High reward or high risk—that’s the potential billion-barrel question. Often referred to as America’s last great wilderness, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) consists of 19.64 million acres in the Alaska North Slope region and is the largest National Wildlife Refuge, supporting an enormous variety of biodiversity and robust Indigenous communities. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower declared the refuge a federally protected area, and oil and gas drilling was banned in 1980. In the decades following, numerous presidents and Congresses have resisted efforts to authorize extraction exploration in the area.
“The future has arrived—it’s just not evenly distributed yet,” observed writer William Gibson, whose observation was cited during the Environmental Law Institute’s November 17 webinar, “Digital Solutions to Climate and Water Challenges,” the first in a series that will serve to continue exploring the dynamic intersection of policy and cutting-edge technologies begun in 2019 with ELI’s inaugural GreenTech conference in Seattle.
On August 5, 2015, EPA personnel assigned to mitigate pollutants from the foreclosed Gold King Mine in Colorado caused the discharge of toxic wastewater into the Animas River watershed, releasing lead, arsenic, and other metals and toxic elements. Even though Colorado Governor Hickenlooper eventually declared the area a disaster zone, the delayed response and devastating environmental impacts from the Gold King Mine wastewater spill revealed an urgent need to address the nearly 500,000 Abandoned Mine Lands throughout the United States. According to the EPA, the total cost to clean up AMLs ranges from $50-70 billion. Although the burden of mitigating toxic pollutants from AMLs may appear to rest solely upon the federal government, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) mandates that the party responsible for AML hazardous contamination must assume financial responsibility.
The Mississippi River Delta and Louisiana coastline are disappearing. Since the late 1920s, efforts to control the Mississippi through levees and dams have impeded its natural ability to deposit sediment downstream, contributing to large-scale land loss. It’s estimated that Louisiana’s coastal parishes lost roughly two thousand square miles of land between 1932 and 2016. As rising seas driven by climate change threaten to further consume the Gulf coast, there is an imperative to address the growing problem of shrinking landmass. Confronting this threat with a sense of urgency will allow for preservation of Louisiana’s communities, economies, and cultural resources into the future.
Harbouring the vast majority of life on Earth, forests are a vital natural resource that provide ecosystem services essential for life and livelihoods. Forests are sources of important raw materials such as timber, wood fuel, and non-timber-forest products. However, competition to access forests, like many natural resources, is often a motive for human conflict. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that in the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts have had a link to natural resources.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Law Institute hosted a webinar on cultural fire management—just prior to yet another devastating fire season across the West Coast of the United States. The discussion highlighted the millennia of Indigenous peoples’ sustainable forest management practices, drawing a sharp contrast with the consequences of over a century of federal fire-suppression policy, now exacerbated by climate change. That discussion now prompts a deeper conversation about options available to Indigenous tribes for regaining their stewardship role over forest resources on their traditional lands.
Acting in response to Executive Order No. 13807, Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) rewrote the governmentwide regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) this year. CEQ published its proposal to substantially amend the NEPA rule on January 10, 2020, and published its final rule on July 16, 2020 (85 Fed. Reg. 43304). The new rule becomes effective today, September 14, 2020, and CEQ added language to the final rule to provide that it will apply directly to federal agency actions and preempt all “inconsistent” agency procedures as of that date.
Almost one-quarter of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels extracted from public lands. Producing more than 274 million barrels of oil, 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 302 million tons of coal each year, BLM’s management decisions have a significant impact on climate change. In this month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter, authors Jamie Gibbs Pleune, John Ruple, and Nada Wolff Culver argue that the Bureau has not only the authority, but a legal duty to mitigate climate change in its permitting decisions. Using existing legal structures, they provide a road map for requiring all new BLM oil and gas development to achieve net-zero emissions.
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting a variety of industries, from travel to retail to restaurants. But perhaps the hardest-hit are meat and poultry processing plants, which have been experiencing outbreaks throughout the United States. In April, President Trump issued an Executive Order declaring these plants “critical infrastructure” to make sure they stay open, and the number of cases in these plants continued to rise in the days and weeks that followed. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, as of June 15 there have been over 25,000 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 235 plants in 33 states, and at least 90 reported worker deaths at 39 plants in 24 states.
The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) is pleased to announce the winners of the 31st Annual National Wetlands Awards: Mark Beardsley; John W. Day Jr.; Trinity Favazza; Ted LaGrange; Sam Lovall; and Robert Wade. Together, these awardees have restored, researched, and protected thousands of acres of wetlands nationwide; their examples have inspired many members of their community to act and make a difference to protect and improve these vital natural resources.