leaders and formally endorsed by the Navajo Nation and four other tribes whose ancestors inhabited this area, as well as other local and national Indian and conservation groups.  It has been thoroughly vetted for several years and was the subject of a number of public meetings throughout 2016, including several local meetings attended by Interior Secretary Jewell.  As a result of that extensive public input, the Obama administration excluded over 600,000 acres of initially-proposed lands that contain oil and gas leases, existing and prospective uranium mining sites, limestone quarries, grazing areas, local water supply watersheds, and other objected-to areas.  The designation also expressly protects all valid existing rights, preserves access by Native Americans for traditional uses such as sacred ceremonies and gathering plants and firewood, and creates an Advisory Committee of state, local, and tribal representatives and private landowners to provide information and advice to BLM and the U.S. Forest Service in their joint administration of the monument and development of appropriate management and transportation plans.  As a result, the principal existing activities that will be restricted within the designated Monument are the ongoing illegal theft and vandalism of federal and tribal archaeological sites.

The Proclamation also uniquely creates a Bears Ears Commission consisting of an official from each of the five Native American tribes with historic ties to the area, to provide guidance and recommendations on the management of the Monument and related plans.  This is the first, and long-overdue, instance of Native American tribes being directly involved in coordinating with federal agencies to manage a monument that protects sacred sites on their ancestral homelands.

Regarding whether this action is a proper use of the Antiquities Act, it is widely acknowledged that this area contains one of the densest and most significant concentrations of archaeological and paleontological sites and specimens in North America.  It is also uncontroverted that historic sites in the area have been extensively looted and vandalized over the last century.  The FBI has conducted major enforcement actions against illegal “pot-hunters” in this area, including as recently as 1986 and 2009.  Complaints that state and local officials can better protect against such theft and vandalism ignore that most illegal pot-hunters have been local denizens and that, until fairly recently, the University of Utah museum was a major purchaser of the pilfered artifacts.  Providing federal protection to these highly-jeopardized antiquities on federal public lands is precisely what the Antiquities Act was designed and intended to do.  Far from being improper, this protective measure is long overdue.

In terms of timing and process, the Administration waited patiently until a long-pending legislative alternative proposal to protect the area failed in Congress.  That bill, introduced by Utah Congressman R. Bishop and dubbed the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), would have put 1.4 million acres into two National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and a separate wilderness area, but it provided less protection and increased state and local control over uses in the NCAs, with no direct tribal involvement.  But that bill failed to move through Congress before it adjourned.  In addition to waiting for completion of that legislative process, by reducing the monument designation from the initially proposed 1.9 to the final 1.35 million acres, the Obama Administration also largely aligned the boundaries of the final monument designation with those of the failed PLI proposal and excluded the central areas of objection.

Regarding the proposal for the incoming Trump Administration to administratively rescind this designation, there is no legal authority for the President to do so.  The Antiquities Act authorizes a President to designate an area as a national monument on federal lands when necessary to protect the appropriate sites and resources.  It does not authorize a President to rescind a designation made by some predecessor, and no President has ever done so in the 111-year history of the Act.  The Attorney General in 1938 formally opined that the Act does not provide for such rescission, and nothing has changed that would alter that conclusion.  The Congressional Research Service recently confirmed the absence of any such authority or precedent.  Republican Party members would also do well to recall that the Antiquities Act was signed in 1906 by its own conservation hero, Teddy Roosevelt, who used it to designate 18 monuments in three years, seven of which later became popular national parks, including at the Grand Canyon.  All but three presidents since that time have done the same.  As was the case with all those actions by Teddy and others, after all the immediately-following outrage and uproar, this measured Bears Ears designation will no doubt later be acknowledged as a brave, innovative, and critical action to protect this long-vandalized and currently-threatened area.

In sum, the recent designation of the Bears Ears Monument was the right decision at the right time for the right reasons, and there is no legal basis to rescind or restrict it without an act of Congress.  The incoming Administration and Congress should not heed recent partisan, emotional calls to try to undo it and should instead work with the new tribal Commission and all affected stakeholders to develop a fair and appropriate management plan for the new Monument.

AND A WATERSHED RUNS THROUGH IT

Posted on January 19, 2017 by Michael M. Meloy

My roots are in central Pennsylvania near the dividing line between the Susquehanna and Potomac watersheds.  The creeks follow the valleys, flowing away from each other and carrying water that will ultimately rejoin in the Chesapeake Bay.  It is a rich agricultural area with a farming legacy that goes back to the mid-1700s.  It is also ground zero for the continuing struggle to improve degraded water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, one of biological jewels of the eastern United States. 

One of my best friends is a dairy farmer.  He has faithfully carried on a family tradition reaching back over multiple generations.  He is an excellent farmer.  He finally sold the dairy herd this fall, buffeted by plunging milk prices and lack of help in shouldering the relentless grind of running a dairy operation.  The barn where I have spent hundreds of hours over the course of my life now stands empty and quiet.  The cows are gone and the milk tank is dry.  Unfortunately, this is a story that is repeating itself with remarkable regularity as the number of dairy farms continues to shrink both in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country.

For those with a single-minded focus on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, the demise of another dairy farm in Pennsylvania may be a cause for quiet celebration.  Even though Pennsylvania does not border the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River drains approximately 46 percent of the state, including some of its most productive farmland.  The Susquehanna River contributes almost half the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay.  The Bay and the River are inextricably linked. 

In 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay focusing on loading rates for nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment.  EPA identified agriculture as a key contributor of these pollutants.  Each state within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Pennsylvania, is attempting to figure out how to achieve the targets that EPA has set for reductions in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment.  The process is fraught with difficulties, pushing the envelope of technical feasibility, legal permissibility and political acceptability.  The process is also underscoring the limitations of the tool box under the Clean Water Act to solve truly complex and multi-dimensional water quality problems.  

If the goals that EPA has set for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay under the TMDL are to be met, a financially-sustainable agricultural sector is vital to that outcome.  Runoff of nutrients and sediment from farms may be the immediate focal point but crafting solutions that will facilitate farms being able to operate in the future is critically important to the long-term health of the Chesapeake Bay.  If farming operations are forced under, prime farmland will change use and be taken out of production.  Development of former farms and the runoff from such development carries its own challenges for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.  Moreover, rolling back changes in land use after they have occurred is almost impossible to achieve. 

Preserving farming operations holds significance extending well beyond water quality.  In the coming decades, food production is likely to become one of the key issues that not only our country but the world will face.  Loss of farms also alters the fabric and social bonds of rural areas in many detrimental ways.  

On January 6, 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released its 2016 State of the Bay Report, a bi-annual evaluation of the health of the Chesapeake Bay.  While the Chesapeake Bay received failing grades on certain key metrics, the overall health of the Bay received a grade of C-, the highest grade that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has given since it began making such assessments more than 30 years ago.  Progress is being made – slowly and painfully but surely.  At the same time, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have collectively lost more than 600,000 acres of farmland (about half the size of the Delaware) since 2002.  One can only hope that the twin goals of saving the Chesapeake Bay and saving agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed can harmoniously coexist.

Why Reject Chevron?

Posted on January 18, 2017 by Edward F. McTiernan

The outcome of the recent presidential election appears to have been based, at least in part, on the fact that some portion of the electorate felt that out-of-touch and unelected government regulators cannot be trusted to solve problems because they either are making things up (coal-fired power plants contribute to climate change) or caused the problem in the first place (over reaching while delineating “waters of the US”).  Environmental regulations and their human analog - health and safety standards - are viewed in some quarters as the height of paternalism by our government and are often cited as the sort of regulatory morass that only a self-serving, arrogant bureaucracy could concoct.  One response to the perceived negative effect of regulations in general, and environmental regulations in particular, has been a call to ‘increase regulatory accountability’ and to ‘restore the proper role of elected officials.’

The Regulatory Accountability Act is one notable legislative response to these concerns.  In 2016, it was a one-house bill that was not acted upon by the Senate.  That could change and the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 5) has already been introduced (on January 3, 2017).  Title II of this omnibus legislation includes the “Separation of Powers Restoration Act” which would overturn Chevron U.S.A. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837, (1984) as well as Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997) by amending the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 USC 706, and requiring that federal courts “shall decide de novo all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional and statutory provisions, and rules made by agencies.”.  (Chevron and Auer are often seen as two sides of the same coin; the Chevron test calls for deference to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of a statute while Auer requires strong deference to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.  Of course, these tests only come into play after a searching review of the language and history of the enabling legislation fails to reveal Congress’ intent.)

Although the logic behind Chevron has been questioned by many, including Justice Scalia, overturning Chevron as a means of restoring the separation of powers seems like an odd way of attempting to increase the power of the people’s elected representatives and restoring accountability.  After all, deference favors stakeholders who support an administrative determination (including decisions to issue a permit or adopt a less stringent emission standard).  In the environmental area, where well-funded non-governmental membership organizations routinely challenge rules and permits, the benefits of Chevron to the regulated community are easy to overlook.

In any event, one of the key arguments in favor of Chevron deference is that when Congress decides to leave implementation of legislation to an executive agency, and Congress also leaves gaps or ambiguity in a statute, filling the gap or resolving the ambiguity necessarily involves policy judgments.  Putting aside questions of whether Congress can ever avoid the problem by eliminating legislative gaps or ambiguity; as a general matter Chevron deference reflects a decision that such judgments are best left to the executive agency that is most steeped in the subject matter at issue.  There are at least two primary reasons that courts use to explain why Chevron and its progeny leave these judgments to executive agencies - presumed expertise and greater accountability.  Indeed, even taking into account the newly popular idea that the presumed expertise of experts to solve real-world problems should be continuously challenged (or at least deeply discounted), many judges may still favor deference on the theory that policy judgments are generally not for the courts precisely because they are better left to the executive branch which (unlike our independent judiciary) is, to a degree, answerable to the popular will at election time.

Replacing Chevron with de novo judicial review would very likely result in greater uncertainty as generalist judges with life-time tenure are called upon to exercise their judgments concerning policy decisions made by specialized executive agencies directed by an elected representative of the people.  Moreover, environmental cases typically present mixed questions of fact and law.  Courts would need time to sort out when and how to integrate de novo review of legal determinations with the substantial evidence test for formal rules and adjudications and the arbitrary and capricious standard as applied to agency guidance and informal rules. Replacing Chevron will also probably lead to more litigation (and forum shopping) as stakeholders perceive greater prospects for success.

Of course, uncertainty and litigation are not necessarily bad - if they result in improved decision-making and they help restore common-sense outcomes.  However, given the inevitability that the Environmental Protection Agency will be called upon to make policy judgments when Congress intentionally leaves gaps or unintentionally creates ambiguity, predictability has benefits.  This is where the new ‘accountability’ at the core of Title II of the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 seems to fall short.  It is not clear how shifting the review of administrative actions from the elected executive branch to the insulated judiciary will increase predictability or accountability.  Even taking into account the other parts of this legislative package (including the direction that agencies must select the lowest cost alternative and increased reliance of the administrative record), it is far from certain that this proposed legislative fix will increase the power of the people’s elected representatives or provide a net benefit to the regulated community on environmental issues.

There is much to be done to improve participation and increase transparency in environmental decision-making at both the state and federal level.  However, until someone comes up with something better than de novo judicial review, doing away with the familiar two-step Chevron analysis for determining legislative intent could prove to be a difficult place to start.

The NSR Regulations Still Make No Sense: The 6th Circuit Reverses the DTE Decision Based on a 1-Judge Minority Opinion

Posted on January 17, 2017 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed – for the second time – a District Court decision granting summary judgment to DTE Energy in the United States’ case alleging that DTE Energy had violated EPA’s NSR regulations.  According to the 6th Circuit, EPA has authority to bring an enforcement action against DTE Energy, notwithstanding that the regulations don’t provide for EPA review of DTE Energy’s emissions projections prior to construction and also notwithstanding that the project did not in fact result in a significant net emissions increase.

One might well be surprised by the result, but the result itself is not the most surprising part of the case at this point.  What’s really surprising is that the United States won the case even though only one of the three judges on the panel agreed with EPA’s position.

How could such a thing happen, you might ask?  Here’s the best I can do.  Judge Daughtrey, author of the panel opinion, believes that EPA has the authority to second-guess DTE’s estimates if they are not adequately explained.  Judge Rogers disagreed and dissented.  Judge Batchelder also disagreed with Judge Daughtrey’s views, pretty much in their entirety.  However, Judge Batchelder concluded that she had already been outvoted once, in the first 6th Circuit review of this case and she felt bound to follow the decision in DTE 1.  The law remains an ass.  

Even were Donald Trump not about to nominate a Supreme Court justice, I’d say that this case is ripe for an appeal to the Supreme Court and, if I were DTE, I’d pursue that appeal vigorously and with a fairly optimistic view of my chances.

And once again, I’ll suggest that the very fact that the NSR program can repeatedly thrust such incomprehensible cases upon us is itself reason to conclude that the entire program is ripe for a thorough overhaul – or perhaps elimination.

Playing Nice with Others – EPA and State Cooperation In Today’s World

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Robert J. Martineau Jr.

As the Obama Administration comes to an end and the Trump Administration is about to begin, I want to reflect on the current relationship between EPA and state environmental agencies.  I have been active in the environmental law arena for over 30 years, in private practice, in the Office of General Counsel at EPA, and for the past six years as a state environmental commissioner.  In addition, for four of the past six years, I served as an officer for the Environmental Council of States (ECOS).  In each of those roles, I have witnessed the give and take relationship between EPA and state environmental agencies. 

This has not been a static relationship.  Over the past few years, the working relationship between state agencies, ECOS, and EPA has improved substantially - even when strong differences concerning particular regulatory initiatives or policies exist.  For example, even those states opposed to EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule readily acknowledge that EPA’s outreach to stakeholders, and especially their state partners, was unprecedented.   In many other cases, Administrator McCarthy and her team worked collaboratively as partners with states in addressing an issue.   Indeed, it has become the way to do business.   This change in culture across EPA is due in large part to the efforts of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and current and former Deputy Administrators Stan Meiburg and Bob Perciasepe.  Together they reached out to states, brought them to the table and found committed, willing partners in ECOS members.  They listened and treated states as equal partners.   Their leadership made clear that all parts of EPA should follow that partnership model.   

Truly, the relationship between EPA and the states has matured to a working relationship of joint governance.  One of my state colleagues has commented that if you said “co-regulator” to EPA ten years ago, they would flinch. Today, states and EPA leaders use that term freely and are engaged in many projects together as partners to protect public health and the environment in an efficient and cost effective way.   We have moved from a parent- child relationship to equal partners.   This has been a positive both for state and federal entities, but also for regulated industry, environmental organizations, and the public. 

As Administrator McCarthy and her leadership team prepare to depart, it’s clear that the new Administration will have different policy goals.  That is the consequence of elections and change of Administrations.   Regardless of the substantive policy decisions that will be confronted in the days ahead, I hope the efforts made over the past few years by Administrator McCarthy and her team to foster a more collaborative approach between EPA and the states will continue.   

New Jersey Legislature Seeks to Protect NRD Recoveries, Flora, Fauna, … and Food Trucks

Posted on January 10, 2017 by Kenneth Mack

On December 19, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature adopted a resolution proposing an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution which would basically gather all Natural Resource Damages funds into a single account or in the words of the resolution:

 “credit annually to a special account in the general fund an amount equivalent to the revenue annually derived from all settlements and judicial and administrative awards relating to Natural Resource Damages collected by the State in connection with claims based on environmental contamination.”

These amounts would be “dedicated” and

“appropriated … by the legislature, for paying for costs incurred by the State to repair, restore or replace damaged or lost natural resources of the State or permanently protect the natural resources of the State, or for paying the legal or other costs incurred by the State to pursue settlements and judicial and administrative awards relating to natural resource damages.” 

Up to ten percent of the monies so appropriated could be expended for -- you guessed it -- “administrative costs of the State or its departments, agencies, or authorities for purposes authorized in this paragraph.” 

By way of background, the New Jersey Spill Act declares the State to be “the trustee, for the benefits of its citizens, of all natural resources within its jurisdiction” (N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11a).  In the last (Democratic) State administration, the State brought a number of massive suits, notably involving the Passaic River and ExxonMobil, which resulted in some 355 million dollars in settlements.  The proceeds of the settlements were used by the Christie administration to balance otherwise deficit ridden State budgets. Although these shortfalls were caused mainly by the expenditures of the very same legislators (and their antecedents), this budgetary gap- plugging by a Republican was pilloried by the Democratically-held legislature (among others). The legislature nonetheless approved the transfer of these monies to the State’s general fund, making them usable for any purpose.  NGOs and, to some extent, municipalities in which the natural resource damages occurred, complained that not much was being spent on the environment, in general, or “restoration” projects in such municipalities, specifically.  Under New Jersey law, the only way to stop the Governor or legislators from “raiding” such recoveries at will is by way of constitutional amendment, so an effort to adopt one was necessary.  Hence, these resolutions.

A number of the most significant recoveries were obtained via (amply compensated) outside counsel.  Thoughtfully,  the proposed amendment includes a provision allowing for the compensation of such counsel in pursuing natural resource damages on behalf of the State.  At least one NGO had another idea, and advocated that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) be empowered simply to assess Natural Resource Damages, thereby avoiding any expense for outside counsel or, presumably, such mundane concerns as due process and like concepts.  Thus the inclusion of the phrase “administrative awards” in the proposed amendment.

Since the resolutions were adopted by a super majority of both houses, the amendment will now be put to a State-wide vote next November.  Whether it will actually be adopted remains to be seen.

And what sort of projects might be funded by these monies?  Recently, the DEP announced the award of a number of grants totaling $53 million to communities along the Passaic River, Raritan Bay, and tributaries, mostly drawn from settlement monies received in its Passaic River litigation.  These grants resulted from a “competitive process” and are largely, although not entirely, intended to enhance public access to these polluted waterways.  The various “improvements” to be funded by these grants include parks, elevated riverine walkways, docks, boathouses and launches, parking lots, and, in the town of Harrison, a “food truck plaza”, along with “wetland creation.”  Presumably then, at least in the view of DEP, preservation of food trucks goes hand-in-hand with natural resource protection.

Hey, it’s Jersey, you got a problem with that?

Old Cases – Old Friends

Posted on January 6, 2017 by John A. McKinney Jr

I was an Adjunct Professor on the Seton Hall School of Law faculty teaching New Jersey Environmental Law.  Although I retired from that position after 18 years, I still anticipate the upcoming Spring Semester.  At this time of year, I would have completed my syllabus and would be preparing for my classes, one of which would include a discussion of P. Ballantine & Sons v.  Public Service Corp. of New Jersey, 70 A. 167 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1908) (“Ballantine”).  This case is both an old friend and a decision reaching the right environmental law result long before there was something called environmental law.

The plaintiff was a major brewery in Newark.  The defendant was a large corporation that owned a neighboring illuminating gas manufacturing plant.  Both parties retained well-known lawyers whose names are, even today, in the names of two law firms active in New Jersey.  From a legal viewpoint, Ballantine was a battle between two titans of industry using top counsel. 

The holding in the case is simple.  “If a landowner accumulates contaminating matter upon his land, and negligently permits it to percolate through the soil and pollute a neighbor’s well, he is liable for the injury.”  In a jury trial below, the brewer prevailed and was awarded $20,725 in compensatory damages (over $5.5 million in today’s dollars).  The facts were not so simple and the gas company appealed, primarily on the basis that the verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.

In the case below, the brewery proved it drew about 7,800 gallons of water a day from two wells on its property to make its beer and porter.  The water purity and temperature had been perfect until late 1902 or early 1903 when “it had given off a perceptible gaseous odor which, however, did not affect its usefulness for plaintiff’s purposes.”  Although that may say something about the taste of beer in the early 20th century, by July of 1903, there was a “sudden appearance” in the water of gas tar, a by-product of illuminating gas manufacture, making the wells useless for making beer and porter.  The brewer procured another supply of water and sought its procurement costs.  The gas plant contended there was conflicting evidence as to the source of the pollution.

Here is where Ballantine is “modern.”  The case became a battle of the experts as to material identification and fate and transport issues.  There was testimony a predecessor owner of the gas plant dumped coal gas tar in the river and that it “was drawn or flowed there between the strata of rock which dip from the river towards the wells.”  In an early anticipation of Daubert, the Supreme Court panel said this was “all theory, and seems to be inconsistent with what we understand the proof shows to have been the fact that the tar in plaintiff’s wells was oil gas tar.”

The record showed oil gas tar was stored in tanks and moved through pipes in “the possession and under the control of the defendant and within its peculiar knowledge.”  The court found that, in these circumstances, negligence could be inferred and the costs were not excessive.  The appeal was “discharged, with costs.”

I will miss teaching from this little gem.  As we discussed it in class, I projected a slide show for the students showing a latter Ballantine Brewery, its delivery trucks and other Ballantine memorabilia.  We got into the history of the two parties after the case as well as their impacts on the City of Newark and the state.  We talked about New Jersey law and its early rejection of Res Ipsa Loquitor.  I told them one of the Justices on the Ballantine panel went on to preside over New Jersey’s most famous trial, the Bruno Hauptmann/Lindberg baby kidnapping case.  Ballantine elicited from me and from my law students all the things that made teaching fun.  I will miss my old friend. 

“What’s past is prologue” —William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Posted on January 3, 2017 by Joseph Manko

I first began to focus on the need to protect our environment in the 1960’s, starting with Rachel Carson’s indictment of one particular pollutant, the pesticide DDT in her seminal work, “Silent Spring.”  As the decade of the ‘60’s proceeded, environmental protection began to focus on the local release/discharge of contaminants into the air, ground and water.  Each state dealt with these problems in a scattershot manner until the EPA was formed in 1970 to administer laws passed by Congress to be uniform – commonly called “command and control.” 

On Wednesday, October 17, 1973, the Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”) decided to reduce the exports of the most basic transportable fossil fuel – oil - to the United States and other countries who aided Israel during the Yom Kippur.  This was commonly called the “OPEC Embargo” and exposed our national dependence on Mideast oil.  

Against this backdrop, on Monday, October 15, 1973, I left my corporate law practice and took my “Hamiltonian shot,” becoming EPA Region 3’s general counsel.  I joined the newly created EPA under Administrator Russell Train to implement, apply and enforce the new environmental statutes - the Clean Water Act (CWA–1972), Clean Air Act (CAA-1970) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA-1969).  Instead, because of the OPEC embargo, I was processing CAA variance requests to burn wood chips in furnaces in Philadelphia and fill my gas tank on alternative weekdays.  When the embargo ended the following year, we went about achieving EPA’s mission to protect the environment and coordinate the three E’s – the economy, ecology and energy – focus on the latter would grow in importance – and argument – in the years to come.   

I left my position in October 1975 and started a private practice in environmental law and later began to teach environmental law.  Along came the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”), and on the eve of President-Elect Ronald Regan’s inauguration, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).  The federal government was clearly on track to achieve its mission.

In January 1981, however, President Regan determined to “reverse” environmental protection by the federal government and return it to “state control,” welcoming to this cause a number of inexperienced, unqualified and hostile political friends to dismantle the federal program.  The result – James Watt left his Secretary of the Interior post in disgrace on October 10, 1983; EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch resigned in disgrace on March 9, 1983; Rita Lavelle, the EPA Assistant Administrator for Hazardous Waste and Superfund, wound up serving prison time for lying to Congress; and at least one Regan appointed EPA regional administrator was thrown out of office. 

During the twenty-eight Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama scandal free years, EPA went about its business of environmental protection, leading up to the presidential election of October 2016.  The near unanimous global and scientific recognition that climate change was happening led to efforts to reign in carbon emissions primarily from the burning of fossil fuel (coal and oil), culminating this fall in the Paris Agreement.  President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry led the successful fight to get the requisite number of countries to sign on with the United States.  Environmental protection became a global need, no longer a local problem.

And then came November 8, the election of Donald Trump. 

As he proceeded to name the people he wanted to make up his cabinet, speculation began as to whether as President-Elect he would actually activate his campaign attacks on environmental protection.  Now almost a month before his inauguration, he has actualized his campaign promises.  First, he selected Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, a climate change denier who led the attack in court on President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (the vehicle US planned to use to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel in fulfillment of its Paris Agreement commitment).  Second, he tapped Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest fossil fuel producer and defendant in NY v. Exxon, to be his Secretary of State.  Third, for Energy Secretary, he has designated Texas Governor Rick Perry, the man who in his 2011 campaign famously forgot that the third federal agency he would abolish was the Department of Energy.  Finally, with these selections, he has made it abundantly clear that he meant what he said about reeling in the EPA. 

Will he succeed during his administration or will he fail in his efforts to reprise the Reagan assault.  Some of the big differences between the 1980’s and today are (1) environmental degradation is now understandably global, not just local, (2) the rest of the world is similarly impacted and is watching us, and (3) the stakes are much higher.  Will Congress permit a legislative dismantling of the statutory structure it put together over the past 45 years?  Will the myriad environmental NGOs be strong enough (and sufficiently funded) to take these attacks to court?  Will EPA be able to preserve its regulatory program to implement environmental protection?  Will the courts uphold these executive anti-environmental attack efforts or stop them?  And in that regard, who will be Trump’s selection of SCOTUS Justice #9? 

We wonder.  Many of us worry.  And all of us wait.

The Window, Again

Posted on December 23, 2016 by Steven J. Levine

My practice, one way or another, is all about compliance . . . or noncompliance.  This is as true of the litigation side as it is of the regulatory counseling side.  I typically face the question of which of those terms best describes the situation a client brings to me.  It’s always been true that the practice goes beyond the mere facts or law at hand.  The real world also includes the client’s culture and values, politics, and economics.  These aspects, and others in varying proportions, have usually controlled process and outcome.

Today I am witnessing what appears to be an unprecedented unraveling of these foundations.  I see it in the words and actions of regulators, consultants, other attorneys, judges, and clients.  Obviously this imposes itself on the lawyer’s task of figuring out what the problem is, on the one hand, and, on the other, what the best advice for a client might be, specifically how (and when) to address the problem.  The path forward these days seems to be influenced, often significantly, by two related things:  widespread mistrust of government/science/etc., and a social media rife with rumors, innuendo, assumptions, and the like.  So I find myself asking:  of what value is advice derived from traditional avenues of carefully established fact, well-analyzed law, professional judgment, and years of relationship building?

I find the answer in the first week at my first real law job clerking for a federal district court judge.  On the third day of that job, I stood behind my desk, looked out the window, and thought, with despairing certainty:  I don’t have the tools to do this job!  I will never make it as a law clerk!  I will never make it as a lawyer!  Why did I ever go to law school?  Time passed.  Things cleared up.  I learned how to begin to apply what I knew to what I had to do.  And, while the view may be new, the path forward is the same as ever.  Now, as I think about the potential unraveling of fundamental policies and foundations upon which we have rested for a generation, I’m looking out of that same window, in a sense. 

Doin’ the Dunes – I Thought It Was Over

Posted on December 20, 2016 by Joseph Manko

In July I wrote what I thought surely would be my last blog on the more than three years of legal challenges by the City of Margate, New Jersey Commissioners with their decision not to appeal the state and federal courts’ upholding the State’s and Army Corps’ authority to build dunes in Atlantic County, New Jersey.  I titled the blog “Signing Off” – concluding that the fat lady had in fact sung. 

Well I was wrong. 

Six residents have now paraded into U.S. District Court with their expert, Chuck Dutill, a civil engineer and hydrologist, to testify before Judge Renee Marie Bumb, who had decided the earlier case.  Judge Bumb called the testimony “pretty fantastic,” but confirmed that this was the gist of the testimony:

“It sounds like from your testimony the Army Corps is turning the beach into a junkyard,” she said. “You’ve described a big parade of horribles: animal feces, oils, adults being hurt. It sounds pretty fantastic. Is that in some way hyperbole if you don’t mind? Is that your testimony?”

“That is absolutely my testimony,” Dutill replied.

“What I’m hearing is what the defendant proposes to do is turn the beach of Margate into the junkyard of Margate,” the judge said. “That is what I’m hearing.”

And until she rules – and as expected rules against the residents – and they decide to appeal, the fat lady continues to stand by for yet another reprise.

Electoral College vs. College Football Playoffs

Posted on December 19, 2016 by Thomas Lavender

I’m not sure – but, here’s a thought.

As we all know, or should know, it’s fall, and college football in the South rules the weekends.  Alabama is still the consensus No. 1 in all the polls, including the College Football Playoff (CFP) poll, the only one that truly counts after mid-season – neither the AP Top 25 nor the Coach’s poll will have a bearing on the contestants vying for the chance to play for the final trophy. 

Strangely enough, even prior to the kickoff of the first college football game, our forefathers chose to establish the first Tuesday in November every four years as the day we face off in a more important college contest, that of the electoral college.  At a college football game where 95% of the attendees (or more depending upon the stadium), a/k/a, fanatics, or fans, are in favor of one contestant, and the outcome is measured by points scored in favor of the winner of any given game, the CFP poll ultimately determines, by some seemingly independent process, the four “best” teams in the country who will compete for the ultimate prize, the National Football Championship.

Now, to the Electoral College, which is also believed by some to be totally disconnected from the popular vote of the participants and by others as totally complimentary of the popular vote.  Here, the concept of the Electoral College was, by many accounts, crafted to achieve a balance of the demographics of the Country and to minimize the likelihood that the urban areas, or the aristocracy, alone, depending upon which version one reads, could determine who ultimately leads the strongest nation in the world.  At best, while potentially, or actually in more than one instance, the Electoral College “Trumps” the popular vote just like the CFP trumps the AP-25 and Coach’s polls.  Meaning, it doesn’t matter who the media or the college coaches think are the best four teams in the Country, or that 3 million more voters think the President should be, the CFP and the Electoral College will ultimately decide.

Like it or not, that’s just the way it is.

EPA Adds Vapor Intrusion to Hazard Ranking. Can You Say “Deck Chairs on the Titanic?”

Posted on December 16, 2016 by Seth Jaffe

EPA has finally issued a final rule including vapor intrusion in the Hazard Ranking System.  The good news is that this is appropriate, because VI is one of the few real hazards regulated by the Superfund program.  The bad news is that the Superfund program is so hopeless that promulgation of the rule will probably substantially multiply the cost of addressing VI without buying an ounce of additional public health protection.

In a blog post more than five years ago, I provided a rant that I feel has stood the test of time.  In that post, I asked why Superfund was ill-suited to address VI, even though it’s precisely what EPA should be doing.

"Why should this be so? Could it be because CERCLA is the last bastion of almost totally pure command and control regulation? Might CERCLA remedy decisions take less time if EPA did not have to select remedies, but instead only identified appropriate cleanup standards and let PRPs select the remedy? Might cleanups get implemented faster if the PRPs’ obligation was simply to meet cleanup standards and provide sufficient information to EPA or 3rd party auditors to demonstrate that the cleanup standards have in fact been met?

I hope that the new administration doesn’t roll back this rule while leaving CERCLA in place, because that would be backwards.  I hope instead that the administration leaves the rule in place, but takes a hard run at really reforming CERCLA.  The administration could work with Congress to amend CERCLA to provide that EPA would promulgate cleanup standards for different media and then allow PRPs to attain those standards without direct government oversight.

This is, of course, not a massive right-wing plot.  Many left-leaning states, including the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, have done exactly that.  Massachusetts has been operating a privatized system for more than 20 years.  If CERCLA were thus amended, I think I could die, or at least retire, happy.  

And I won’t even try to pretend that this clip is really relevant, but it just seemed right.

WORRIED ABOUT OUR CLIMATE FUTURE? LOOK TO YOUR PLATE

Posted on December 15, 2016 by Peter Lehner

If the worst should happen—if the U.S. withdraws from the Paris climate agreement and rescinds President Obama’s Clean Power Plan—do we have any hope of protecting climate stability? Yes. Even in the face of such serious setbacks, all would not be lost. Clean energy and energy efficiency are already a part of our power system. Wind energy is less expensive than coal in some parts of the country, and the prices of wind and solar are expected to drop further still as projects already funded come online. Our vehicle fleet is more efficient than ever and will continue to save drivers money at the gas pump. And there’s another factor driving greenhouse gas emissions that we have enormous personal power to change: the way we eat. 

The effect of diet on climate change is extraordinary. According to a tool called the Global Calculator, developed last year by an international team led by the UK Department of Climate Change and the Environment, simply reducing (not eliminating) meat consumption worldwide—without any changes in other activities, including fossil fuel use—could move us nearly halfway toward meeting the 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) limit in temperature rise set by the Paris agreement. By contrast, if the entire world ate meat in the way rich countries do now, emissions would go off the charts, even if we took big steps to cut climate pollution in other areas.

Eating meat—beef in particular—has a major impact on climate pollution because of the amount of carbon-storing forest that is cleared to raise grain for cattle, the emissions created by fertilizer used to grow that grain and the emissions from the digestive systems of cows themselves. Beef is responsible for about 20 times more climate pollution per unit of protein than lentils or beans and 8 times more than pork or poultry.

Eating meat, especially beef, has a major impact on climate pollution.

GLOBAL CALCULATOR

In the image above, the rising black line represents climate emissions if the world fails to take any other positive climate action. (All data is based on our modeling using the Global Calculator.) Continuing along our current path would lock us into 7.2°F of warming in this century and nearly 10.8°F in the long run, resulting in swamped coastlines, bleached coral reefs, increased disease, water insecurity and a host of other effects. On the other hand, if meat consumption falls to levels currently found in India (the caloric equivalent of eating one serving of chicken breast per week) and the proportion of beef in the meat we eat is reduced from 22 percent to 10 percent, as seen in China now, it would result in a major decline in emissions by 2050, as you can see in the falling green line.

The steep red line represents what would happen if meat consumption worldwide increased to current European levels (the equivalent of eating two servings of chicken breast per day) and the proportion of meat from beef increased from 22 percent to 28 percent, as seen now in Canada. In other words, if the world starts to emulate the diet of wealthier Western nations, emissions would rise sharply. In fact, emissions would climb beyond levels predicted under the worst-case scenario mapped by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014. The panel warned of a two-foot rise in sea level by the end of this century, increasing the flood risks in coastal cities like Miami by 10 to 100 times. In other areas, droughts, deadly heat waves and tropical cyclones could also become more frequent and intense.

What’s alarming is that even if we pursue extremely ambitious reductions in climate pollution from transportation and energy, these efforts would not be enough to counteract the impacts of consuming meat at higher levels, as shown by the rising blue line on the chart.

Here’s the rub: The risk of catastrophic climate change will be almost impossible to avoid if we fail to address the impacts of meat consumption. As we ponder how the nations of the world will move forward to address climate change, and how America, in particular, will move forward under a Trump presidency, it’s heartening to know that a powerful solution like diet is available and relatively untapped.

No one expects the world to stop eating meat overnight, but we can reduce the amount of meat we eat. Many studies show that a diet high in plant-based foods and lower in red and processed meats benefits your health as well the climate. Restaurants and grocery chains are offering more plant-based options; there are even food delivery services like PlantPure Nation and Purple Carrot that make it easy to put a plant-based meal on the table. Food writer Mark Bittman’s “flexitarian” recipes are another good source of inspiration. As more people incorporate more plants and less meat into their diets, we’ll have a healthier population and a healthier planet, too.  

(This blog was first published by Earthjustice. http://earthjustice.org/blog/2016-november/worried-about-our-climate-future-look-to-your-plate)

Surveying the landscape – an approach to compensatory mitigation

Posted on December 9, 2016 by Thomas Lavender

Not that there is anything wrong with wetlands mitigation banking.  I, for one, would certainly like to own one with the perceived return on investment and lack of control on the market – but, there is another option that achieves the same “no net loss” goal for impacting wetlands.

While we all recognize that the Corps’ mitigation rule establishes a hierarchy that favors the purchase of credits from approved mitigation banks, permitted responsible mitigation is still allowable under certain circumstances.  In fact, most recently in South Carolina the landscape mitigation approach has been successfully used to further economic development projects.  In at least one instance, the landscape approach was used entirely in lieu of the purchase of mitigation banking credits.  In another, a hybrid approach was used which combined a permittee-responsible-project with the purchase of credits.

How did it work – you ask?  Rather well, I might say.  But how did it work? 

In each instance, the applicant involved a conservation entity to serve as the sponsor for the project.  Desirable property was identified which had previously been targeted for preservation by a state or federal resource agency.  The sponsor then entered into an agreement with the applicant to secure the mitigation property and, if necessary, perform any enhancement work to achieve the required mitigation credit for the project.  The applicant agreed to reimburse the sponsor for acquiring, holding, and enhancing the mitigation property.  In one instance, the sponsor will ultimately convey the property to a state resource agency.  The mitigation property will be transferred to the state resource agency, subject to a restrictive covenant to encumber the property as approved by the Corps and the resource agency.  The mitigation property only partially satisfied the mitigation obligation.  A small credit purchase for the balance was also necessary.   In the other instance, the mitigation obligation will again be partially satisfied by the purchase of the mitigation property by the sponsor on behalf of the applicant and then transferred to the federal resource agency.  However, the ratio of the credit purchase and the property purchase were approximately equal.  This approach seemed to work more effectively because it also provided for the involvement of an approved mitigation bank which did not object to the project.

Why do it – you ask?  Time and money – when time is money. 

On many large economic development projects there is often resistance from third parties or resource agencies.  Working with these third parties and resource agencies to identify desirable mitigation properties can facilitate consensus for securing a 404 permit in a timely manner.  The approach only works for the applicant when the permit timeline tracks with the project and the cost of the landscape mitigation approach is essentially equivalent to the cost of purchasing credits from an approved mitigation bank.

Try it, you might like it, Mikey. 

Conservation: Back to the Future

Posted on December 8, 2016 by Dennis Krumholz

In preparing the curriculum for my first environmental law class this coming semester, I thought it would enrich my students’ experience to read certain of the important antecedents of the modern era of environmental statutory, regulatory and case law.  Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, a classic of conservation literature, came immediately to mind.  As a result, I have returned to a book that kindled my appreciation for ecology and the outdoors and, thereby, reinforced my interest in environmental law.

I began by reading the chapter in which Leopold muses about activities that take place during November at his sand farm on the Wisconsin River.  (Since my blog is due in early December, jumping in here seemed to make sense.)  Leopold recounts a myriad of activities in the mere twelve pages he devotes to describing this month’s developments.  One section is devoted to the unintended beneficial consequences that result from diseases that afflict his trees.  Various animals take advantage of the shelter and, especially, the food that these diseased and rotting trees provide.  Leopold’s insight is to look beyond the misfortune of losing trees; not only is this destruction a natural part of life, but - if only we are able to recognize it – death is offset by the sustenance the dying and dead trees provide to local animals.  While this “circle of life” approach is easily understandable these days, such an idea was radical when Leopold was writing in the 1940s.

The heart of the November chapter finds Leopold considering whether to chop down a white pine or a red birch.  Indeed, he considers conservation to be “a matter of what a man thinks while chopping, or deciding what to chop.  A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”  Leopold thoughtfully explores his motives in selecting to fell one tree or the other –which of the trees he planted, which is more scarce, which is likely to stand longer if untouched, which wood will fetch more money upon sale, the impact the tree would have upon animals and other plants if left standing … even his ancestors’ tree preferences.

Leopold casually reveals the many species that coexist in a deceptively simple sand farm.  He also educates his audience by gently illustrating the interrelatedness of the plants and animals and describing the seasonal impacts of cold and wind on each.  The descriptions of vegetation and, especially, the birds that nest in his trees and bushes, are enchanting.  One wishes to have Leopold take us by the arm and show us all that he observes and understands.

Leopold’s skill as a stylist, especially his use of a languid and folksy style, masks his considerable scientific knowledge.  We know that he was a college professor and that, among other fields, he understood evolutionary theory.  While it is obvious that this training informs his many observations and conclusions, yet, Leopold serves up this technical information so lyrically that readers whose experiences with botany and zoology were less than happy will feel at home.

A word about the philosophical aspect of the Almanac is warranted.  While Leopold’s observations are presented on the “micro” level, he carries a far broader message.  Leopold laments the loss of our natural environment but with an approach that educates more than criticizes.  “What is the value of wilderness?” is one of the many deeper questions lurking just beneath the surface.  Leopold believes that its value lies in and of itself, but also in its contribution to our wellbeing; the natural world is essential to the moral and spiritual welfare of humanity.

Environmental law began to catch up with Leopold’s ecological vision in the early 1970s.  Since then, it would be easy to focus our legal training on the interplay among various elements of so-called “positive” law in the protection of our natural world.  But omitting Leopold and others like him from the education of our future lawyers would be a costly error, as doing so would ignore the conservation and ecological ethic that lies at the very root of environmental protection.  Rereading Leopold reminds us of how and why our field of law first arose and why practicing it continues to hold our interest.  I urge my colleagues in the College to dip (back) into this resonant and loamy book.  I’ll bet dinner in Charleston if you, too, don’t come away with a refreshed appreciation of our natural world and a reminder of the part our professional activities play in preserving it for future generations.

AN ANTIDOTE TO INERTIA?

Posted on December 2, 2016 by Annette Kovar

Let’s face it – most seasoned bureaucrats (I confess I am one) often don’t react well to change.  Over time, there just seems to be an intrinsic inertia that builds in all bureaucracies. Federal and state environmental agencies are, unfortunately, no exception. While we in government do strive to avoid this inherent danger (problem?), the comfort of a routine can sometimes be the enemy of innovation. The catchphrases getting a lot of attention, and gaining some real traction, in government circles these days are “process improvement” and “performance measurement”.

Many state environmental agencies and the US EPA have undertaken a variety of self-examination techniques which fall under the general rubric “business process improvement” (BPI), including Lean, Six Sigma, and Kaizen to name just a few. The articulated objective is to examine key functions and processes with a view towards achieving a host of goals such as reducing costs to the agency, optimizing agency resources, and realizing better value for the agency’s “customers”. BPI may also help transform an organization’s culture to help embrace change and communicate better with the regulated community, the public, and other governmental partners. The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) recently released a report entitled “State Environmental Agency Business Process Improvement Activity 2010-2016,” which accompanied the launch of an online database describing state BPI activities.

Applying process improvement goals in a meaningful way and tracking performance measurement through metrics helps agencies answer the question, “How are we doing?” Performance metrics can track costs and time saved, and identify areas needing improvement. It is not measuring for the sake of measuring, but rather measuring progress toward achieving identified performance goals, such as issuing an air quality permit or awarding grants within a specified period of time.

While the decision to engage in BPI may come as a top-down mandate, the implementation of actual techniques used to arrive at new goals will have to be tailored to each program’s process and appears in practice to be largely collaborative and creative, encouraging a “think outside the box” mindset. There will always be challenges—that’s probably inherent in the nature of government with the prospect of new leadership every four years or so. Process improvement and performance metrics won’t automatically diffuse the inertia in an organization. Change just for the sake of changing isn’t all that appealing without seeing real progress towards a goal.  Working together, however, initiatives borrowed from business may foster an institutional culture and organizational climate in government where personnel are more willing to accept change and perhaps come up with innovative ideas of their own.

(The author is Legal Counsel for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.)

For PEAT’s Sake! Another Pathway Averting Climate Change

Posted on December 1, 2016 by Nicholas Robinson

After the smoke clears, damage still emerges from last spring’s wild and vast fires around Fort McMurray in Alberta. The NYT Science Times  (August 9, 2016) reported how fires like these are destroying Earth’s peat deposits, releasing volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Long-dead plant material in peat holds ancient carbon, which photosynthesis removed from the air. Worldwide, buried peat holds 30% of all carbon dioxide.

Most know peat only as dried “peat moss” used to enrich flowerbeds. Canada harvests 40,000 acres of peat moss, exporting 90% to the USA for gardeners. Peat is dried when mined. Exposed to the air, the peat oxidizes and its stored carbon is released. In Alberta, peat covers 65% of the oil sands. Cleared to permit surface mining, Alberta’s peat releases upwards of 47.3 million tons of stored carbon into the air. The wild fires ignited this exposed peat, and set peat in the ground ablaze. Fires are still smoldering, awaiting winter rains and snows.

Peat fires burn all around the world until rains extinguish them. Beyond billions of dollars in economic damage, natural systems are impaired. NASA provides an online observatory revealing the extent of these fires. This summer’s Siberian wild peat fires burn on.

Companies unlawfully burn peat in Indonesia to convert wet peat forests to palm oil and pulp plantations. Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions from burning peat are today equal to all the climate-changing emissions of China or the USA. Each year since 1997, the smoke from these fires causes air pollution locally in Riau and across the Straits of Malacca in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.  Southeast Asia’s peat emissions are adding one gigaton of carbon dioxide a year. The Indonesian “Haze” is well documented, as in NASA’s 2014 recorded images.

Although peat deposits exist in all Earth’s regions, peat covers only 3% of the land surface. Peat has accumulated to depths of 30 feet or more. While drained or degraded peat areas are found today on 0.4% of the lands, these areas currently contribute 5% of total greenhouse gas emission. Their volume of emissions grows daily.

Mining of peat is an additional cause of the destruction of peat deposits and carbon emissions.  Peat is mined like coal in Ireland and in each Scandinavian country to fuel electricity generating plants. A new peat-fired power plant has opened in Uganda. The untapped peat in Central Africa is huge. Peat bogs in the Congo exceed the entire landmass of Great Britain. 

Some countries are taking steps to limit disturbance of peat deposits.  Finland, New Zealand and Great Britain are debating ending their exploitation of peat in order to help stop global warming.  Since 1989, Kew Botanical Garden in London has banned the use of peat, although the U.K.’s annual emissions  of carbon dioxide from mining peat for use in compost remain at 400,000 tons.  To stop air pollution of Moscow and halt ongoing greenhouse gases releases, Russia is re-wetting peat areas drained in the 1920s by the USSR. Russia’s protected wilderness areas hold the world’s largest preserved peat habitats.  Peat is protected in federal parks lands of Alaska.

Alternatives exist for every use of peat. Countries could legislate to ban peat sales and restore damaged peat deposits. States like New York or Massachusetts have already done so by adopting strict wetlands laws. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions provides a strong reason to ban sales of peat moss, and prohibit peat mining in Minnesota and nationally.  Emission-trading schemes can help finance transitions from peat abuse to peat preservation.

Peat preservation is critical. Paleoecologists mine peat for knowledge, learning how plants thrived and died over the 11,000 years since the last Ice Age. Peat reveals how climates change.  Accumulating slowly at 1 mm/year, peat is an irreplaceable record of life on Earth. Peat areas also host essential biodiversity.  Indonesia’s peat loss jeopardizes its Orangutan and Sumatran tiger habitat. In less than ten years, the Kampar Peninsula lost 43% of its peat, releasing 1.9 gigatons of greenhouse gases.  Indonesia has lost 18.5 million hectares of forests, an area twice the size of Ireland.

United Nations climate negotiators so far have ignored the plight of peat. At the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, Singapore stated that, “emissions of these fires by errant companies in Indonesia are more than the total CO2 emissions of Germany. This is comparable to the emissions of Japan.”  It is sobering to reflect that Southeast Asia’s peat emissions are matched by those in Canada and elsewhere.

This month, the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature met in the USA for the first time. The 5,000 IUCN delegates in Hawai’i adopted a call for the worldwide protection of peat. Some efforts have begun. The United Kingdom is studying a “Peat Code” to finance peat restoration and preservation by payments to offset other gas emission. In Germany, “MoorFutures” are being offered in Bavaria for investors to finance peat offsets.

Much is at stake. If the climate warms and the peat is allowed to dry and burn across Africa, Asia, Siberia and elsewhere, run-away emissions can result. Aware of mounting environmental degradation, a year ago the nations in the UN General Assembly adopted a new Sustainable Development Goal, to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems” by 2030.  For peat’s sake, let us get on with it.