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HELR Volume 39, Issue 1 Now Available Online

MOUNTAINS_mtnvalley_Co_alecharrisThe Harvard Environmental Law Review is pleased to announce that Volume 39, Issue 1 is now available in print and on the HELR website!

Volume 39.1 features short essays and articles on a range of cutting edge topics in environmental law. The issue kicks off with a symposium examining the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, and its implications for climate regulation under the Clean Air Act. The symposium authors gathered on the Harvard Law School campus in February 2015 to discuss their essays and opinions of the case. If you missed the panel, you can watch a video recording here.

The issue also features three articles that discuss the rise of private governance regimes on fracking and their implications for federalism; managing endangered species trapped between rising sea levels and human development in the context of climate change; and whether the politically controversial environmental settlement practices of recent administrations are consonant with administrative law principles. Finally, the issue concludes with a student note examining China’s new Environmental Protection Law and two student case comments, one on Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio‘s implications for legal challenges to EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, and one on what EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P. means for whether agencies can consider costs in the face of statutory silence.

We hope you will read and enjoy, and we look forward to bringing you the next issue in Summer 2015.

Castles Made of Sand: Public-Interest Litigation and China’s New Environmental Protection Law

By Daniel Carpenter-Gold

It has long been a truism that China’s environmental legislation is plentiful and powerful, but only unevenly enforced. Given China’s reputation as an authoritarian state with immense capacity to regulate its citizens, this is counter-intuitive. To understand the latest environmental legislation in China, we must make sense of this seeming paradox. The lack of enforcement is a product of a governance structure that entrusts local governments with substantial power over the local environmental protection organs and local courts, incentivizing short-term economic development at the cost of environmental protection. Public-interest litigation can help to mitigate this problem because China’s new Environmental Protection Law encourages action by citizens, who are directly affected by pollution and therefore difficult to coopt. However, litigation cannot guarantee regulation without a stronger judiciary. This reality suggests that the national government might instead intend environmental suits to serve as a monitoring, rather than a regulatory, mechanism.

Cite as: Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Castles Made of Sand: Public-Interest Litigation and China’s New Environmental Protection Law, 39 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 241 (2015).

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Environmental Settlements and Administrative Law

By Courtney R. McVean and Justin R. Pidot

The Obama Administration has come under increasing fire for its decisions to settle lawsuits brought by environmental organizations. Industry groups and Republican politicians claim that such settlements, negotiated behind “closed doors,” unfairly exclude regulated entities from regulatory decisionmaking that tangibly affects economic interests. Environmental organizations and their political allies made similar complaints during the Administration of George W. Bush, arguing that the federal government at that time settled lawsuits on terms overly favorable to economic interests and without the participation of environmentalists or the public.

Objections to environmental settlements are often expressed as process concerns. Opponents of an administration’s political direction argue that settlements allow agencies to make policy choices from the shadows while evading, or perhaps even violating, the process established by the Administrative Procedure Act, including the Act’s public participation requirement. This Article is the first to objectively assess those concerns, and it reveals that environmental settlements rarely circumvent norms of administrative law, and that when they do so, courts can—and do—intervene.

To establish that environmental settlements are consonant with administrative law, this Article develops a novel typology of settlements based on the types of obligations they impose on federal agencies. Settlements can involve agency commitment to resource allocation, procedural obligation, or substantive rule. The Article then considers unique aspects of those categories of commitment and explains why none are generally problematic from the perspective of administrative law. Many decisions made in settlements are of a type excluded from notice-and-comment rulemaking. Others involve preliminary matters that are subject to subsequent judicial challenge once the agency has reached a final decision. And others still involve opportunities for public notice and comment. In the rare circumstance where a settlement violates otherwise-applicable notice-and-comment requirements, courts already possess ample authority to either decline to enter the settlement beforehand or to vacate the settlement afterward. Administrative law demands no more.

Environmental settlements have distinct advantages because they provide federal agencies with the opportunity to control litigation risk and overcome bureaucratic inertia. In the absence of a compelling justification for limiting the discretion of agencies to enter into settlements, Congress and the public should allow environmental settlement practices to persist.

Cite as: Courtney R. McVean & Justin R. Pidot, Environmental Settlements and Administrative Law, 39 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 191 (2015).

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Biodiversity on the Brink: The Role of “Assisted Migration” in Managing Endangered Species Threatened with Rising Seas

By Jaclyn Lopez

Coastal areas in the United States are already experiencing the effects of sea-level rise, and the best available science predicts significant additional sea-level rise this century. In addition to sea-level rise, storm intensity and storm surge are also increasing. In some coastal areas, continuing population growth is compounding the threats of climate change and sea-level rise.

At the same time, one in six of the federally listed endangered and threatened species in the United States is threatened by sea-level rise. Coastal species face displacement, extirpation, and even extinction due to loss of habitat. They are at risk of being trapped between rising sea levels and human development. This threat is exacerbated by unyielding human-made coastal fortifications. This coalescence of factors leads to the phenomenon known as “coastal squeeze”—the loss of transitional habitat between land and sea.

For coastal areas this means that some of the most imperiled species will be pushed closer to the brink of extinction. “Assisted migration” refers to one policy prescription to address this problem. The federal government, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has the authority—and responsibility—to consider active and passive assisted migration under the Endangered Species Act in managing species threatened with habitat loss due to sea-level rise. The federally protected Florida panther, loggerhead sea turtle, Key tree-cactus, and Lower Keys marsh rabbit inhabit critically imperiled habitat in south Florida and are analyzed to examine this issue from the perspective of species from differing taxa, habitat types, and natural histories. This Article concludes that assisted migration, coupled with preserve and corridor protection and dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, are necessary for the conservation of imperiled species threatened with sea-level rise.

Cite as: Jaclyn Lopez, Biodiversity on the Brink: The Role of “Assisted Migration” in Managing Endangered Species Threatened with Rising Seas, 39 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 157 (2015).

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Fracking, Federalism, and Private Governance

By Amanda C. Leiter

The United States is in the midst of a natural gas boom, made possible by advances in drilling and extraction technologies. There is considerable disagreement about the relative benefits and costs of the boom, but one thing is certain: it has caught governments flat-footed. The federal government has done little more than commission a study of some associated public health and environmental risks and propose regulations for drilling on federal land. States have moved faster to address natural gas risks, but with little consistency or transparency.

Numerous private organizations are stepping into the resulting governance gaps with information-gathering and standards-setting efforts. As this Article documents, these private organizations are performing the functions once assigned to states in so-called “laboratory federalism”: developing innovative governance approaches and— perhaps more importantly—catalyzing the horizontal and vertical diffusion of successful governance strategies. In some cases, the likely outcome is a public governance regime with private origins; in others, private entities are likely to continue to play a role even as public entities enter the frame, creating a hybrid regime. Both outcomes highlight the need for process reforms to increase private entities’ openness, balance, and accountability. Familiar administrative procedures followed by public agencies offer one model for such reforms, but at least in the natural gas context, those procedures may be less effective for private entities than for the public agencies for which they were designed.

Cite as: Amanda C. Leiter, Fracking, Federalism, and Private Governance, 39 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 107 (2015).

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