Posted on February 6, 2012
Just a few years ago, the price of natural gas was high enough to encourage development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals to receive LNG from foreign gas producers and then “re-gassify” such gas before sending it to existing interstate pipelines. Three such facilities were proposed in Oregon, after a failed attempt to site an LNG terminal in California. The presumption had been that due to the high capital cost of the terminal and related pipeline, and because of market constraints, there would be but one terminal on the West Coast.
That dynamic has shifted with discovery of abundant domestic shale gas deposits and attendant lowering of gas prices, and LNG terminal developers are thinking “export,” instead of import. Should this change in the LNG business model matter to anyone?
Of the proposed Oregon projects, two remain: at the Port of Coos Bay and on the Skipanon Peninsula in Youngs Bay, at the mouth of the Columbia. The projects have generated controversy, with opponents asserting public safety concerns (i.e. uncontrolled “blast zones”), harm to aquatic habitat, creation of a terrorist target, usurpation of land owner rights along the pipeline route, and all apparently with no benefit to Oregon because the gas may only be shipped to our evil sister to the south, California. Of course, these are all issues that the FERC and state permitting reviews are designed to uncover, assess and prescribe mitigation for and those processes are incomplete.
Natural gas prices have come down to the point that an LNG import facility may no longer make sense. On the other hand, demand for natural gas in Asia is high, particularly in Japan following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which in turn raises prices. Thus, the two remaining Oregon LNG projects are actively considering conversion to export facilities, and there is enough global demand—and plenty of surplus Canadian and U.S. natural gas—that more than one would be needed to make much of a dent in that surplus. This result has enraged environmental activists, as though it is somehow unfair to change the economic model on which a proposed project is based.
There is nothing about a LNG export facility that is so different—either in form or impact on land or resources—such that it should affect how the public views LNG. The two concepts have approximately the same footprints, and to the untrained observer, would look the same. In the case of the Skipanon Peninsula project, tanks are the most prominent structures; import and export tanks are identical, except that an export facility would require only two, whereas an import terminal requires three. The dock/pier arrangements for import or export facilities are identical. The two concepts have very similar (and very limited) environmental impacts, all of which will be reviewed in detail in the various state and FERC regulatory processes. In addition, an LNG export facility would provide four times as many construction jobs (about 10,000 man-years) and almost twice the amount of long-term employment originally anticipated from the project. The project represents a $5 billion investment in a region with no apparent industrial development alternatives on the horizon, and with property tax rates right around 1%, such a project would infuse approximately $50 million in local annual tax assessments.
There are some who suggest allowing exports of LNG would raise domestic natural gas prices and thereby place the U.S. economy at a disadvantage. But of course the U. S. participates in a global economy and gas prices are driven by global market conditions. A commodity will find a market, seeking the highest prices available, wherever it originates. The U. S. exports approximately 50 million metric tons of grain every year and that probably raises U.S. domestic food prices a little, but would anybody seriously argue that we should stop grain exports?
Markets will determine whether a shift to exporting LNG makes economic sense. Environmental effects and other public interest issues related to an LNG export terminal and related pipeline projects should be judged on their merits by the federal and state agencies charged to do so.
Posted on December 29, 2011
According to news reports of the December 21 opinion rendered by the European Court of Justice, the ECJ’s decision upheld imposition of the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme (“ETS”) upon non-EU airlines that take off or land at airports in an EU member state. However, those news reports fail to note what the ECJ did not decide.
In December 2009 the Air Transport Association of American and three US member carriers brought suit in the UK against the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to reverse inclusion of non-EU airlines in the EU ETS. They argued that such inclusion violated the US/EU Open Skies Agreement precluding the signatories from imposing import restrictions, taxes, duties, and similar fees and charges on fuel used by air carriers in international air transport. They also argued that such inclusion violated the Chicago Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.
The Chicago Convention provides for adoption of international standards and recommended practices on air navigation “safety, regularity, and efficiency” by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations specialized agency that oversees civil aviation. The ICAO has adopted aircraft noise and engine emission standards in Annex 16 to the Convention. The Chicago Convention also provides for resolution of signatory country disagreements over interpretation or application of the Convention and its Annexes by decision of the ICAO Council which can then be appealed to an arbitral tribunal or to the Permanent Court of International Justice (now the International Court of Justice). The Kyoto Protocol in turn provides for signatory states to address limitations on or reductions to greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft fuels through the ICAO.
For several years member signatories to the Chicago Convention have been considering mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions from commercial carriers. Spurred on by EU plans to impose its ETS on non-EU airlines, the ICAO hopes to have a mechanism in place by the end of 2012 for ICAO decisionmaking at its 2013 meeting. At the present time a number of market based mechanisms are being considered, including some form of emission trading, carbon taxes on fuel use, levies on departing passengers and cargo, and carbon offsets. The EU has said that it would exempt non-EU carriers from the EU ETS if they adopt “equivalent” measures.
In its decision the ECJ concluded, in the context of the UK court’s preliminary ruling, that it cannot examine the validity of the ETS under the Chicago Convention because the EU (as opposed to the EU member states who would perform their obligations under that Convention) was not a signatory to, and thus not bound by, the Chicago Convention. It also concluded that the Kyoto Protocol provisions for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation fuel through the ICAO “cannot . . . be considered to be unconditional and sufficiently precise” to be relied upon by the plaintiffs in contesting application of the EU ETS. Thus, its rulings were limited to consideration of the Open Skies Agreement and customary international law. With respect to the former, the ECJ concluded that the tax and fee exemption for aircraft fuel used by carriers engaged in international travel between the EU and the US does not prohibit implementation of the EU ETS. The court likewise concluded that the EU Directive imposing the ETS was valid under customary law principles.
It remains to be seen what path the plaintiffs, or other interested countries or carriers, may choose to take regarding the court’s interpretation of the Open Skies Agreement and customary international law as they apply to the EU ETS. Even more interesting is the question of how the ECJ interpretation relates to the decisionmaking power vested in the ICAO. It is of course possible that the ICAO will implement “equivalent” measures for addressing greenhouse gas emissions before any further judicial decision is rendered. Nevertheless, additional legal action is highly likely, given the number of interested parties.
Posted on September 22, 2011
Recently Japan’s nuclear accident emphasized one important aspect of where to build power plants, and now the State of New York has adopted a new power plant siting law which could be a model for other states.
After not having a law on the books since 2003, New York has adopted a siting law and created a new panel to oversee the development of new power-generating facilities in the State. The bill, called the Power New York Act, was adopted to rare applause of both environmentalists and business groups. Efforts to establish a new siting law in New York had stalled over the years, thereby limiting the State’s ability to build new facilities and power sources including wind and solar.
Power New York Act of 2011 is a sweeping energy bill. Section 12 of the new law reauthorizes and modernizes Article X of the Public Service Law, which expired on January 1, 2003, governing the siting and approval of power plants in New York. The new law hopefully will create a one-stop siting decision-maker.
The law establishes a new seven-person board to oversee the development of power plants in excess of 25 megawatts of energy, which would capture wind farms and even some battery-storage facilities. The old law limited the board’s oversight to plants with more than 60 megawatts of power, which often left local communities to decide how to handle smaller projects.
The law creates and vests permitting authority with the New York State Board on Electric Generating Siting and the Environment. The statute provides that two local residents will be part of the board for each proceeding. The other five members of the board will be state officials. The law also provides for “intervener funding” which will enable municipalities and other local parties to participate in all phases of the administrative review, including the mandated adjudicatory hearing.
The board is given authority to override local laws and ordinances if they are “unreasonably burdensome.” Unless otherwise agreed by an applicant or extended due to a “material and substantial amendment to the application” or “extraordinary circumstances,” the board’s decisions must be rendered within a year of the application’s being deemed complete.
Article X overrides the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act which previously covered projects, and instead calls for several environmental analyses of a facility’s impacts. These analyses include a “cumulative air quality analysis” that evaluates the combined effects from the proposed facility, other proposed sources and all existing sources; describes the demographics of the surrounding community; and sets out “reasonable and available” alternative locations. It also requires the board to find that the project minimizes or avoids disproportionate impacts on the surrounding community.
The absence of a power plant siting law has been cited as an important reason why there has been scant development of power plants in New York in recent years, including alternative energy sources. If the new law works in New York, it could become a model for other states.
Posted on May 10, 2011
E&E Daily reported today that Senate Republicans are preparing legislation to combine EPA and the Department of Energy. The list of Senators identified as supporting the proposal is a virtual who’s who of conservatives, including Jim DeMint, a favorite of the Tea Party. Accordingly to Richard Burr (R. N.C.), the measure would reduce waste by eliminating duplicative programs in EPA and DOE.
Why is this even a story? Perhaps because Democratic Governor Deval Patrick did the same thing in Massachusetts in 2007, forming what has been considered a very successful Executive Office of Energy and Environment. Perhaps because newly elected Democratic Governor Dannell Malloy recently did the same thing, creating the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Connecticut (and naming my friend and law school classmate Dan Esty to be first Commissioner of the combined agency).
So, is this a progressive idea to ensure that energy development, which is a very big part of our economy, is considered together with environmental protection, or is this a regressive idea, intended to eliminate spending?
Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s simply a good idea.
Politics would determine whether the combined agency leadership would pursue an aggressive environmental protection and clean energy agenda or whether it would instead avoid new regulatory programs in order to facilitate an aggressive program of developing traditional energy resources. Either way, it makes sense to house these two functions under one roof.
For those of us who follow politics as the blood sport it’s become, it will be interesting to see if this idea gets any traction and, if so, where Congressional Democrats line up. Are they going to try to tar this as a simple-minded conservative idea? If so, will the President’s friend Governor Patrick be caught in a Mitt Romney-like dance, trying to argue that it was a good idea for Massachusetts but would not be a good idea nationally?
Serious kudos to the first liberal Democrat who unambiguously supports this proposal.
Posted on April 20, 2011
Rhode Island may be in the forefront of regulation on a statewide basis of the siting of renewable energy projects. The State just announced plans for a statewide siting plan that would in effect determine licensable locations of renewable energy projects (wind, solar, etc.).
This type of planning has been used in the past for conventional energy projects (both fossil fuel and nuclear), but is now being expanded because of local opposition to alternative energy projects. The effect will be to override local zoning, but it will also add another bureaucratic layer to the licensing process as well as the attendant additional time and expense.
One would expect that other states with comparable population densities may seek to follow Rhode Island’s lead, but whether any choose to do so is anyone’s guess.
Posted on March 25, 2011
Perhaps the most interesting recent injection of constitutional law into environmental policy involves the use of the political question doctrine regarding common law claims. For a half decade, states and individuals have turned to common law causes of action for redress in climate litigation. See James R. May, Climate Change, Constitutional Consignment, and the Political Question Doctrine, 85 Denv. U. L. Rev. 919 (2008). Federal common-law causes of action, including those for public nuisance, provide potential—although imperfect and problematic—means for judicial cognizance of and redress for these effects. See id. Nonetheless, some federal courts have determined the seldom used “political question doctrine” bars them from “entering the climate change thicket,” reasoning the matter is consigned to the coordinate branches of government. Id. at 957-59.
This legal development is astonishing, because until recently the political question doctrine had touched only about a half dozen matters—including matters which are demonstrably committed to a coordinate branch of government, require an initial policy determination, lack ascertainable standards, or could otherwise result in judicial embarrassment—that are nonjusticiable. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217 (1962). For example, the Court has recognized executive power over foreign affairs, impeachment, and treaty abrogation as political questions into which courts ought to decline jurisdiction, finding them to be consigned to the elected federal branches of government under the “political question doctrine.” James R. May, Constitutional Law and the Future of Natural Resource Protection, in The Evolution of Natural Resources Law and Policy 124, 146 (Lawrence J. MacDonnell & Sarah F. Bates eds., 2009). Climate change litigation has now entered this mix, most recently in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., Civ. Action No. 10-174.
In the case below, American Electric Power Co., 582 F.3d 309 (2d Cir. 2009), the Second Circuit held no aspect of the political question doctrine applied to enjoin judicial review. In particular, the circuit court found climate change is neither constitutionally consigned to the elected branches, nor prudentially left to them. The utility defendants filed a petition for certiorari to reverse the Second Circuit’s ruling, arguing (1) states and other plaintiffs lack standing, (2) federal law preempts plaintiffs’ claims, and (3) the case raises nonjusticiable political questions. Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., Petition for Certiorari, Civ. Action No. 10-174; AEP Cert. Petition at i, 13, 20, and 26. In late August 2010, the Obama Administration filed a brief in support of the utility defendants’ petition, arguing plaintiffs lack prudential standing, and federal law displaces the need for common law causes of action for climate change. Brief for Tenn. Valley Auth. in Supp. of Pet’rs , Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., No. 10-174. In its brief, the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office argues (i) first plaintiffs lack prudential standing under the standard articulated in the First Amendment Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1 (2004) decision—and largely for the same non-justiciability reasons defendants argue in favor of applying the political question doctrine; and (ii) second, EPA activities during the last 12 months, including the final reporting rule, the proposed tailoring, cement kiln, and light duty truck emission rules, and other activities displace the need for common law causes of action under the standards set in the Court’s Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. Nat'l Sea Clammers Ass'n, 453 U.S. 1 (1981) and Milwaukee v. Ill., 451 U.S. 304 (1981) decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, with Justice Sotomayor recusing herself, which seems to increase the prospects of a 4-4 split. Oral argument in the case is set for April 19, 2011. Whatever the Court decides in AEP v. Connecticut is sure to rock the foundation of climate law and policy for many years – perhaps generations – to come.
Posted on March 17, 2011
On rare occasions, change comes even to the "land of steady habits". New Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (D) has proposed consolidating the energy and environmental functions of his administration into a new, integrated department. Ignoring for the moment the questionable new acronym that will result, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or "DEEP", this earth shattering (for Connecticut, anyway...) proposal seems to make a tremendous amount of sense, and will bring Connecticut into line with a number of other states who already have recognized the inextricable link between the environmental protection and energy policy functions.
Subject to the "never a slam dunk" approval of the Connecticut legislature, the energy policy and Department of Public Utility Control units will be combined with the Department of Environmental Protection's existing regulatory natural resource conservation and management units. On its face, this proposal makes sense, as it acknowledges the inescapable overlap between environmental and energy policies, and seeks to ensure that policy decisions take into account and make sense given the two often competing sectors. Examples of key energy policy issues with environmental implications include repowering of aged generation units, incentives for alternative fuels and energy efficiency initiatives, and the ongoing "generation vs. transmission" debates. The integration of these energy functions, which currently are spread among a number of agencies including the Office of Policy and Management, with the traditional environmental regulatory functions will not necessarily be seamless, as the varied duties of the new agency will include regulation of oil dealers, control of state building construction standards, responses to energy emergencies and the monitoring of energy prices.
To head DEEP, Governor Malloy has proposed the appointment of Daniel Esty as the new Commissioner. Esty, a Professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Yale Law School, is a nationally renowned expert on environmental and energy policies, and in the past has worked in various senior positions at the Environmental Protection Agency. A frequent author, including his latest book "Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy, to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage", Esty's talents also reach into the economic aspects of the environmental and energy worlds. With his "deep" resume, Esty would add instant credibility and expertise to the new super agency.
Esty will be tasked by Governor Malloy to help lead Connecticut's continuing efforts toward economic recovery. Among other challenges, Connecticut currently has among the nation's highest rates for electricity, a problem that has very real effects on the business climate of the state. Like most other states, Connecticut also has faces the daunting task of dealing with an elephant-sized budget deficit, currently projected to be in the range of over $3 billion. Esty, who appears to have wide-spread support from both the business and environmental communities, most certainly will have his work cut out for him, but there are many constituents here in Connecticut pulling for him.
Posted on March 14, 2011
Last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued interpretive guidance on climate change-related disclosure, a significant step towards focusing companies on addressing this important issue and improving the quality of the information available to investors on this subject. While this guidance caused some companies to reevaluate and improve their disclosure practices, overall disclosure of the risks and opportunities presented to companies by climate change remains inadequate.
That is the finding of Disclosing Climate Risks & Opportunities in SEC Filings: A Guide for Corporate Executives, Attorneys & Directors, a new Ceres report intended as a practical guide for companies and their advisors on how they should respond to the SEC disclosure regulations and the interpretive guidance, so that they can ensure they are disclosing all material climate-related information.
Developed with input from members of the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), which includes 95 investors managing over $9 trillion in assets, the report offers the investor perspective on climate-related disclosure. It closely examines the disclosure practices of over a dozen companies across multiple sectors, highlighting some industry leaders—like electric power company AES Corp. and technology company Seimens—for disclosure that quantifies material climate issues and provides additional important details.
However, in the case of every company examined, there was room for improvement. And the report found that for many companies, disclosure was non-existent or unhelpful boilerplate. The main takeaways from the report are that companies should be doing more comprehensive analysis of climate risks and opportunities applicable to their business, compiling more consistent and quantified information, and that they should be disclosing it where investors look to find it, both in their voluntary reporting and, where material, in their annual mandatory filings.
ACOEL piece on SEC guidance available here.
Disclosure report is available here.
Posted on February 18, 2011
On February 2, 2011, representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Ed Whitfield (R–KY) released Discussion Draft Bill, H.R.____ “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” (the Bill) which would amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In general, the Bill prohibits EPA from taking action to regulate GHG emissions to address climate change and would repeal certain rules and previous EPA actions, including EPA’s December 15, 2009 GHG endangerment findings under the Clean Air Act, the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) GHG Tailoring Rule, the authority to issue PSD permits containing GHG emissions limitations, or any other federal action applying a stationary source permitting requirement for GHG emission standards relating to climate change concerns.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power quickly moved the Draft Discussion Bill to a hearing on February 9. The testimony included many supporters of the Bill, but predictably, EPA administrator Jackson testified in opposition.
In her testimony, Administrator Jackson came out swinging, stating that the Bill is part of an effort by Congress “to delay, weaken, or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public.” Moreover, she pointed out that in passing this bill, politicians would be overruling scientists on a “scientific question” by repealing the GHG endangerment finding that GHGs contribute to endangerment of American’s health and welfare. Although the Republicans may have sufficient votes to pass the Bill out of the House, it is clear from the Administrator’s reaction that if presented to the President for signature, it will be vetoed.
This veto likelihood raises the specter of whether the GOP will attempt to include the Bill or similar prohibitions against regulation of GHG emissions as a part of the pending 2011 budget authorization bill. If a budget authorization bill is not passed or extended by March 4, 2011, all federal funding will be cut off, and the federal government will be forced to close for business until an authorization bill is signed. Including a provision prohibiting EPA from regulating GHG emissions would force the President’s hand on whether to sign the bill and keep the government’s doors open, or veto it and shut down the government.
In a February 11, 2011 interview, representative Mike Simpson (R–Idaho), the head of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said that he doubts whether spending legislation would be held up if it does not include language preventing EPA regulation of GHGs. E&E News PM (02/11/2011). Nevertheless, other Republican colleagues, including some freshmen, may offer amendments to insert such prohibitions when the appropriations bill comes to the House floor because including provision prohibiting regulation of GHG emissions to the appropriations bill could reduce the likelihood of a Presidential veto. Id.
For now, it seems more likely that any bill limiting EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions will move through the normal committee process responsible for environmental legislation. Whatever the result, however, the fight between the GOP to limit GHG regulation and the current administration’s efforts to regulate GHGs promises to be a no holds barred donnybrook.
Posted on February 18, 2011
On February 8, 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a number of long-anticipated initiatives designed to address development of renewable energy on public lands. The draft guidance from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and the final guidance from the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) provide direction to the agencies and industry on navigating the many permitting and compliance requirements faced by solar and wind energy developers. These guidance documents will have significant implications for renewable energy development on public lands throughout the nation.
The FWS released two draft guidance documents for public comment. The first, “Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines,” is designed to provide wind energy developers with information to consider in selecting sites for wind energy facilities to avoid and minimize negative effects to fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. Click here to view these guidelines on the FWS website. The second, “Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance,” explains the FWS approach to issuing programmatic eagle “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“BGEPA”), and provides guidance on conservation practices and adaptive management recommended to facilitate issuance of these permits and compliance with BGEPA. Click here to view this guidance on the FWS website. Both draft guidance documents are subject to public comment for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Both the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance and the Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines create significant new requirements for wind energy developers planning wind facilities on public lands. The new guidance calls for increased consultation with the FWS and greater planning to avoid and minimize impacts to fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats at all stages of wind energy development and operation. Wind energy developers, renewable energy proponents, environmental groups and others concerned about the potential consequences of the new guidance, both on renewable energy development and the environment, should carefully review and consider commenting on these significant proposals. Click here for a more detailed summary of both FWS draft guidance documents.
In addition, BLM issued three final policy memoranda to provide guidance to field managers in evaluating, screening, and processing applications for utility-scale solar and wind energy projects on BLM-managed lands. Click here to view these memoranda on the Bureau of Land Management website. Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-059, “National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Utility-Scale Renewable Energy Right-of-Way Authorizations,” reiterates and clarifies existing BLM National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) policy for analyzing the potential environmental impacts of utility-scale renewable energy projects. Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-60, “Solar and Wind Energy Applications – Due Diligence,” provides updated guidance on the due diligence requirements of right-of-way applicants for solar and wind energy development projects on BLM-managed lands. Finally, Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-061, “Solar and Wind Energy Applications – Pre-Application and Screening,” provides updated guidance on the pre-application and screening processes BLM will employ in review of right-of-way applications for solar and wind energy development projects on BLM-managed lands. These policies – developed in response to “lessons learned” from last year’s fast-track renewable energy initiatives – are not subject to review and comment.
Paul Phillips (with full credit to Sandi Snodgrass & Andy Irvine) all of Holland & Hart LLP.
Posted on February 9, 2011
The natural gas boom generated by advances in drilling technology making economic production of unconventional resources like shale gas possible has generated increasing public attention as environmental advocacy groups and the media continue to attack the process and point to hydraulic fracturing as the cause of everything from natural methane migration to earthquakes. These dramatic allegations take center stage in the documentary, Gasland, by director Josh Fox. With its recent academy award nomination, Gasland continues to push hydraulic fracturing issues into the national and international spotlight.
Hydraulic fracturing is an oil and gas production service that involves injecting a mixture — comprised primarily of water and sand — into a targeted geologic formation at pressures sufficient to create small fractures in the rock thousands of feet below ground. These fractures are held open by the sand or other “proppants” used in the fracturing fluid and allow the natural gas to more effectively flow out from the hard rock formation and into the wellbore. Small concentrations of chemical additives are used in fracturing fluids in enhance the fluid performance. Hydraulic fracturing is only one part of the exploration, drilling and production process. It occurs after the well is drilled but before the well is completed and begins production. Hydraulic fracturing has been labeled the “technological key” to recovery of unconventional oil and gas resources like shale, coalbed methane and tight sands. Experts estimate that 90% of all oil and gas wells utilize hydraulic fracturing. Without hydraulic fracturing, efficient and economic development of the nation’s vast shale gas reserves would be impossible.
In the past few years, hydraulic fracturing has seemingly become the target for all environmental and health impacts associated with exploration and production activities. In response to heightened public concern — particularly fears that the fluid mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing could seep or migrate upward into underground sources of potable water — the federal government began taking steps to increase its oversight and regulation of the process. The last Congress introduced bills in both the House and Senate to enact the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (the “FRAC Act”), which would have subjected hydraulic fracturing to federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act Underground Injection Control (UIC) program and required full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. Whether proponents of the FRAC Act or other similar legislation will introduce such legislation in the 112th Congress remains unclear.
In the meantime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken several steps to increase its oversight of hydraulic fracturing. First, at the direction of Congress, EPA has initiated a study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. EPA recently announced its selection of experts for the study review panel, which notably excluded all experts nominated by industry or environmental advocacy groups, resulting in a purely academic review panel. The Agency plans to submit the draft study plan to the Science Advisory Board for peer review in early 2011 and expects to have initial study results by late 2012.
Second, the EPA announced by way of a website posting that it would regulate hydraulic fracturing utilizing diesel additives under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The website posting indicated that “Any service company that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive prior authorization from the UIC program. Injection wells receiving diesel fuel as a hydraulic fracturing additive will be considered Class II wells by the UIC program.” Industry groups have challenged the website posting as an improper rulemaking without notice or comment.
Most recently, on December 7, 2010, EPA issued an Emergency Administrative Order (the “Order”) to a natural gas company to take measures intended to mitigate methane contamination in drinking water supplies in Parker County, Texas, near Fort Worth, in the Barnett Shale area. According to the Order's cover letter, EPA "ha[d] data to indicate" that at least two private drinking water wells were impacted by methane contamination "directly related to oil and gas production facilities." The Order was an unprecedented use of the “imminent and substantial endangerment” authority the Agency has under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. § 300(i) and has been followed by a January 2011 suit to enforce the Order and an appeal of the Order by the company. The Order was issued while a concurrent investigation of the matter is still pending before the state agency charged with oversight of oil and gas operations in Texas. The company has maintained that there is no connection between its operations and the methane detected in the water wells. The outcome of EPA’s exercise of authority in the case remains uncertain.
In the midst of heightened attention on hydraulic fracturing and drilling operations from the federal government, state governments have moved quickly to amend, promulgate, enact or revise state laws and regulations on hydraulic fracturing in order to preempt the need for any federal regulation of oil and gas production operations, which traditionally have been primarily governed by state law. For example, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is currently in the process of completing a “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program: Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs” (“SGEIS”). After receiving extensive public comment on the initial draft SGEIS, the NYSDEC was ordered by then-Governor Paterson to issue a revised draft SGEIS on or about June 1, 2011 and conduct an additional public comment period. In the interim, the NYSDEC has taken the position that it may not issue any permits for horizontal drilling or high-volume hydraulic fracturing until the SGEIS is finalized — creating a de facto moratorium on Marcellus Shale developments in New York. Other states have moved forward in efforts to update their existing oil and gas regulations to address key issues such as well construction standards and hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure requirements.
Some regulators and environmental groups have begun to better understand the science involved in defining the risk of environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing. With this understanding, they have shifted their focus away from the idea of subsurface upward migration of fracturing fluids to surface spill prevention and well construction requirements. Nevertheless, the media frenzy and NGO campaign against hydraulic fracturing remains strong and will continue to place the process and the oil and gas industry in both the public and regulatory spotlight.
Posted on December 29, 2010
The climate change debate soldiers on, despite set-backs at the national level. The California Air Resources Board, for example, has released the first state level cap and trade proposal, which remained open for public comment until December 15, 2010. Despite a handful of such gallant efforts to address global warming through legislative means, few, if any, political attempts to address the issue have succeeded. Perhaps this is a reflection, as recent polls suggest, of a waning public belief, at least in some circles, that global warming is man-made. Equally likely, however, is wide spread economic distress, which takes immediate precedence in the lives of many.
Since pervasive legislative solutions to global climate change do not seem to be in the offing, perhaps the time is upon us to examine and adopt an approach to carbon emissions concerns which is scientifically effective and cost-effective alike. Rather than implementing grand political initiatives such as cap and trade, perhaps we should think about implementing measures which can be implemented by individuals and communities at the local level. Measures such as painting the roofs of buildings in hot climates white, implementation of passive solar heat collection in homes and businesses, lowering thermostats in the winter and carpooling can all be implemented inexpensively or can actually save money, while at the same time having the direct effect of reducing carbon emissions. Personally, I have always been a big proponent of the use of public transportation. It makes both economic and environmental sense and certainly reduces an individual's carbon footprint.
In short, there are measures which we, as individuals, and more collectively, as communities, can do which address climate change that can be effective yet would not have negative economic consequences. While such measures will never replace legislative solutions, they are a step in the right direction while we await the enactment of more comprehensive legislative responses.
Posted on December 7, 2010
WDNR has issued “Siting Guidelines” available here to help wind project developers site projects in ways that minimize impacts and will be revising its current “Bird and Bat Study Guidelines” to provide more comprehensive information.
The WDNR report was submitted in response to 2009 Wisconsin Act 40, which required the agency to determine if its “statutory authority is sufficient to adequately protect wildlife and the environment from any adverse effect from the siting, construction, or operation of wind energy systems.”
WDNR’s legislative agenda is in development. Whether the legislature will take up these recommendations is currently unknown. While WDNR's interest in more comprehensive authority is consistent with its view of its responsibilities, the risk for project proponents and developers is that it will create new grounds for project opponents to rely on to challenge siting decisions. For many the goal of alternative energy sources -- solar, wind, biomass -- is still only desirable when it isn't in their backyard.
In response to a legislative directive, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in November submitted a report to the Wisconsin Legislature making four recommendations to enhance its authority to protect wildlife and natural resources from wind project impacts:
- require WDNR to prepare a formal “biological opinion” and require the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) to consider that opinion before PSCW approves a wind project; this opinion would 1) describe the potential impacts of the project to wildlife and natural resources; 2) identify potential conflicts with wildlife protection laws; 3) reach a conclusion as to whether the project has the potential to cause a significant adverse impact to habitat and fish and wildlife resources; and 4) reach a conclusion as to whether mitigation measures can be implemented to substantially reduce those impacts below the level of significance;
- require a wind project developer to obtain Incidental Take Permits or Authorizations under the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law (Wis. Stat. s. 29.604) before constructing a wind project; currently, developers are encouraged but not required to obtain such authorizations;
- expand the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law to protect endangered and threatened species habitat, to mirror the federal Endangered Species Act; currently, Wisconsin law only protects habitat if a direct take of a species will occur and an Incidental Take Permit or Authorization is required; and
- require easements for wind facilities to authorize access to those properties for the conduct of biological studies by developers, WDNR personnel and/or authorized agents.
These recommendations reflect WDNR’s view that its standard regulatory authorities over wetland and waterway impacts don’t reach the agency’s growing concerns about protecting wildlife and habitat from turbine siting and operation. Current WDNR authority addresses impacts to waterways and wetlands from project construction, and obligates developers to implement construction site erosion control. Threatened and endangered species are protected from intentional and incidental “takes”. WDNR has implemented this authority through consultation and use of general Incidental Take Permits and Authorizations. Violations of general wildlife protection laws (Wis. Stat. ss. 23.095(1g), 29.011(1) and 29.039) are subject to enforcement, but are limited to intentional taking by unlawful activities, and WDNR does not consider them generally applicable to construction or operation of state or locally approved wind projects.
Posted on November 29, 2010
The US hasn't licensed a new nuclear power plant in a quarter-century. Most people have forgotten the plants even exist – but they might be coming back. In the last couple of years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received more than twenty new plant applications.
Are we ready to go nuclear again?
The US has about 100 nuclear plants in operation today, generating around 20% of the nation's electricity. Most plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and will need to be replaced before too long. Far more plants have been built abroad, and many of them will need to be replaced too.
Replacing worn-out nuclear plants with new ones is very controversial, at least in the US. Our colleague, Michael Gerrard, will explore the controversy by hosting a debate on nuclear power at Columbia Law School on Monday, November 29th from 7 to 9 PM. The debate will be webcast live, and a video will be posted on the website of the Center for Climate Change Law. Contact Ashley Rossi at email@example.com for more info.
In the meantime, how can we learn what to believe — and what not to? Fortunately, in 2007 the Keystone Center conducted a "joint fact-finding" to identify facts upon which people with different policy goals could absolutely agree. The participants came from all over, ranging from utilities like Exelon and Entergy to environmental groups like Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They may continue to disagree on the values implicit in their various policy goals. But it turns out that they can agree on a foundation of facts.
For example, all agreed nuclear power is in fact a low-carbon energy source that can help fight climate change. They also agreed that the global nuclear industry would in fact need to embark on a massive construction program if nuclear power is to provide even 1 gigatonne of carbon reductions (equal to just one "wedge" from the famous Sokolow & Pacala climate stabilization wedges. Here's the specific factual finding:
"The NJFF participants agree that to build enough nuclear capacity to achieve the carbon reductions of a Pacala/Socolow wedge (1 GtC/year or 700 net GWe nuclear power; 1,070 total GWe) would require the industry to return immediately to the most rapid period of growth experienced in the past (1981-90) and sustain this rate of growth for 50 years."
On another point, the participants agreed that nuclear power probably would cost between 8 and 11 cents per kilowatt/hour (kW/h) delivered to the grid. This compares to current natural gas costs of about 5 to 6 cents per kW/h. (Wind power's costs fall somewhere in between.)
On the controversial topic of using new technologies to "reprocess" nuclear fuel, participants agreed it wasn’t likely to prove economically viable:
"No commercial reprocessing of nuclear fuel is currently undertaken in the U.S. The NJFF group agrees that while reprocessing of commercial spent fuel has been pursued for several decades in Europe, overall fuel cycle economics have not supported a change in the U.S. from a “once-through” fuel cycle. Furthermore, the long-term availability of uranium at reasonable cost suggests that reprocessing of spent fuel will not be cost-effective in the foreseeable future. A closed fuel cycle with any type of separations program will still require a geologic repository for long-term management of waste streams."
Agreement on all the true facts might make it easier to resolve the debate over nuclear power's role in our energy future. To learn more about them download the Keystone Center's executive summary or the report in full.
Posted on August 23, 2010
As with “green washing” of products, which are subject to existing product liability law, there is an emerging area of law regarding liability for claims that a building marketed as “green” or alleged to achieve the desired platinum, gold, silver or standard Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has failed to do so.
As the LEED requirements and techniques for sustainable development become better understood and more widely adapted, more and more developers are seeking to build “green.” To the extent that the construction costs permit a manageable return on investment (ROI) and the specifications and requirements for such development are clearly spelled out in the various contractual documents, including especially the agreement with architects, we will likely see more and more claims that the resultant buildings are “green.”
Although some theories of liability will track areas in construction law, e.g., deficiencies in design, construction or installation, green buildings claims will face an additional layer of risk. Without such statutory coverage, cf strict product liability, today’s bases for liability may include breach of contract, tort, fraud and false advertising claims.
For example, in the Maryland case of Shaw Development v. Southern Builders, which was settled without an opinion, the loss of a tax credit based upon compliance with a LEED Silver certification level led to a claim of liability.
The best way to mitigate these risks is to ensure that all contractual documents are clear and consistent, project management is assured, information disclosures are accurate, and finally that insurance coverage, where available, is provided. With regard to documents, AIA form contract B214-2007 has been developed to provide some model contractual language; more than forty insurance carriers are now underwriting green building liability; and in many law firms, some of their attorneys and other technical people have become LEED accredited.
This is an area that will continue to develop as more and more green buildings are constructed. For more in-depth information on potential liability and tips to mitigate claims, see the Harvard Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic White Paper, “The Green Building Revolution: Addressing and Managing Legal Risks and Liabilities”.
Posted on July 28, 2010
Climate change legislation is dead for now. I won’t pretend it’s not depressing, even though I avoid the political channels and ignore the rhetoric. For those of us who haven’t refudiated climate change science, it’s a victory for the pessimists and evidence that Congress has a hard time addressing long-range problems, even if consequential.
With respect to regulation of GHG, it’s the worst of both worlds and no one should be happy (which is why I held out hope until the end that cooler heads would prevail). We’re still going to have regulation of GHG, the mechanism being EPA’s recently promulgated Tailoring Rule for GHG. One word. Ugh. Does this really make climate skeptics happy? Do they really think that they will somehow succeed in rolling back the Tailoring Rule? I don’t think so. On the other hand, we don’t have an economy-wide cap-and-trade or carbon tax regime. Are environmentalists happy? I still don’t think so.
I’m left feeling a little like Rodney King. Certainly, the issue isn’t going to go away before the next Congress is sworn in.
As I have noted before, however, problems with climate change legislation don’t mean that Congress can’t enact legislation further regulating traditional pollutants. The three-pollutant bill now before the Senate already has a Republic co-sponsor, Lamar Alexander. Now, according to a report in E&E Daily, even Senator Inhofe is stating that he’s interested in working with Democrats to move three-pollutant legislation. Given the failure to move GHG legislation, hell is likely to get hotter before freezing over, but if Inhofe can really be brought on board, there’s no reason why legislation couldn’t pass.
Three-pollutant legislation shares one significant feature with the GHG issue. Like GHG regulation, efficient regulation is hampered by limitations in existing law, as we saw with the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the trading regime in the CAIR regulations, and EPA’s much more limited trading program in the Transport Rule. Senator Voinovich, another Republican that three-pollutant legislation supporters would like to have with them, noted as much, saying that the transport rule would be a "stringent and inflexible regime." New legislation could provide for a more robust trading regime. We’ll see if that’s enough to bring Republicans on board.
I sure hope so. Right now, all we’ve got is a GHG regulatory program that won’t do much for climate change, but will cause my clients endless headaches, and a Transport Rule that’s probably the best EPA can do on traditional interstate pollution, but not nearly as cost-effective as it might be with new legislative authority. I remain an optimist, but sometimes it’s difficult.
Posted on July 26, 2010
The population issue has not received much comment when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, Vice Minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC).
“Dealing with climate change is not simply an issue of CO2 emission reduction but a comprehensive challenge involving political, economic, social, cultural and ecological issues, and the population concern fits right into the picture,” said Zhao.
Zhao cites studies that link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change, saying:
“Calculations of the contribution of population growth to emissions growth globally produce a consistent finding that most of past population growth has been responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of emissions growth,” citing the 2009 State of World Population report, released earlier by the UN Population Fund.
Although China’s family planning policy has received criticism over the past three decades, Zhao said that China’s population program has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of China’s society.
As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said. The UN report projected that if the global population would remain 8 billion by the year 2050 instead of a little more than 9 billion according to medium-growth scenario, “it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions.”
Meanwhile, she said studies have also shown that family planning programs are more efficient in helping cut emissions, citing research by Thomas Wire of London School of Economics that states: “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton” whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 for electric vehicles."
Zhao admitted that China’s population program is not without consequences, as the country is entering the aging society fast and facing the problem of gender imbalance.
Whether, and, if so, how, population control should be an active part of a country’s climate control is certainly a difficult political and cultural issue – but one that fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil may have to face in the coming years.
Posted on June 10, 2010
With work on financial reform almost complete, Senator Dodd announced this week that his remaining legislative priority is the enactment of the Livable Communities Act, S. 1619. There is a companion house bill, H.R. 4690. A hearing on the Senate bill will be held tomorrow.
It’s hard to be against livable communities and I may just be getting crotchety, but this legislation seems some combination of pointless and misguided. The legislative findings discuss traffic congestion, the percentage of oil used for transportation and CO2 generated from transportation, and the need to encourage and sustain compact development and historical town centers. And we’re going to solve this – or even make a dent – by making grants to “micropolitan” statistical areas? I don’t think so.
I agree that sprawl is a problem. I support transit-oriented development. However, there are reasons why we see development where we sit it in the United States. People still like the freedom and flexibility of personal automobile use. If we think that all that driving causes externalities – and I do – I’ve got two words for you: carbon tax. Until we make people internalize the cost of their living choices, they will continue to make those same choices and money spent on encouraging livable communities will be largely wasted. If we can’t summon the political will to tax carbon, we shouldn’t pretend that we’re solving the problem by spending money on micropolitan areas.
Posted on June 7, 2010
by Michele B. Corash and Robert L. Falk
Morrison & Foerster LLP
San Francisco, California
In the first quarter of 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a potentially significant “interpretative release” providing guidance to public companies on their disclosure obligations relating to climate change (Release Nos. 33-9106; 34-61469). The release focused on recent business and legal developments regarding climate change and advised companies to more carefully evaluate the impact these developments may have on their business and whether such impact should be disclosed.
As a technical matter, an interpretive release by the SEC does not create new legal requirements. Instead, it furthers a policy objective by “clarifying” the applicability of current SEC rules. In this case, the relevant SEC rules require the disclosure of material items associated with the impact of climate change on a business and cover a company’s risk factors, business description, legal proceedings, and management discussion and analysis.
While the SEC’s Chair, Mary Schapiro, has carefully noted that this interpretive release should not be construed as the SEC making a statement about the facts surrounding climate change or global warning, the release does acknowledge an increase in climate-related legislation and international accords, as well as changing business trends where environmental issues have the potential to create new risks or opportunities for companies. In fact, in the release, the SEC specifically provided the following examples of areas where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements:
- Impact of Legislation and Regulation: When assessing potential disclosure obligations, a company should consider whether the impact of certain existing laws and regulations regarding climate change is material. In certain circumstances, a company should also evaluate the potential impact of pending legislation and regulation related to this topic.
- Impact of International Accords: A company should consider, and disclose when material, the risks or effects on its business of international accords and treaties relating to climate change.
- Indirect Consequences of Regulation or Business Trends: Legal, technological, political and scientific developments regarding climate change may create new opportunities or risks for companies. For instance, a company may face decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or increased demand for goods that result in lower emissions than competing products. As such, a company should consider, for disclosure purposes, the actual or potential indirect consequences it may face due to climate change related regulatory or business trends.
- Physical Impacts of Climate Change: Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes, the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.
SEC Commissioner, Luis Aguilar, in speech discussing the SEC’s interpretive release concerning climate change, provided further guidance. He cautioned that each company “should ensure that it has sufficient information regarding [its] greenhouse gas emissions and other operational matters to evaluate the likelihood of a material effect arising from the subject legislation or regulation.” Additionally, the SEC has long reminded companies that in determining whether certain information is material, the company should err on the side of disclosure.
The guidance provided in the SEC’s interpretive release is effective immediately and should be considered during the preparation of all future public company annual reports and SEC filings.
Posted on May 7, 2010
It has always amused me how many people are involved with Brownfields work as compared to how few projects have been completed. It is tough to make the economics work on a Brownfield development in the best of times. Thanks to clean energy rules and incentives this may be changing.
Brownfields and clean energy have several synergies. Brownfields are often in industrial corridors, with great infrastructure and proximity to electrical grids. Biomass projects in particular need access to efficient transportation networks in order to move large volumes of material. Clean energy projects such as solar, wind and biomass plants work well with risk based remediation and institutional controls required for cost effective risk management at a Brownfields sites.
Add to these synergies a vast array of incentives, mandatory quotas and grants for clean energy and we just may have a path to economic viability for some Brownfields projects. EPA has a task force known as ER3 to help facilitate such projects. Keep your eye on a project in Charlotte, North Carolina known as ReVenture Park which seems destined to put wind energy, wastewater treatment and a biomass plant on a large, complex CERCLA/RCRA site.
Posted on May 6, 2010
By now, everyone is familiar with "Climategate", the scandal surrounding the hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England. The inner workings of CRU are significant because the CRU is responsible for preparing the land temperature records upon which most of the climate change studies are based and which, more importantly, form the foundation for the assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming. The e-mails at issue include many e-mails which had previously been requested by numerous Freedom of Information requests, but which East Anglia had refused to produce, including e-mails relating to the preparation of the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.
The CRU Temperature "Adjustments"
Most people probably think that land temperature records are the product of the rather mundane ministerial task of collecting and reporting actual temperature readings from weather stations around the world. However, there are numerous "adjustments" to the actual temperature readings which are made by CRU. There are adjustments made to account for the different times of day that the readings are taken. In addition, it is well recognized that urban areas artificially increase the measured temperature because materials like concrete, asphalt and metal structures collect and retain heat during the day and release the heat during the night. This artifact, known as the "urban heat index" (UHI), must be accounted for in the land temperature records. The magnitude of the proper adjustments for UHI are the subject of intense scientific debate, and the extent of any adjustments made for UHI serve to reduce global warming attributed to manmade greenhouse gases. Scientists that have studied UHI have also made subjective calls as to which weather stations to include and exclude in their studies, thereby injecting another "adjustment" into the equation. Numerous Freedom of Information requests had been made to and resisted by East Anglia for the underlying raw temperature data and the UHI adjustments that CRU made to such data, as well as requests for the underlying data upon which the Director of CRU, Dr. Phil Jones, had based his previous UHI studies.
EPA Endangerment Finding Based Upon IPCC Assessments
As one of the foundational components of the IPCC's assessments, the accuracy of CRU's temperature records have far reaching implications. The IPCC assessments were relied upon by the United States Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA, and were a cornerstone of the EPA's Endangerment Finding in response to Massachusetts.
Commonwealth of Virginia's Challenge to Endangerment Finding
Although there have been numerous challenges to EPA's Endangerment Finding, several have specifically raised Climategate as the basis for their challenges. Noteworthy are the separate challenges filed by Virginia and Texas. In its challenge, Virginia claims that the Climategate e-mails demonstrate that the, "CRU scientists questioned the reliability of their own data, the methodologies used in developing and analyzing such data, and the conclusions based thereon." Virginia maintains that the EPA had a duty to independently investigate and verify the accuracy of the CRU temperature records upon which most of the climate change research and IPCC assessments are based. In addition, Virginia claims that the, "EPA substantially ceded its obligation to make a judgment whether GHGs may endanger public health and welfare to the IPCC, an international body that is not subject to U.S. data quality and transparency standards."
State of Texas' Challenge to Endangerment Finding
Texas' 38 page Petition for Reconsideration takes the drama and intrigue to the next level, painstakingly discussing the Climategate e-mails, the context in which they were made, and the conclusions which Texas maintains should be drawn therefrom:
"Previously private email exchanges among top IPCC climatologists reveal an entrenched group of activists focused less on reaching an objective scientific conclusion than on achieving their desired outcome. The scientists worked to prevent contravening studies from being published, colluded to hide research flaws, and collaborated to obstruct the public's right to public information under open records laws."
The future of Climategate in the courts is uncertain. It may eventually be viewed as the event that exposed the political agenda behind some of the climate change "science", or it may be viewed as a tempest in a teapot. In any event, its inclusion in these legal proceedings ensures that Climategate will for the foreseeable future be included in the ongoing climate debate and certainly that it will survive beyond the usual 24 to 72 hour news cycle.
Posted on February 24, 2010
Will environmental issues play a prominent role in the upcoming elections? It appears so, particularly if your state’s Senior Democratic Senator is up for re-election, and is also Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D. Ark.) cast the deciding vote in the Senate for health care reform, and received the typical “big government, liberal” moniker. Seven Republicans have lined up to run against her, and her $5 million (and growing) campaign war chest. But how will the competing campaigns deal with environmental issues? Senator Lincoln has a lifetime score of 49% on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental activist group she has proudly referred to as “extremists.” Of the Democratic Senators up for re-election, Sen. Lincoln ranks the lowest. Labels are easy to assign, but are rarely very accurate.
The school of thought at the end of 2009 was that either Congress would enact climate change legislation prior to March of 2010, or EPA would enact its own climate change rules to implement the impending endangerment rulemaking. Not so fast. Not only is there no climate change legislation, Congress is now debating S.J. Resolution 26: “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute to findings for greenhouse gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 2009), and such rule shall have no force or effect.”
Is SJ-26 a purely partisan move, with no chance of passage? Perhaps. Just note that Senator Lincoln is a prominent co-sponsor, one of 40 senators who have signed on, one of three Democratic co-sponsors, all of whom are up for re-election (Ben Nelson, D. Neb. and Mary Landrieu, D. La. being the others). Not all Republicans signed on—Scott Brown, newly elected from Massachusetts, passed on this one.
Environmental groups have already started running radio attack ads in Arkansas. Even though the ads give Senator Lincoln a “dirty air” label, Senator Lincoln is likely hoping the voters are listening—hoping that she gains notoriety for opposing what she labels “job killing” climate change regulations—notoriety that may improve her standing with Arkansas voters come election time. (Again with the labels)
SJ-26 is not Senator Lincoln’s first foray into the climate change debate. At the end of October, 2009 Senator Lincoln attached a little known rider as a last minute addition to the current budget—a rider that now prohibits EPA from spending any money to require livestock producers to report GHG emissions under the new GHG reporting rules. As Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, she could pull this one off. Cattle and pigs may be flagellant, accounting for 1.7% of all GHG emissions (more by some estimates). But for now EPA cannot make anyone count up the farts, at least not for this fiscal year (ending September 30, 2010). Whether EPA should, or should not have included livestock producers in the GHG reporting rule is a judgment call, and one that we can all disagree upon. The importance of the farm vote in Arkansas, however, cannot be over estimated. And for those who believe this is just a matter of Southern politics (or “pork”), the same budget bill included a last minute exemption for 13 Great Lakes cargo steamships from a proposed EPA rule to require lower sulfur fuel.
Is this form of Congressional veto legislation a new era of environmental regulation? Some have referred to these efforts as borrowing from the Newt Gingrich playbook. Those who have followed these issues more closely than me will have to answer that one. For now, it’s just the beginning of what will prove to be a very interesting political season. Sen. Lincoln trails the leading contenders in recent polling.
Posted on February 17, 2010
On February 26, 2010, Dan Farber, Doug Kysar, Rob Glicksman and I will be on a panel at Georgetown about emerging issues at the intersection of Constitutional and Environmental Law. We'll puzzle over recent developments and the constitutional shape of environmental law to come. There is much to discuss. We have the limitations on judicial involvement, say, the political question doctrine and the treaty clause in the context of climate litigation. Summer suggests that Scalian standing is alive and well, and that procedural standing is hardly, er, left standing. And then there are 1:1 ratio limits to awards of punitive damages in cases involving environmental harm with which to contend under substantive due process.
Federalism could experience resurgence. Oneida and Kelo give the states an opening to do more (and do worse). Yet preemption still looms large (as with cap & trade), and sovereign immunity jurisprudence has diminished state accountability.
And of course, there is an enfeebled Congress, which behaves as if its powers are as a majority of the Supreme Court imagined them to be in 1935. While non-delegation is still in desuetude, and Raich revived rational basis review of Commerce Clause authority for the time being, it's any wonder that Congress delivers so little about national environmental challenges these days. Or anything else, for that matter. But if we're really at war, then how about Congress using its war powers to address environmental challenges that impinge upon national security, like climate change? And does Missouri v. Holland give Congress authority unbridled by the 10th Amendment to address international environmental issues, say, water pollution? Climate change?
Which brings us back to Article II separation of powers, and Chevron. For the next 2 1/2 years, all may learn to love Justice Alito's interpretive approach in last term's Kensington.
What does the future hold? Who knows, except for ineffective congressional responses and a Supreme Court that seems at least skeptical about national environmental programs. So maybe a constitutional devolution of sorts. Opportunities abound for constitutional innovation under the General Welfare and Due Process Clauses, or invocation of state (here and elsewhere) provisions that putatively provide a right to a healthy environment.
And if judicial takings are constitutionally cognizable (this term's Beach Renourishment), then why not sustainable development under the Privileges & Immunities or Equal Protection Clauses, or the 9th Amendment?
Or maybe not. It is, after all, a constitution we are expounding.
Posted on February 9, 2010
One of the big hurdles for further development of wind power in the U.S. is landowner objections to placement of turbines near their homes. The rationale du jour for such objections is that the sound produced by turbines causes a broad range of health effects. In particular, objectors point to infrasound, which is sound generally below the level of human perception. A recent case in Wisconsin was one of the first in the country to test the objectors' theories. When a Wisconsin utility applied for permission to build 90-turbine development north of Madison, objectors argued for extremely low limits for wind turbine sound and a mile-and-a-quarter setback, limits which would have made the project impossible.
The principal proponent of the theory that wind turbine sound causes physiological harm is a New York pediatrician, Nina Pierpont. Dr. Pierpont has written and self-published a book, entitled "Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment," which chronicles complaints by 10 families around the world who have lived near wind turbines. As presented by Dr. Pierpont, the symptoms include everything from headaches to nausea, tachycardia, irritability and panic episodes associated with sensations of movement or quivering inside the body. Dr. Pierpont argues that infrasound works in two principal ways to cause these symptoms: first by exciting the human vestibular (balance) system; and second vibrating the diaphragm and organs, thereby passing on confusing messages to the body.
Dr. Pierpont draws upon and supports the work of noise control engineers George Kamperman and Richard James, who, in various proceedings in the U.S. and abroad, advocate very low thresholds for sound from turbines (35 dBA, which is approximately the level of a quiet bedroom). In the Wisconsin case, objectors hired Mr. James to provide expert testimony, which he did, relying heavily on Dr. Pierpont's theories.
Quarles & Brady retained two experts to address sound issues on behalf of the utility. Dr. Geoff Leventhall is an acoustician, consultant and professor from the U.K. who has been involved in studying infrasound for nearly 50 years. Dr. Leventhall testified that neither of Dr. Pierpont's theories make sense. In fact, he testified, the author of the study Dr. Pierpont relies upon for her vestibular disturbance theory specifically disclaimed that his work supported her conclusions. As for Dr. Pierpont's theory that infrasound vibrates the diaphragm and organs, Dr. Leventhall testified that simple math dooms her argument. Sound from turbines results in movement of the diaphragm of less than 10 microns (one tenth the thickness of a human hair), while during normal breathing, the diaphragm moves several centimeters. Dr. Leventhall also pointed out that Dr. Pierpont's analysis completely ignores another, much stronger, source of internal infrasound--the heart.
Quarles & Brady also retained Dr. Mark Roberts, a Chicago-based epidemiologist, biostatistician and physician. Dr. Roberts testified that "wind turbine syndrome" is not a medical diagnosis supported by peer reviewed, published, scientific literature. He completed a review of the literature, and found no support for the claim that wind turbine sound causes physiological harm. Dr. Roberts also identified several flaws in Dr. Pierpont's methodology, limiting the usefulness of her research, including selection bias and a failure to adhere to accepted epidemiological principles in developing her theories. Summarizing Dr. Pierpont's work, Dr. Roberts concluded that it consisted of "opinions that are unsubstantiated," and as he pointed out, "everyone has opinions." Dr. Roberts warned against allowing such "science" to shape public policy.
Both Dr. Leventhall and Dr. Roberts agreed that sound from wind turbines may annoy neighbors or disturb their sleep. Dr. Roberts summarized such concerns as follows: "The underlying complaint of annoyance is, in and of itself, not a disease or a specific manifestation of a specific exposure, but instead a universal human response to a condition or situation that is not positively appreciated by the human receptor."
Ultimately, while the Wisconsin Public Service Commission recognized that no development is without cost to those who live nearby, it adopted the utility's suggestion of a 50 dBA sound threshold, with a lower 45 dBA threshold during summer nighttime hours, when neighbors are likely to have their windows open. These thresholds allow the utility to move forward with the project, while, in the Commission's view, striking an appropriate balance between neighbors' interests and those of the utility.
Posted on January 28, 2010
On January 21, 2010 thousands packed the auditorium at the University of Charleston in Charleston West Virginia and tuned in on television and radio for the debate between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Asked about his primary concerns for the future of energy, Mr. Blankenship stated that they were the security of this country and improving the quality of life in this country and throughout the world. This answer became somewhat of a theme for Mr. Blankenship, as he stated his concern for the health and well-being of people, which is dependent on their quality of life, which is heavily dependant on affordable electricity, which is heavily dependent on coal.
When asked the same question, Mr. Kennedy offered several minutes of comments similar to other speeches he has given around the country concerning Appalachia and coal in which he highlighted his families’ ties to West Virginia along with his views against surface mining.
The audience, having a near equal number of supporters from both sides, was relatively subdued thanks to early pleas from University of Charleston President and event moderator Dr. Welch to hold-off applause until the end. At times, however, both debaters received loud applause for their answers to questions.
Throughout the debate, Mr. Kennedy stated the many health and environmental issues he believed to be caused by coal, while Mr. Blankenship reminded Mr. Kennedy that many of his biggest issues with coal, such as the burning of coal and its contribution to Mercury in water, are primarily caused by other countries with much a higher usage of coal, such as China and India.
Mr. Kennedy also focused a great deal on alternative energy, such as wind and solar energy, as well as West Virginia’s need to switch its focus on these alternative energy sources. Mr. Blankenship responded that if it was profitable to build solar panel fields or wind farms, without government subsidies, it would be happening at a greater rate than is occurring. Blankenship stated that his company is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the coal industry because that is where the investment will pay off in a free enterprise market.
While the security at the event mirrored that of international flight travel, the debate itself was a success, going off without much disturbance other than the occasional burst of applause.