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March 5, 2020 by John Leshy

Secretary Bernhardt Says He Doesn't Have a Duty to Fight Climate Change. He's Wrong.

This blog post was originally published by the Environmental Law Institute at https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog and is republished with permission. It is cross-posted here as part of an upcoming series related to the March 12 Conference on Public Lands and Energy Transitions hosted by the George Washington University Law School's Environment and Energy Law Program.

With the help of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has had a long and proud history of tackling pressing challenges through responsible and inclusive management of America's public lands. One might expect it would continue that tradition as climate change has become a major challenge confronting the nation.

Not so. In fact, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has been doing more than any of his predecessors to promote fossil fuel development on America's public lands, all the while dancing around the issue of whether he has an obligation, or even the legal authority, to address climate change. In recent interviews and testimony on Capitol Hill, Bernhardt grudgingly admits that existing law says he must take climate into account in managing public lands. This is hardly a revelation. For some time, the courts have been telling …

March 5, 2020 by Matt Shudtz
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From the farm fields of California to the low-lying neighborhoods along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, structural racism and legally sanctioned inequities are combining with the effects of the climate crisis to put people in danger. The danger is manifest in heat stroke suffered by migrant farmworkers and failing sewer systems that back up into homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Fortunately, public interest attorneys across the country are attuned to these problems and are finding ways to use the law to force employers and polluters to adapt to the realities of the climate crisis.

The second installment in CPR's climate justice webinar series showcased some of the important work these public interest advocates are doing and explored how their efforts are affected by enforcement policy and resource changes at regulatory agencies, from the federal level on down. Scroll down to watch a recording of the hour-long …

March 2, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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Earlier this year, on the heels of the Earth's hottest decade on record, a coalition of former government officials, fossil fuel companies, car manufacturers, financial companies, and nonprofit organizations renewed their endorsement of a national carbon tax as "the most effective climate solution" (emphasis added). And by "the," it appears that they mean "the only." The catch is that the coalition's legislative plan also calls for preventing the federal government from regulating carbon emissions and from taking any other protective measures "that are no longer necessary upon the enactment of a rising carbon fee."

Given the scale and complexity of the planetary emergency that we face, it would certainly be nice if the solution were that simple. But that, of course, is too good to be true. A carbon tax may very well be one important component of the climate crisis toolbox, but …

Feb. 27, 2020 by David Driesen
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On March 3, the Supreme Court will hear a plea to invent a new rule of constitutional law with the potential to put an end to the republic the Constitution established, if not under President Trump, then under some despotic successor. This rule would end statutory protections for independent government officials resisting a president’s efforts to use his power to demolish political opposition and protect his party’s supporters. Elected strongmen around the world have put rules in place allowing them to fire government officials for political reasons and used them to destroy constitutional democracy and substitute authoritarianism. But these authoritarians never had the audacity to ask unelected judges to write such rules, securing their enactment instead through parliamentary acts or a referendum.

The blessings of liberty in this country and other functioning democracies depend in important ways on something that legal scholars call the “internal …

Feb. 26, 2020 by Noah Sachs
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

Environmental groups faced a skeptical bench during Monday's argument in two consolidated cases, U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, as they fought to preserve a 2018 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that had halted an $8 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline. At the heart of the dispute is a 2017 permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross the George Washington National Forest. The permit also authorized the developers to tunnel 600 feet beneath the Appalachian Trail within the forest. Vacating the permit, the 4th Circuit held that the entire 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail is part of the …

Feb. 24, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

In recent months the Trump administration has intensified its assault on federal environmental safeguards on several fronts. It has proposed drastic reductions in the scope of protections against water and air pollution, lagged in the cleanup of hazardous waste contamination, allowed the continued marketing of toxic herbicides, narrowed the scope of needed environmental impact reviews, ignored and undermined legitimate scientific studies and findings, and dismantled government attempts to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

Every bit as disturbing, but much less discussed, is a discouraging deterioration in the rigor of EPA’s once-effective enforcement program, which identifies and punishes polluters that skirt federal regulations.

The agency’s latest enforcement statistics reflect a dramatic decline in injunctive relief — the amount of money EPA-enforcement activities compelled polluters to commit to spending to correct their environmental …

Feb. 19, 2020 by Noah Sachs
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

On Monday, February 24, the Supreme Court will hear argument in U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association. These consolidated cases pit a pipeline developer and the U.S. Forest Service against environmental groups that want to halt the pipeline's construction and protect the Appalachian Trail.

The court will have to construe several statutes, including the Mineral Leasing Act, which promotes pipeline rights-of-way and other energy development on federal lands (except lands in the National Park System), and the National Trails System Act, which designated the Appalachian Trail as a National Scenic Trail and put the Secretary of the Interior in charge of administering it. The secretary later delegated that authority to the National …

Feb. 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Little Ice Age wasn't actually an ice age, but it was a period of markedly colder temperatures that began in the 1200s and lasted into the mid-1800s, with the 1600s a particular low point. It was a time when London winter fairs were regularly held on the middle of a frozen Thames river, glaciers grew, and sea ice expanded. That episode of climate disruption may give us some insights into how current global warming may impact society.

Weather changes in the Little Ice Age were less unidirectional and less globally uniform than current climate change. Different places hit their lowest temperatures at different times, and there were often large gyrations in temperatures from year to year. One cause was that sun's radiation decreased for unknown reasons – there were decades with no sunspots at all. There were also …

Feb. 12, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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When I was a 7th grader living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., my school system was one of many around the nation to launch a program of school busing to desegregate its schools. After 18 years, the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education finally traveled a handful of miles down the road from the Supreme Court and arrived in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The program was anything but voluntary as far as the school system was concerned, requiring a court order to make it happen. In fact, the order was very specific: It didn’t simply direct the county to desegregate; it required the county to submit for court approval specific plans laying out which children would go to which schools. It took the county, which fought the order right down to the last possible moment, several tries before the court …

Feb. 5, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Last week, more than 100 advocates, academics, and reporters joined the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) for a webinar with three leading experts on climate migration and resilience. Presenters discussed the biggest challenges that communities and workers are facing due to the climate crisis.

As the climate crisis brings about more frequent and intense weather events, from wildfires to disastrous flooding, some families have been forced to flee to new communities. Maxine Burkett, Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii and a CPR Member Scholar, explained that while decisions to migrate are often multifaceted, families affected by extreme weather events are now considering climate change and environmental disaster in decisions about whether to leave their homes and communities.

Burkett added that slow-onset disasters, such as sea-level rise, and planned relocation are among several climate-related triggering scenarios that scholars focused on migration and displacement are studying. According …

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