Environmental Protection

  • August 15, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Dan Froomkin

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: The Department of Injustice

    It took nearly five years of public hearings and private wrangling for the Obama administration to do it, but in March 2015, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management finalized a new rule regarding hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands.

    Although the fracking rule was considered fairly toothless by environmentalists, it was immediately caught up in a pitched legal battle. Oil and gas interests sued, and a federal judge enjoined it before it could take effect, on the grounds that the BLM had overreached.

  • August 10, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Mike Powell, Executive Director, Greenbelt Land Trust of Mid-Missouri

    A dominant[1] narrative[2] following last November’s election was that the Democratic Party had left rural America behind, and rural Americans responded by defecting en masse to vote for Donald Trump.  A variety of justifications for that defection have been floated, ranging from an affinity for Trump’s populist rhetoric and isolationist trade policies such as  “I was worried about the fuel prices,”[3]  to a simple desire to watch the rest of America suffer the way rural areas have suffered in the face of increasing urbanization, outsourcing, and skyrocketing land prices.  They didn’t care about Trump the policymaker – they wanted Trump the human hand grenade.

  • July 24, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Daniel Farber, Sho Sato Professor of Law & Co-Faculty Director, Center For Law, Energy & The Environment, University of California, Berkeley

    *This is part of ACSblog's Symposium on Regulatory Rollback

    While public attention has been focused on health care legislation, immigration and the Russia scandal, a lot has been happening under the radar in Washington. In numerous government agencies, Trump appointees are working to reverse years of effort by the Obama Administration.

    The EPA is headed by Scott Pruitt, who made his name as Oklahoma Attorney General with a series of lawsuits against the agency. The LA Times calls him “Trump’s most dangerous and adroit hatchetman.” The NY Times reported that Pruitt “has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history....” The title of the NY Times story was revealing: “Counseled by Industry, Not Staff, E.P.A. Chief is Off to a Blazing Start.” One of his great triumphs was successfully lobbying President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

  • March 16, 2017
    Guest Post

    by James Tierney, Former Maine Attorney General and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School

    In the face of a reduced federal presence, Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in partnership with StateAG.org, has produced a valuable legal research tool for those interested in environmental law and policy. The State AG Environmental Action Database includes a variety of environmental lawsuits and other actions involving state attorneys general. Users can search its contents by state, issue or type of action. The database also includes links to relevant documents and resources.

    This impressive database has been put together by dedicated Columbia Law School students under the supervision of Jessica Wentz, who serves as staff attorney and associate research scholar for the Sabin Center.

    I cannot overstate the importance of this effort. It is the only place where this information has been brought together in a coherent, organized fashion. The database will remain a "work in progress" as AG offices provide more cases to be uploaded. Notwithstanding the efforts by some in Washington D.C., this database is demonstrable proof that state attorneys general remain vigorous protectors of our environmental heritage.

  • March 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Justin Pidot, Associate Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

    In its zeal to block regulations adopted by the Obama Administration, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule, sometimes called the venting and flaring rule. The effort is another in a recent spate of misguided uses of the CRA and represents poor stewardship of natural resources owned by the American public. 

    The Waste Prevention Rule requires companies drilling for oil and gas on federal land to take reasonable steps to prevent natural gas from being released into the atmosphere. Gas in the air cannot be used to generate electricity and it significantly contributes to climate change. Companies also do not have to pay royalties on gas that they do not bring to market, meaning that taxpayers receive no revenue from these public resources. 

    The CRA allows Congress to overturn any regulation adopted by a federal agency within the last sixty legislative days. Until this year, Congress only used the CRA once. This week Congress used it to torpedo the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, which required coal mining companies to restore waterways after mining, and Congress is considering a raft of other CRA resolutions. 

    Congress should think twice before using the CRA casually and frequently. Federal agencies spend years developing regulations: the Stream Protection Rule was in development for eight years and the Waste Prevention Rule for more than two. The process of developing a regulation harnesses the wisdom of policy, scientific and legal experts and involves extensive public participation. Under the CRA, Congress undoes years of work in the span of hours; a feature of the CRA is that it limits congressional debate. Perhaps most troublingly, language in the CRA suggests that Congressional action also blocks any similar rule the agency may want to issue in the future, thereby threatening to permanently prevent federal agencies from tackling important issues.