April 23, 2013 by Sandra Zellmer

Blistering Comments on State's Draft Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement

Monday was the deadline for public comment on the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mine, which I submitted with the support of two of my University of Nebraska colleagues, are here. The State Department had initially announced that it would take the unusual path of refusing to make all of the comments available to the public absent a Freedom of Information Act request, but after a storm of criticism, the Department has reversed its decision to play hide and seek and now promises to post them all on a website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has released its comments, which are extremely critical of the State Department's analysis of the project's effect on climate change and its failure to consider alternative pipeline routes that avoid critical water resources. The EPA's comments, together with the outpouring of opposition from environmentalists and others, could well carry the day on the merits, persuading the President to reject the project as contrary to the national interest. At minimum, they will serve as fodder for subsequent litigation against the construction of the pipeline, if it's approved.

The EPA is hardly alone in its …

Oct. 16, 2012 by Sandra Zellmer

This post was written by CPR Member Scholars Robert Glicksman and Sandra Zellmer.

Visual images of burning rivers, oil-soaked seagulls, and other grossly contaminated resources spurred the enactment of the nation’s foundational environmental laws in the 1970s, including the Clean Water Act (CWA). Similarly, evocative prose like Rachel Carson’s description of the “strange blight” poisoning America’s wildlife due to widespread use of pesticides played a critical role in alerting policymakers and the public to the need for robust legal protections for public health and the environment. 

Environmental law, however, has always been about more than just repairing the damage wrought by past disasters or resource mismanagement. Senator Edmund Muskie, the principal sponsor of the CWA, was moved to action not only by the despoliation he witnessed but also by “the beauties of nature . . . in almost pristine form” he marveled at while growing up. 

Antidegradation …

May 30, 2012 by Sandra Zellmer

a(broad) perspective

Today’s post, co-authored by CPR Member Scholar Sandra Zellmer  and Policy Analyst Yee Huang, is the fourth in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties. Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties. Previous posts are here.

Convention on Biological Diversity
Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 5, 1992
Entered into Force on December 29, 1993
Number of Parties: 193
Signed by the United States on June 4, 1993
Sent to the Senate on November 20, 1993
Reported favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 29, 1994

Biodiversity is the range of variations in all forms of life, from the genetic level to the species level to the ecosystem level. This diversity of life sustains all processes on the planet, built up …

Feb. 16, 2012 by Sandra Zellmer

Last month, President Obama denied TransCanada’s permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline because a congressionally mandated deadline did not allow enough time to evaluate the project once Nebraska completed its analysis for re-routing of the pipeline around the Sand Hills.

A January 26-29 poll from Hart Research Associates found that, after hearing arguments for and against the pipeline, 47% of voters in four Presidential battleground states polled agree with President Obama’s decision while 36% disagree with it.  Yet just this week, the U.S. Senate is considering whether to add language to an unrelated highway authorization bill to force the President to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The pipeline rider has the backing of 44 Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate.  Passing it is a bad idea on several levels.  For one thing, riders like this one short-circuit the congressional process …

Nov. 14, 2011 by Sandra Zellmer

The Nebraska Legislature is in a special session currently to consider five bills concerning the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The situation was shaken up by Thursday’s announcement from the Obama Administration that it was pushing back its decision on federal approval of the pipeline. This news may take away some urgency for the Nebraska Legislature, but considering that no options (including the original proposed route) have been taken off the table, the bills remain firmly relevant. Nebraska—and any other states that lack regulations for protecting state interests from the effects of oil pipelines—should move forward despite measures that may (or may not) be undertaken by the federal government on the Keystone XL pipeline.

This afternoon the full Nebraska legislature will begin debate on one of the bills currently under consideration, LB4, which would provide state authority to approve or reject pipeline routes within Nebraska …

July 6, 2011 by Sandra Zellmer

This post was written by CPR Member Scholar Sandra Zellmer and John H. Davidson, an emeritus professor of law at the University of South Dakota. It appeared first in the Omaha World-Herald.

As the Missouri River nears the 500-year flood mark, we sympathize with those whose homes and businesses are flooded. And we recognize that it’s natural for the afflicted to cast blame on a scapegoat — a practice as old as recorded history. But those who blame the flooding on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to conserve native wildlife species are deeply misinformed.

First, there is no legal basis for pointing fingers in this direction. The Flood Control Act of 1944 — the statute that authorized the big mainstem dams in North and South Dakota — prioritizes flood control and navigation. The Act also authorizes operations that benefit wildlife and, when it comes to listed …

Jan. 13, 2010 by Sandra Zellmer

My family has gotten a lot smaller lately. My mother died in 2004, my father in 2007, and my uncle in 2008.

I’ve done the five stages of grief, as introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, but not exactly as she described. It’s true that I initially felt denial: “I’m a lucky person; this can't be happening.” Then I was angry and felt sorry for myself. Then, at least during my mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer, I hit the bargaining table. Mom was a Sunday school teacher when I was little, so I pleaded with God: “Please let the diagnosis be wrong, please let the chemo work, please don’t let the good die young.” To hedge my bets, I occasionally promised, “if she can beat the odds, I’ll volunteer at the local cancer center and I’ll donate my life …

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