This post was originally published by the American College of Environmental Lawyers. Reprinted with permission.
A global movement is underway to protect 30 percent of the Earth's lands and waters by 2030. More than seventy countries support this goal to combat climate change and slow the pace of species extinction, both of which are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. The two threats are closely intertwined. The greatest drivers of species extinction are climate change and habitat loss; by the same token, the loss of intact, functioning habitat and biodiversity diminishes the capacity for climate resilience.
In the United States, one of President Biden's earliest executive orders, issued in his first week in office, established a goal to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and water and 30 percent of U.S. ocean areas by 2030. The order proclaims an "all of government" approach to strengthening climate resilience and biodiversity while promoting environmental justice and economic growth.
As laudable as it is, the 30 x 30 concept and the Administration's 30 x 30 action plan, known as "America the Beautiful," overlook a critical component of the conservation goal — they pay virtually no attention to freshwater ecosystems …
This op-ed originally ran in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In an era when most Supreme Court opinions are sharply divided, recently the high court unanimously rejected Mississippi’s claim against Tennessee in a long-running dispute over the groundwater that lies beneath both states in a common aquifer.
The impacts of this case will extend far beyond Mississippi and Tennessee, as states compete with one another over limited water supplies.
When neighboring states fight over shared rivers, the law has been clear for more than a century: They can settle their differences either by negotiated agreements known as “interstate compacts” or they can ask the Supreme Court to divide up the waters through what is known as an “equitable apportionment.”
But until late November, it was not as clear how states should resolve brawls over water when it is found underground in geologic formations known as aquifers.
Confirming expectations, the Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied Mississippi’s claim that Tennessee is stealing its groundwater. If Mississippi wants to pursue its groundwater battle with Tennessee, it will have to file a new complaint with the court asking for an equitable apportionment of the Middle Claiborne Aquifer, which lies beneath Mississippi, Tennessee, and other states.
Defying everyone else’s agreement that equitable apportionment was its only cause of action, Mississippi argued before the Supreme Court that Tennessee had invaded Mississippi’s sovereign territory by allowing the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to pump so much water from the aquifer that it created a cone of depression that extended across the state line and caused groundwater that naturally would have remained under Mississippi to flow into Tennessee. For this …
Less than two months after oral argument, in its first interstate groundwater case, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Mississippi must rely on a doctrine known as equitable apportionment if it wants to sue Tennessee over the shared Middle Claiborne Aquifer. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court squarely rejected Mississippi's claim that Tennessee is stealing Mississippi's groundwater, noting that it had "'consistently denied' the proposition that a State may exercise exclusive ownership or control of interstate waters."
The Supreme Court's decision
As expected, the court's opinion in Mississippi v. Tennessee is short — 12 pages, half of which recount the long history of the case. Nevertheless, in this first opinion about states' rights to interstate aquifers, the court made three important decisions that are likely to guide …
Mississippi v. Tennessee is not only the Supreme Court’s first oral argument of the 2021-22 term, but it is also the first time that states have asked the court to weigh in on how they should share an interstate aquifer. The court’s decision could fundamentally restructure interstate groundwater law in the United States for decades — or the case could be dismissed immediately on the grounds that Mississippi has failed to allege the proper cause of action.
The case will be argued on Monday, and it will be the court’s first in-person argument in a year and a half. In March 2020, the justices stopped meeting in person due to the coronavirus pandemic, and since then, all arguments have been conducted by phone. But the justices are returning to …
This op-ed was originally published in The Virginia Mercury.
The U.S. Senate faces a long to-do list when it reconvenes next month.
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax, wants to be sure an important but fairly obscure environmental health bill makes the list.
It passed the House in July, thanks in part to Democratic members of our congressional delegation, and now awaits action in the upper chamber. “The Senate must take action,” Connolly told me by email.
The legislation would regulate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of toxins linked to cancer, infertility and other serious health problems. One such problem is compromised immunity, which may reduce the effectiveness of COVID vaccines — just as the delta variant surges across the state.
This bill is urgently needed in Northern Virginia — a reported PFAS “hot spot.”
Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday …
Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.
Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.
In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.
Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …
This is the first of of a two-part post. Part II is available here.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the regulations defining “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (better known as the Clean Water Act) are once again going to change.
The importance of that announcement is best demonstrated through a quick recap of the chaos that has dominated this element of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In the 1980s, the EPA and Army Corps finally agreed on a regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” a phrase that Congress had used in its 1972 overhaul of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to define “navigable waters.” The phrase is also one of the key jurisdictional terms defining the waters to which the restructured law applies.
“Waters of …
This is the second of of a two-part post. Part I is available here.
In the first part of this post, I briefly touched on the chaotic history of the EPA and Army Corps' definition and regulation of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. I also pointed out that this definition and its varying interpretations across courts and administrations can have significant impacts on water pollution prevention and the protection of our nation's waterways. With the Biden administration tackling a redo of the "waters of the United States" rule, court challenges are sure to follow. In this post, I'll explore three approaches to the rule that might help it survive judicial review.
Dirty, polluted stormwater that runs off of industrial sites when it rains is a major cause of pollution to Maryland’s streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is home to thousands of such industrial sites, all of which are required by law to obtain a stormwater discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to prevent pollution and protect public and environmental health.
Unfortunately, many of these sites do not have a permit. For example, our research in one small area of Anne Arundel County found that only four out of 12 industrial sites possessed a current permit. Of the industrial sites that hold a permit, many are not in compliance with the permit requirements. Between 2017 and 2020, MDE conducted …