Katrina Ruling Breaches Sovereign Immunity

by Robert Verchick | May 03, 2015

Almost a decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans-area residents are still trying to hold their government accountable for mistakes that allowed a monstrous flood to devastate their city. Last week, in a case called St. Bernard Parish v. United States, a federal judge helped their cause.

In a dispute involving a major navigation channel controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, Judge Susan G. Braden of the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., found that the Corps’ negligence in maintaining that passage caused flooding of such consequence that it amounted to a “taking” of homeowners’ property under the federal constitution, thus requiring the payment of “just compensation.”

The facts behind the Katrina flood—perhaps the most expensive engineering failure in American history—are well known to experts. After Hurricane Katrina had passed over New Orleans, a series of levee breaches caused flooding to 80 percent of the city. Independent investigations blamed shoddy design and construction on the part of the Army Corps. A deteriorating navigation channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or MR-GO (pronounced “Mr. Go”), also maintained by the Corps, amplified the damage by increasing the storm’s surge and funneling it toward the heart of the city. Four years after Katrina, MR-GO was finally de-authorized and closed. (See previous posts here, here, here, and here.)

Describing the MR-GO fiasco in a 2009 court ruling, the federal trial judge Stanwood Duval nearly blew a fuse. ...

GM and Its No Good, Very Bad Year

by Rena Steinzor | May 01, 2015
With the announcement that GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra received the outsized compensation of $16.2 million in 2014, what should have been a year of humiliation and soul-searching for that feckless automaker instead ended on a disturbingly self-satisfied note.  Purely from a public relations perspective, Barra worked hard for her money.  Appearing repentant, sincere, and downcast, she persuaded star-struck members of Congress that the company was committed to overhauling a culture characterized by what she called the “GM shrug,” ...

The Horne Case and the Public Trust in Wildlife

by John Echeverria | April 29, 2015
Who could have imagined that the takings case of Horne v Department of Agriculture argued in the Supreme Court last week might portend revival of the doctrine of public trust ownership of wildlife?  But it might. Really. The Horne case involves a claim that an arcane raisin-marketing program administered by the Department of Agriculture effects a taking by requiring raisin growers, in certain years, to turn over a portion of their crop to the government in order to keep raisin prices high.   While there ...

The Merits of the Clean Power Plan Challenge: It all depends on Chevron

by Kirsten Engel | April 27, 2015
Further reflections on the April 16th Oral Argument in Murray v. EPA and West Virginia v. EPA In an earlier blog entry, I predicted that the D.C. Circuit will refuse, on standard administrative law grounds, to consider the arguments of the petitioning states and coal and utility companies for overturning EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plant rule.  In short, a challenge to an on-going rulemaking is not ripe for judicial review until the agency issues its final rule. But whether I am wrong or ...

Workers Are Safer at Work, But Not as Safe as They Could and Should Be

by Sidney Shapiro | April 27, 2015
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that the occupational fatality rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 workers for 2013 was the lowest reported rate since the BLS started using its current tracking methodology in 2006.  That’s good news, but we’ve got a very long way to go still. The simple truth is that workers are not as safe as they could and should be. Although the fatality rate is down, there were still 4,585 occupational fatalities in 2013.  ...

Remember the Gulf Walrus! One Big Lesson from the BP Oil Spill

by Robert Verchick | April 23, 2015
Nearly five years ago, BP introduced a flippered mammal Americans never knew we had: the Gulf Walrus! If you don’t know the story, you should, because the tale of the Gulf Walrus tells you everything you need to know about what was wrong with deepwater drilling back in 2010, and worse, still is.  The story goes like this: After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, leaving 11 workers dead and a gusher of oil billowing a mile under the sea, ...

Urban Parks and the Public Trust Doctrine: A Pending New York Lawsuit and Its Implications

by Joel Mintz | April 22, 2015
Urban parks are a much-prized resource. They provide city dwellers with safe places to relax, walk their dogs, supervise their children at play, plant gardens, contemplate nature, pursue recreational activities, and escape the multiple stresses of urban life. At the same time, however, particularly in prosperous cities where open land is scarce and real estate values are high and growing ever-higher, some urban parks are under threat. Where they feel they can find legal avenues to do so, developers who ...

The First Earth Day and Current Political Gridlock

by Sidney Shapiro | April 22, 2015
Forty-five years ago I joined hundreds of people in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia for the first Earth Day.  The sad state of the environment on that day was all too apparent.  The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted that it caught on fire the year before.   The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill is still the third largest oil spill in American history. The air pollution in America’s cities – palpable air – had reached epidemic proportions.  Rachael Carson’s book, ...

The Importance of the Murray Energy Case and Administrative Procedure

by Emily Hammond | April 21, 2015
Last week, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument on a highly unusual attempt to short-circuit EPA’s rulemaking process for greenhouse gas regulation of existing power plants.  Despite statutory and constitutional hurdles to premature litigation, the petitioners—the coal-fired industry and coal-producing states—argued that the importance of the proposed rule justifies court intervention. The rule’s importance is precisely why it is critical that the agency complete the administrative process. That industry groups will file lawsuits over EPA’s greenhouse gas initiatives is unremarkable.  ...

Meet CPR’s New Chesapeake Bay Policy Analyst

by Erin Kesler | April 20, 2015
The Center for Progressive Reform is excited to welcome its new policy analyst, Evan Isaacson who will focus on the Chesapeake Bay.  Isaacson succeeds Anne Havemann, and will continue her sterling work on the intersection of state and federal environmental regulations and the Bay. Mr. Isaacson joins CPR after eight years on staff at the Maryland General Assembly, where he served as an analyst in the Natural Resources, Environment, and Transportation workgroup, as well as counsel to the Joint Committee ...

The Stuff of an 'Extraordinary Writ' or a Hum-drum Administrative Law Case?

by Kirsten Engel | April 20, 2015
Reflections on the April 16th Oral Argument in Murray v. EPA and West Virginia v. EPA In a rulemaking there is a provision for judicial review, right, it’s not going to be a question that’s avoided . . . when the rule comes out, it’s going to be challenged, we’re going to get to it.  Why in the world would we resort to an extraordinary writ, which we have never used before?  So it really is quite unusual. -  Judge Griffiths, remarking on ...

Becoming an Environmentalist on the Neches River

by Thomas McGarity | April 17, 2015
Growing up in Port Neches, Texas, long before anyone ever heard of Earth Day, it was not hard to be an environmentalist.  When my father announced that the family would be moving to Port Neches, he tried to soften the blow to his 13-year-old son by stressing the fact that we would be living across the street from the city park and that the Neches River ran along one end of the park.  For the remainder of the summer, I ...

CPR Announces Appointment of New President: Robert R.M. Verchick

by Matthew Freeman | April 16, 2015
Rena Steinzor Steps Down after Seven Years at Helm, Succeeded by Loyola  University New Orleans College of Law Professor, Former EPA Official  The board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform today announced the appointment of Robert R.M. Verchick to be the organization’s third president, succeeding Rena Steinzor, who has served in the post for the past seven years. Verchick holds the Gauthier~St. Martin Eminent Scholar Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and ...

CPR Member Scholars Call on Congress to Reject 'Unnecessary' and 'Unwise' REINS Act

by James Goodwin | April 15, 2015
This morning, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a markup on the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2015, or REINS Act (H.R. 427).  Even among the many extreme antiregulatory bills that Congress has considered this session, the REINS Act still stands out for its breathtaking audacity.  If enacted, this bill would block the most important environmental, safety, and public health regulations from taking effect unless Congress affirmatively approves them within the extraordinarily short period of ...

Defeating the Public Interest One Bill at a Time: The ALERT Act (H.R. 1759)

by James Goodwin | April 14, 2015
Background:  Tomorrow, the full House Judiciary Committee will be holding a markup of the H.R. 1759, the All Economic Regulations are Transparent Act of 2015 (ALERT Act), sponsored by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.).  The House of Representatives considered a similar bill during its last session.  (The hearing is also noteworthy, because the committee will be marking up H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2015, or REINS Act.  For more information on the REINS ...

CPR's Buzbee to Testify at House Hearing on Waters of the US Rule

by Erin Kesler | April 14, 2015
CPR Scholar and Georgetown University Law School professor William Buzbee testified at a House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Oversight hearing today entitled, “Proposed Federal Water Grabs and Their Potential Impacts on States, Water, and Power Users, and Landowners.” The Hearing concerned the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers' proposed "Waters of The US," rule related to water pollution and agriculture. According to his testimony: The legal uncertainty of recent years about what are protected federal waters has benefitted no one. For those concerned about protection ...

Defusing Blunderbuss Constitutional Attacks on EPA's Proposed Regulation of Existing Power Plants to Abate Climate Change

by Robert Glicksman | April 10, 2015
As climate scientists have been telling us for years, and as all but the most obstinate climate deniers acknowledge, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are contributing to climatic changes.  These changes have taken the form of melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, changes in wind and ocean current patterns, and increases in the frequency of severe weather events, to name but a few effects.  Rising temperatures linked to GHG emissions also exacerbate public health problems ...

CPR's Winning Safer Workplaces, now in Spanish

by Matt Shudtz | April 09, 2015
  Last year, the Center for Progressive Reform published Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State & Local Policy Reform. The manual is intended as a tool for state and local advocates. It highlights successful local campaigns to adopt workplace safety policies, and offers a series of innovative proposals to help state and local advocates make headway even in the face of intense opposition from big-moneyed, anti-regulatory interests. We focused on cross-cutting ideas that will empower workers, ensure crime doesn’t ...

Farm Bill 2018: Down Payment on an Effective Conservation Title

Ristino | Jan 17, 2018 | Environmental Policy

A Final 2017 Dose of Op-Eds

Freeman | Dec 28, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

Farber | Dec 27, 2017 | Energy

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