Nov 08 2012

The Environment on the Ballot: 2012 Edition

Published by under News

Voting Sign in California, via wikimedia

Though the major news networks focused mostly on the presidential and congressional elections, the voters also decided on some environmental measures, especially in the states and localities. Below is a collection of the biggest results.

Virginia Passes Eminent Domain Limitations: Virginia voters passed by a large margin a constitutional amendment that will prevent private property from being taken by the government for the benefit of private parties. The amendment also contains language that expands the definition of “just compensation” to include lost profits and loss of access, which could increase the cost of even public projects requiring the use of eminent domain. For poorer localities, expanding public transportation routes or other infrastructure improvements could be financially out of reach. [Washington Post]

Fracking Ban Invites Lawsuits: The City of Longmont, Colorado passed Ballot Question 300, which effectively banned all hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) within the city limits. Opponents of the measure warned that lawsuits from oil companies and landowners would be forthcoming. The state is currently in a lawsuit with Longmont over an earlier ordinance the city passed forbidding drilling in residential areas. The state claims that the ordinance is preempted by state law. The linked article also has an interesting statistic: 90% of all oil and gas wells in the country are fracked. [Denver Business Journal]

North Dakota Passes “Right to Farm” Amendment: Measure 3 amended the ND Constitution to forbid passage of any law that would restrict farmers and ranchers from using “agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.” The amendment was primarily designed to prevent changes to factory farming practices such as battery cages, but opponents worry that it could allow farmers to avoid pollution regulations. [InForum] [BNA (W&M Access Needed)]

GMO Labeling Law Fails in California, but Clean Energy Fund Passes: A hotly contested effort to require labeling on all raw and processed foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) failed by a few percentage points. However, California passed another measure that would close a tax loophole for multi-state businesses and use the revenue to fund clean energy projects. [CNN] [Christian Science Monitor]

Michigan Rejects Increase in Alternative Energy Goals: Voters on Tuesday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in Michigan that would have set a goal that the state get 25% of its energy from alternative sources by 2025. The current goal is to have 15% by 2015. State Treasurer Andy Opponents to the measure argued that it would raise electricity costs for consumers and spent $23 million to get their message out.[Michigan Live] [BusinessWeek]

Obama Reelection Allows EPA to Advance Environmental Regs: Among the various environmental regulations that are currently underway and will likely proceed under an Obama second term are: cooling water intake rules, new Clean Water Act guidance on intermittent streams and isolated wetlands, regulations on hydraulic fracturing practices, stormwater regulations from power plants and construction sites, stricter regulation of antimicrobial pesticides, greenhouse gas rules under the Clean Air Act, and new regulations of perchlorate in drinking water. EPA is also discussing expanding the list of industries required to report to the Toxic Release Inventory and Congress is working on a bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). [BNA (W&M Access Needed)] [BNA (W&M Access Needed)]

 

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Jan 30 2012

Green Business and the Cost of Pollution

Published by under Miscellaneous

Protest about the Love Canal contamination by a resident, ca. 1978 or so, via wikimedia

Last weekend William and Mary’s Environmental Law and Policy Review held a symposium on green businesses.  It featured many fascinating and intelligent speakers, all discussing the ways in which businesses have taken measures to lessen their negative impacts on the environment.  For the most part, it seemed like the focus of each talk was on voluntary, private measures that businesses were taking in this arena.  When government regulation was discussed, it was generally in reference to how the government could encourage such actions or make them more convenient or effective.  One speaker in particular, Dr. Rick Levin, emphasized that businesses were acting without government regulations and in ways that were outside government’s ability to force action.

I found myself agreeing with many of the sentiments expressed in the Symposium; generally applicable regulations can only require so much before they risk causing significant disadvantages to the smaller businesses who must abide by them.  However, I also heard a second theme running throughout the speakers’ lectures: that of the businessman who “went green” because it was cheaper for him not to pollute.  Even Dr. Levin mentioned the fact that pollution is expensive and it was in some business’s best interest to increase their sustainability and therefore avoid the monetary cost of their pollution.

But what makes pollution expensive?  It certainly wasn’t expensive for Hooker Chemical to bury toxic waste beneath Love Canal or for companies to dump flammable chemicals into the Cuyahoga River.  The difference today is that we have government regulations that make such actions illegal and require polluters to account for the toxic substances they produce.  While these regulations are certainly not perfect, they at least force businesses to internalize and account for their effects on the environment.  Without such regulations, it is doubtful that any business would find monetary benefit in reducing pollution.

Making a sustainable business is a wonderful goal that should be encouraged by consumers and governments, but in a political season rife with attacks on environmental regulations we must remember how and why we got to a place where businesses are looking to go above and beyond.  Without the regulations that protect our environment, it wouldn’t be cost effective not to pollute.  Without those regulations, the price of pollution would be paid for with the health of communities rather than the profits of companies.  So, while considering how to move forward with green businesses, and based on this Symposium there are a wealth of amazing ideas on this score, let’s make sure that we don’t lose sight of what got us here.

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Jan 13 2012

Twitter Link Round-Up: EPA Publishes Database of GHG Emittors and Frackers Look to New York

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Photo by Kelci Block

Afraid you missed something interesting in the world of environmental law?  Read on for a (non-comprehensive) list of articles posted on our Twitter feed @WMELSBlog.

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Dec 07 2011

Portrayal of Baltimore Lead Poisoning Reduction Efforts: Jackson and Armstrong

Published by under Miscellaneous,News

Lead Paint, via wikimedia

Lead poisoning from flaking residential paint in older homes has blighted Baltimore, MD for decades.  While lead poisoning is harmful to anyone who is exposed to it, it is particularly dangerous to children under six, and can cause severe neurological and physiological harm.  Many landlords have struggled to afford bringing their properties up to statutory standards without passing on prohibitive costs to their low-income tenants. The costs of prevention, coupled with the devastating harms of lead poisoning, has over the years spawned a number of well-intentioned efforts to find a workable solution to help protect the city’s socioeconomically deprived communities.  Despite an overall reduction in the presence of lead in homes, the efficacy of some efforts is debated, as evidenced by two independent lawsuits that have made headlines this fall regarding lead poisoning in Baltimore.  The two lawsuits, one recently filed, the other recently decided, are interesting to explore in juxtaposition.  Each case provides an opportunity to analyze decisions that were made in order to ameliorate the problem of lead poisoning that plagues the low-income communities of Baltimore, and how those steps have been, perhaps unfairly, portrayed as having injured the very populations they sought to aid. Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2011

President Obama Tells EPA to Back Off Stricter Ozone Pollution Rules

Published by under Air

Air quality signboard indicating an ozone watch, Gulfton, Houston, via wikimedia

Citing concerns about regulatory burdens on business and our economy, last week President Obama rejected a proposed rule from the EPA that would have created stricter air quality standards.  The proposed rule would have lowered the current amount of ozone allowed in the air under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  Allowed ozone levels have not changed since 1997 despite scientific evidence that they should be lowered.  Last summer, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proposed that ozone levels be dropped to 60 or 70 parts per million (ppm) from the currently allowed level of 75 ppm.  The rule would have thrown several counties and companies out of compliance with air quality standards, but would not have taken effect for several years after their implementation.  President Obama promised to revisit the rule later, mentioning 2013 as a possible time, and insisted in his statement that he was committed to environmental protection.  Environmentalists and other critics are doubtful of these claims, however, as we come closer to election time and anti-EPA sentiment is very high. Continue Reading »

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Aug 19 2011

Twitter Link Round-Up: GOP Candidates Don’t Like the EPA and News from Shell Oil Leak in North Sea

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Photo by Kelci Block

Afraid you missed something interesting in the world of environmental law?  Read on for a (non-comprehensive) list of articles posted on our Twitter feed @WMELSBlog.

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