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May 31, 2018 by Elena Franco

The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities.

As one of America’s first colonies, Virginia has a long history of industrialization and its consequent pollution along its waterways. It also has a long history of floods. This combination provides a potential for toxic flooding, putting Virginia's population and livelihoods at risk.

The James River, named “America’s founding river” and spanning most of the state, is prone to floods, both flowing down the river and coming in from coast. Many of Virginia’s industrial areas lie on the banks of the river, contributing to significant toxic discharges and placing the river ninth nationally for chemical releases harmful to fetuses and newborns. In just one example from the late 20th century, Allied Chemical Company’s illegal dumping of kepone (a carcinogenic insecticide) into the James triggered discussions in Richmond and was featured in the legislative histories of numerous federal statutes, including the Clean Water Act (1972), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (1980). Kepone is now outlawed, but a 2017 report shows that about two-thirds of …

May 30, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from LegalPlanet.

The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact.

Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of which owned or operated by states, localities, or private entities. Safety regulation is spotty.

By way of background, there are actually two kinds Earthen levees are constructed from compacted soil that is typically covered with grass, gravel, stone, asphalt, or concrete, to help prevent erosion. Floodwalls, which are generally found in urban areas, are made of concrete. Levees require active maintenance such as …

May 29, 2018 by Matthew Freeman
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While most of the press EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting these days has to do with his various over-spending scandals, his more lasting impact is likely to be his scorched-earth approach to environmental protections. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, CPR’s Sid Shapiro highlighted one way Pruitt hopes to make an across-the-board, anti-environment impact: By limiting the scope of scientific studies that his agency may consider when developing safeguards.

Under the guise of greater transparency, Pruitt is proposing to restrict the use of studies for which the underlying data is not completely available to the public. That may sound reasonable on its face, but the reality is that plenty of important research and knowledge derives from studies for which some measure of confidentiality is a must. Medical studies typically protect the confidential information of participating patients, for example.

As Shapiro notes …

May 21, 2018 by Karen Sokol
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Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the likelihood of an increase in what is now often referred to as "climate change" or "climate justice" litigation. The reason for the increase, according to the IPCC, is that "countries and citizens will become dissatisfied with the pace of international and national decision-making on climate change." Just over a decade later, that observation now looks quite prescient, with several cities and counties taking the oil industry to court over climate-related damages. 

In addition to suits against national governments based on international and national environmental laws in various countries, the IPCC pointed to the first climate change tort case brought in the United States: American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut (AEP). In that case, states sued major oil and gas companies for climate change harms caused by their greenhouse gas emissions based on the common law …

May 17, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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In the era of Trump, one bright spot remains what's happening in cities across the nation. Here are some numbers: 402 U.S. mayors have endorsed the Paris Agreement and announced their intention of meeting its goals, while 118 have endorsed the goal of making their cities 100 percent renewable. A bit of quick research provides a sample of what some major cities are already up to:

Atlanta. Atlanta's city council has set ambitious goals: 100 percent renewable energy for city operations by 2025 and for the entire city a decade later.

Chicago. Chicago commissioned climate scientists to report on how climate change would impact the city. The report cites more heat waves and heavier rains and snows. The mayor has announced a plan to power city buildings with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. The city has adopted an elaborate climate change adaptation plan …

May 15, 2018 by Matt Shudtz
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CPR President Rob Verchick recently sat down to talk with one of our newest Member Scholars, Professor Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School, about the connections between climate change, food security, and policymaking tools like the Farm Bill that could be better used to promote sustainable agricultural practices.

We’re excited to share an audio recording of that conversation here as a “soft launch” of a new product at CPR – our “Connect the Dots” podcast. It’s a work in progress. Our first mini-series will focus on climate change adaptation, with episodes coming soon that explore issues related to climate-driven displacement, migration, and relocation; occupational health and safety protections; and water quality restoration in the United States.

In this first episode, Verchick and Ristino:

  • Define food security (0:50)  
  • Discuss the ways climate change affects food security, including changing rainfall, shifting growth seasons and crop yields, pests …

May 14, 2018 by Katie Tracy
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The White House released its Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on May 9 with little fanfare. A close examination of the agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that protecting worker health and safety is anything but a priority for the Trump administration. Rather, the agency will continue to focus on weakening worker protections.

OSHA's spring agenda lists 20 planned activities – 15 carryovers from the fall agenda, four agenda items moved from the agency's list of long-term actions to now in play, and one new activity.

The 15 carryover items include 14 announcements of delays, ranging from one to seven months. For example, one carryover on the agenda is the agency's plan to weaken the 2017 beryllium standard by easing safety requirements on the construction and maritime industries. The standard protects workers from chronic disease and lung …

May 10, 2018 by James Goodwin
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Yesterday, six senators, led by Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, criticized Trump administration "regulatory czar" Neomi Rao and her office for what appears to have been a slapdash review of a highly controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft policy designed to stifle the agency's progress on advancing environmental and public health protections. Rao is the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a small but powerful bureau located within the Executive Office of the President. For nearly four decades, OIRA has enjoyed broad and largely unchecked authority to interfere in pending rulemakings and to secretly quash or water down those measures that might be politically inconvenient for the president. 

In a letter to Administrator Rao, the senators identified several irregularities with OIRA's review of EPA's proposed rule on the use of science to inform regulatory policy. Taken together …

May 10, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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Texas and Puerto Rico both got hit very hard last year by major hurricanes. But the federal government moved a lot more quickly to get help to Texas. In a new paper, I document the difference and explore the reasons. Although I won't go into all the details here, this is a situation people need to know about.

This table gives a sense of the difference, though there's a more extensive table in the paper.

FEMA says it poured just as many resources into Puerto Rico as Texas and that the response was hindered because they were already stretched thin by other disasters and had to contend with difficult logistic problems. I am willing to believe they made an equal effort. But an equal effort really wasn't enough — not when Puerto Rico's needs were so much greater. For instance, although the number of …

May 2, 2018 by James Goodwin
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Over the last couple of weeks, conservatives in Congress have continued their assault on public safeguards using the once-obscure and once-dormant Congressional Review Act (CRA). If their latest adventure succeeds, it will be the 16th public protection that these members, working with in concert with President Donald Trump, have obliterated over the last year, laying waste to a broad and diverse range of measures related to public health, safety, the environment, and consumer financial protection. 

The anti-safeguard lawmakers behind these CRA-fueled attacks have already demonstrated what a dangerous law the CRA is, especially in the wrong hands, but this latest action would take the law to an unprecedented and even more extreme level. It targets a 2013 "bulletin" by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) aimed at discriminatory auto lending practices. As such, this would be the first time the CRA has been used to wipe out …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 31, 2018

The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

May 30, 2018

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

May 29, 2018

Shapiro Takes on Pruitt's Pseudo-Transparency Rule

May 21, 2018

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

May 17, 2018

Let a Hundred (Municipal) Flowers Bloom

May 15, 2018

Connecting the Dots: Rob Verchick and Laurie Ristino Talk Food Security and Climate Change

May 14, 2018

Trump's OSHA to Roll Back More Worker Safeguards, Slow Walk Others