Ask John or Jane Q. Public about how the environmental laws in this country are implemented, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. No one really knows, but with the BP spill and Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant leaks in the headlines, people are sure the system isn’t working. As a practicing environmental lawyer, I’ll be the first to admit that this nation’s environmental law framework is dense and arcane. I’ll also be the first to second-guess its efficacy. So join me, won’t you, on a fantastic voyage into the murky underworld of environmental administrative law?
Like many others, I think the nation’s system of environmental laws and regulations, both at the state and federal level, is broken and its problems need to be addressed. One of the biggest problems can be summed up in two words: “agency deference.” “Agency deference” is the judicial doctrine that precludes judges from revisiting administrative agency decisions (s/a those made by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service) except in the most extreme circumstances. It’s also the doctrine that has made it nearly impossible for there to be any independent and dispassionate review of decisions made by federal agencies that have become more like industry enablers than hard-nosed neutral regulators.Read More ...
With production supposed to start soon, I've encountered even more criticism of the Nestle bottled-water operation in Colorado's Chaffee County, where I live.
In brief, Nestle will take 200 acre-feet a year of water from springs near Nathrop, between Buena Vista and Salida, and transport it in tanker trucks to the Denver area. There it will be bottled and sold under the Arrowhead brand.
To make up for the water taken to the bottling plant, water that would have otherwise flowed down the Arkansas River to other users with senior water rights, Nestle made a deal with the City of Aurora, a suburb just east of Denver. With the economic downturn, Aurora doesn't need all the water it has rights to. So Aurora will lease "augmentation water" to Nestle. Thus the river flow is preserved, and downstream water users will not be harmed.
Now, I've never been a fan of this scheme. But I don't think it's fair to criticize our county commissioners for granting the relevant permits to Nestle. They have to follow the law, not the widespread disgust with the bottled-water industry.
Not long ago, Pacific salmon geographies of harvest, consumption, and reproduction were conterminous. Forten millennia, where fish spawned was also where they were caught and eaten, but in the last two centuries industrial fishing techniques launched harvestersdownstream and out to sea, while salting, canning, and freezing technologies expanded consumption across time and space. We now eat Pacific salmon in any season anywhere in the world. The tight linkage of fish, habitat, and humans shattered, replaced by modern spaces that are increasingly irreconcilable.
This disconnect was brought home yesterday when the Monterey Bay Aquarium advised consumers not to buy salmon caught off of most of the Oregon coast. The MBA’s downgrading of salmon caught south of Cape Falcon hit the state hard. The Portland Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting covered the story not only for the sake of urban consumers but for rural fishers who will suffer from any decline in consumer demand.Read More ...
I had to post this reader photo, from Flickr member ben j. It's a great shot! He took it in Boulder, Utah.
Add your photos to the HCN Community Flickr pool; we feature selected photos from the group from time to time on this blog. You can also enter HCN's many 40th anniversary photo contests at our 40th anniversary web site.
Sometimes no news is good news, so I’ll count last week's relatively uneventful oral arguments as a boon for continued wolf recovery efforts in the northern Rockies. But the mood both inside and outside the U.S. district courthouse in Missoula shows there’s still much work to be done to ensure sustainable wolf management in the region.
Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations brought suit against the federal government for not providing adequate protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The legal question at stake is whether wolves can be protected in one state (Wyoming) while remaining under aggressive state management in neighboring states (Idaho and Montana).
Wyoming’s wolf plan would have allowed the animals to be shot on sight in 90 percent of the state, which was previously deemed to be inadequate protection for the species and resulted in their re-listing in Wyoming. Meanwhile, Idaho and Montana adopted more reasonable wolf plans, only to allow hunting in 2009 to cull the growing population. Unfortunately, the wolves don’t know when they’ve crossed state lines, leaving them in the precarious position of being safe on one side and targeted by hunters on the other.
Two years ago High Country News’ cover boldly proclaimed Peace on the Klamath. The reference was to the Klamath River, where a collection of federal and state agencies, irrigators, fishing organizations and environmental groups had announced an agreement which the article claimed would end the river's water wars and result in a future characterized by harmony and collaboration on water issues.
Subsequent events indicate that the resulting Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) has itself resulted in conflict and controversy. Two environmental groups – Waterwatch of Oregon and Oregon Wild - were expelled from negotiations; they have been joined by the Hoopa Tribe and the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) in opposing the final deal. Both the Hoopa Tribe and the NEC participated in negotiations until the end but decided the final deal is not in their or the Klamath River’s interest.
Also opposing the deal are Siskiyou County and many local politicians and non-federal irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin. They allege that the KBRA favors those irrigators and other interests which get water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project over other irrigators in the Basin.Read More ...
When Joshua Tree National Park Ranger Caryn Davidson announced, "We cannot do much to change the course of climate change," 30 students moved to the corner of the Black Rock Visitor’s Center under a large paper sign with the words "strongly disagree" written in black magic marker.
"Mankind has the intelligence to destroy the world with the atomic bomb and we also have the technology to save it," volunteered one outspoken student.
"We should make more metros instead of cars," commented another student named Elizabeth.
Ranger Davidson’s statement was not pessimism aimed at discouraging young minds, but part of an educational exercise at Joshua Tree National Park’s Student Climate Change Summit. The activity is called "barometer" and it’s used as a tool to gauge student sentiment and encourage discussion. After a statement is read, students move to one corner of the room with a sign that says “strongly agree” or to the opposite corner that says “strongly disagree.” Students who don’t feel strongly end up in the middle. They then discuss the question with other students who have similar or different views. When Davidson said, “I spend a lot of time thinking about climate change,” the students distributed themselves evenly between the two corners of the room.
Joshua Tree National Park, the Wildlands Conservancy, and the National Parks Conservation Association convened the student climate change summit with the goal of teaching students about climate change, informing them about how climate change will affect park resources, and encouraging students to engage their schools and communities in an ongoing dialog about climate change. But it also took dedicated teachers and administrators to make the summit happen.
The high schoolers were from communities in the California Desert and attended the summit for different reasons.Read More ...
Part one in a two-part series
“I need to see a doctor.” These six words have been written into our programming as modern humans. We wait in line at the clinic. We make an appointment. We know instinctively that this is the one person to see who can check out our health, fix us up when it can be done or design a treatment course when we are facing complicated health issues.
But that programming no longer works: There are not enough doctors, and, even if this goes against what we’ve been trained to think, seeing a physician is not always the best medical choice.
The shortage of primary care physicians is one of the larger trends that made health care reform necessary. Some 56 million Americans don’t have a regular doctor. And when you open up more health care access, that scarcity increases. When Massachusetts enacted universal coverage it exacerbated the primary care shortage – something that is expected to occur nationally when some 30 million who have been uninsured seek regular care.
“By 2025, the wait to see a doctor could get a lot longer if the current number of students training to be primary care physicians doesn’t increase soon,” a new University of Missouri study notes.
Lead by Chairman Colin Peterson of Minnesota, the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee held hearings and took testimony in April and May in preparation for a new Farm Bill. Peterson would like to pass a new version of the bill in 2012.
The process began with a hearing in DC on April 21st which I reported upon on this blog. Peterson then took the show on the road with hearings in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, South Dakota, California, Idaho, Iowa and Wyoming. Hearing witness lists and opening statements can be found on the House Agriculture Committee web site.
In DC and at field hearings all witness were producers of agricultural commodities, producers of forest products or professors – mostly from land grant Ag schools. Conspicuously absent were witnesses representing the environment; only one organic producer was among the dozens of agricultural leaders who testified.
Why were these hearings not more balanced? Are Ag and forest products producers and professors the only ones with ideas for the new Farm Bill? Are environmentalists across the country just not interested in agricultural issues or did Chairman Peterson intentionally exclude them from witness lists? And why is the environmental community not protesting their exclusion loudly in the press?
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Last week the Agricultural Committee of the US House of Representatives began work on the 2012 Farm Bill with a kick-off hearing. I happened to be in DC at the time and I stood in line with lobbyists for farm groups waiting to get a good seat in the wood paneled hearing room.
I was not in DC to attend the hearing, however. My trip was intended to educate Members of Congress about the recently signed Klamath Dam and Water Deals. The Department of Interior – which orchestrated those Klamath Deals beginning during the Bush Administration – had just delivered draft federal legislation intended to get Congress to endorse the Deals without delving into the details.
My mission was to interest Members of Congress from Oregon and California and those who sit on committees which will consider Klamath legislation precisely in those details – to make them aware that serious questions have been raised about whether aspects of the Deals are in the Public Interest and in the interest of the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon. I’ve worked to clean-up the Klamath and restore Klamath Salmon for 35 years; I want Congress to fix what I see as bad policies, bad precedents and bad subsidies that are part of the Klamath Dam and Water Deals.
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