Category: Environmental Law Review Syndicate

[ELRS] A Primer on Rails-to-Trails Conversions in the Eastern U.S.

By Garrett M. Gee, Staff Member, William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review.

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate

The Rails-to-Trails Act ("Trails Act") provides localities and nonprofits with a useful tool for transforming dormant rail rights-of-way (“ROWs”) into recreational trails.  16 USC § 1247(d).  The Act streamlines the legal complexity of trail conversion by providing a clear and systemic framework for the railroad to transfer ownership of the corridor to a third party sponsor organization (known as the “interim trail manager”).  Only a ROW in the interstate, common carrier rail network (hereinafter, a “common carrier line”) is eligible for trail conversion under the procedures of the Trails Act.  16 USC § 1247(d).  All railbanked ROWs are subject to reactivation for rail service, so potential trail sponsors should consider this risk when drafting the railbanking agreement and investing in the trail corridor.  Finally, railbanking is a voluntary transaction between the railroad and the trail manager—nothing in the statute obligates the railroad to negotiate or agree to railbanking.  However, because the Act allows railroads to shed property tax liability without foreclosing the possibility of future rail service along the corridor, it is often an attractive proposition for inactive common carrier lines.

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[ELRS] Ethical Convergence and the Endangered Species Act

By Caitlin Troyer Busch, Stanford Environmental Law Journal.

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

Introduction

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is both lauded and criticized as one of the most powerful environmental laws ever enacted. Proponents of the law praise it for protecting thousands of endangered species over the last forty years, while detractors argue it is a bureaucratic mess that no longer benefits humans, but instead overburdens private landowners and development and values species’ needs above human needs. These claims reflect the disparate values underlying the statute itself. At the time of the Act’s passage, some proponents pushed for endangered species reform on the belief that species have intrinsic value—that is, value that “an entity has in itself, for what it is, or as an end.” Others believed that the value of endangered species lay in their instrumental value to humans, as “means to a desired or valued end,” such as agriculture. Despite these distinct values, the Act was passed in 1973 with little to no opposition. A wide range of stakeholders with differing environmental values came together to craft a far-reaching and unprecedented environmental law. This lack of opposition demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act successfully captured both sets of values in a single, comprehensive environmental statute.

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[ELRS] Adapting the Paris Agreement

By Bonnie Smith, Staff Editor, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. The original post will be available on VJEL's website later today.

For the first time in the history of international climate negotiations, adaptation has its own article in a legal text. Even more striking is that loss and damage, historically treated as a component of adaptation, does too. For many years, negotiations concerning adaptation and loss and damage have been contentious between developed countries, which prioritize mitigation over adaptation and loss and damage, and developing countries uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Chronicling the controversial discussions and negotiations leading up to these monumental Paris Agreement articles reveals still-existing tensions between Parties to the Agreement. It also sheds light on negotiable points for future Conferences of the Parties (“COPs”).

Adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage are three interconnected concepts pertaining to climate change. Defined simply, “adaptation” is the “adjustment of behaviour to limit harm, or exploit beneficial opportunities, arising from actual or expected climate change.” In contrast, “mitigation” seeks to limit climate change, primarily by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Loss and damage” encompasses the costs associated with climate impacts that adaptation and mitigation cannot prevent.

This article will begin comparing the historical treatment of adaptation and loss and damage with mitigation in the context of international climate change negotiations. Then, the article will analyze the Paris Agreement’s treatment of adaptation and loss and damage.

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[ELRS] It is Time for Oregon to Define Its Public Trust Duties

By Olivier Jamin, Online Journal Editor, Environmental Law (Lewis & Clark Law School)

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

Introduction

The public trust doctrine (PTD) is a concept under which states have the duty to preserve certain natural and cultural resources for the benefit of the public. The PTD is a common law doctrine, and state courts around the country have spent the last three decades applying — and in some cases rejecting — it to a variety of natural resources. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court applied the PTD to beaches and shores, the California Supreme Court applied it to navigable streams and their tributaries, and the U.S. Supreme Court has held that states own fish and game within their borders on behalf of their citizens, a position followed by many states. However, the most traditional application of the PTD has been to tidal and submerged lands. Oregon has been slow to develop its application of the PTD, as illustrates the lack of case law. Professor Blumm explains that although Oregon courts have repeatedly announced broad public rights in all waters of the state, the courts have not addressed the PTD since 1979. Last year however, the PTD was the topic of a circuit court opinion in Lane County that could mandate the Oregon Supreme Court to define precisely the extent of the doctrine in the state. The decision is highly controversial as it constitutes one of the most restrictive approach to the PTD, as to its scope and duties. The plaintiffs, Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik, represented by Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit organization advocating for greater reduction of CO2 emissions, appealed the decision last summer, gathering support from local law professors. Because the decision gave an erroneous overview of the PTD in Oregon, the court of appeals, and possibly the Supreme Court should seize on this opportunity to clarify the scope of the doctrine in the state.

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[ELRS] Towards a Middle Path: Loss & Damage in the 2015 Paris Agreement

By Maryam Al-Dabbagh, Graduate Editor of the NYU Environmental Law Journal

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

In the lead-up to the Paris talks, the issue of loss and damage (L&D) was portrayed to be one of the biggest hurdles in the quest for an agreement. L&D had already suffered multiple drawbacks in previous talks, such as the mass walkout by G-77 countries at COP19 in Warsaw in protest of the response by developed countries to their demands for L&D. Surprisingly, no similar issues occurred in Paris; instead, the agreement articulated a middle path between the seemingly divergent aims of developing and developed countries. This paper will trace that path through an analysis of the L&D articles of the agreement, and set forth the headway as well as the challenges that should be expected in coming years.

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[ELRS] When a Disaster is Not a “Disaster” and Why That Title Matters for Flint

By Helen Marie Berg, General Member, Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

In January 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appealed to the federal government for a $96 million emergency aid grant in response to the tremendous and growing public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. City and state officials caused the crisis. They decided to switch the city’s drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, but failed to add the proper anti-corrosion treatment to the lead pipes that distribute water to the city’s 100,000 residents. That decision caused the lead to leach from the pipes, ultimately poisoning all who drank the city’s water.

Governor Snyder’s request was not only for funds, but for President Obama to declare that the crisis in Flint was legally a disaster—a prerequisite for such an allocation of money and for eligibility for certain government programs. The headline of an article in the Detroit News shortly after Snyder’s request read: “Obama gives $80 million to Michigan for Flint.” Though it sounds hopeful, this headline is misleading.

President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint—but not a disaster. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 was enacted “to support State and local governments and their citizens when disasters overwhelm them.” The Act outlines the process to receive a presidential disaster declaration that would activate “an array of Federal programs to assist in the response and recovery effort.” Governor Snyder’s request for such a presidential disaster declaration was denied. He appealed the decision immediately—only for it to be denied again two days later.

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[ELRS] Rising Seas in the Holy City: Preserving Historic Charleston in the Face of Climate Change

By Will Grossenbacher, Editor-in-Chief, Virginia Environmental Law Journal

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

From October 2–5, 2015, the State of South Carolina, and the City of Charleston in particular, experienced historic rains: sites in the Charleston area reported up to twenty-six inches of rain. The downpour combined with high tides to create flooding that closed dozens of streets throughout the City. Then, at the end of October, Charleston experienced the fourth-highest tide ever recorded in the City. Persistent winds combined with the bi-monthly spring tide to create a high tide that reached 8.7 feet above mean lower low water level in Charleston Harbor. The two unrelated events in the same month show just how vulnerable the City is to flooding. When rising sea levels and other climate-change-induced flooding are added to the mix, the flood risk will only increase, especially for the Charleston’s numerous historic properties.

Charleston is a city rich in historic resources. In fact, the City’s Historic District contains more than 1400 “historically significant buildings.” Additionally, of the seventy-seven National Historic Landmarks (“NHLs”) in the State of South Carolina, thirty-three are located in Charleston. While the City of Charleston has begun working to address flooding issues, it has yet to address specific climate-change-related threats to its historic resources. Charleston should therefore look to the example provided by other coastal cities and begin implementing law and policy changes designed at protecting historic resources from the impacts of global climate change.

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[ELRS] Implementing Supplemental Environmental Project Policies to Promote Restorative Justice

By Eric DeBellis, Senior Executive Editor, Ecology Law Quarterly.

This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate. Click here to see the original post and leave a comment.

The overwhelming majority of environmental enforcement actions settle out of court, but overlooking settlements as merely a mechanical means to save time and court costs is a mistake. An agency’s approach to settlement has tremendous environmental justice implications that go largely unnoticed.

In a traditional enforcement settlement model, the government claims the exclusive right to speak for the people. It brings an enforcement action against the defendant, and the two parties negotiate a penalty amount. The defendant signs a settlement agreement and pays the penalty to the Treasury. This is the “Speeding Ticket” settlement model. This model is expedient, but it excludes affected communities. The Speeding Ticket model remains the norm today, but several state and federal agencies have begun to explore an alternative tool: the supplemental environmental projects (SEP).

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