A Day of Insight on Major Environmental Topics — and Proper Garbage Disposer Use

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The sharing of thoughtful expertise on matters of great long-term importance – that was the virtue and strength of a conference at Marquette Law School on May 16. “Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus” brought together about 75 professionals and academic figures from across Wisconsin and the country who work in these tightly related fields. 

The day-long session, organized by David Strifling, director of the Water Law and Policy Initiative at Marquette Law School, and an organizing committee, had a broad theme of how leaders and researchers in these crucial fields could work together and stretch their vision to serve the best and broadest sense of the public good.

Speakers at the event covered a variety of topics including energy recovery at wastewater treatment facilities, the importance of groundwater, ethical aspects of decisions about natural resources, and the deep links between agriculture, water, and energy. Yet for the handful of people in the audience who were less technical in their backgrounds — and for a larger audience such as this one – the most practical piece of wisdom may well have been a bit of advice on how to use a garbage disposal.

In the question and answer session at the end of a panel discussion on environmental issues, one of those non-technical people in the audience (no, it wasn’t me, but I had the same question on my mind) asked if it was better for the environment to put your food waste into your garbage disposer, sending it to a wastewater treatment facility, or into your garbage, sending it to a landfill. She said her garbage disposer sometimes got clogged, causing flooding in her basement, so she stopped using it.

One of the panelists was Michael Keleman, manager of environmental engineering for InSinkErator, a leader in the garbage disposal field. The company is headquartered in Sturdevant, in Racine County. Not surprisingly, Keleman is partial to garbage disposer units and putting most food waste down the sink.

He told the questioner, “It seems like people, when they have problems, it’s probably from improper use. That’s this: They’ll load up the chamber or the sink and say, ‘Oop, it’s time to use the disposer, my sink’s getting full, it’s running over the top.’ They’ll turn the disposer on and then they’ll turn the water on and then, as soon as they see the food and water disappear, they’ll turn the water off and the disposer off.

“What you really want to do is turn your water on first, then turn your disposer on second, and then add your food waste gradually. Let it grind until you don’t hear any food waste any more. Turn the disposer off and let the water run for a few seconds.”

So is it better to do that than throw your waste in the garbage can? Keleman said food waste is 70 to 90 percent  water. “Why are we handling this as a solid waste?” he asked. “It’s not really solid any more if you’re using the disposer right.” Its density is about the same as water and it will be successfully transported to a treatment facility that can recover resources – including clean water and energy – from it, and simultaneously avoid land use problems.

Keleman had less cheerful advice on a second matter raised by the questioner, avoiding disposing of unneeded drugs by flushing them down the toilet or sink.

While saying programs to dispose of pharmaceuticals by other means are “great,” Keleman was skeptical of how much difference they make.

“We take in these pharmaceuticals, we excrete back over 90% of it,” he said. “The bottom line is, as long as pharmacy is the way it is, we’re going to excrete most of these endocrine disrupters and birth control pills, even caffeine, all the things – the pain killers, benzodiazepines. These are all things our society is taking and we’re excreting. So no matter how good a job we do at take-back programs, they’re still going to be this in the waste water stream.“

In Keleman’s accounting, score one for proper use of a garbage disposer. And do what you can about disposing of drugs – but don’t have illusions about I in a society where drug use is so extensive.

To read the program for the conference, click here. To watch video of the entire conference, click here. The exchange with Keleman starts at 5 hours and 14 minutes into the video.  ##

 




Insights on Judiciary and Tech Industry Highlight New Marquette Lawyer Magazine

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Environmental Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Marquette Law School, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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Marquette Lawyer Summer 2017 CoverTwo pairs may not be the most powerful hand in poker, but they are definitely a winning combination for the Summer 2017 edition of Marquette Lawyer, the Marquette Law School magazine.

One pair in the magazine focuses on how long U.S. Supreme Court Justices should serve and, more broadly, how to assure confidence in the judiciary. Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit focused on this in the E. Harold Hallows Lecture he delivered at Marquette Law School in 2016. The magazine offers a lightly edited text of the lecture by Diaz, including his advocacy of ideas he presumes that few of his fellow judges would support. Paired with the text is a comment from Diaz’s colleague on the Fourth Circuit, Judge James Wynn, L’79. An interview and profile of Wynn accompany his comment. The Diaz text may be read by clicking here and the Wynn comment (and interview) here.

The other pair in the magazine offers provocative insights from two people who play leading roles in the tech world. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, made two appearances at Marquette Law School on November 15, 2016, delivering the Helen Wilson Nies Lecture on Intellectual Property and participating in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. A selection of his thoughts may be found by clicking here.

Ted Ullyot is currently a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, and he was formerly general counsel for Facebook—indeed, the lawyer who led the company in the process of going public. An edited version of Ullyot’s remarks at the Law School in a Helen Wilson Nies Lecture in April 2016 may be found by clicking hereRead more »




What President Trump’s “Budget Blueprint” Could Mean For The Great Lakes

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At a recent Law School event, several panelists (including me) discussed the potential for the Trump administration to make important changes to the law in our respective areas of concentration. I said at the time that environmental law has proven quite resistant to previous efforts that would have weakened or erased it. Part of this resiliency is due A photo of a wetlandto the lengthy time horizon typically involved in repealing and replacing statutes and rules; another major factor is longstanding public opposition to such changes. With that said, major attempts are underway that, if implemented, would seriously undermine bulwarks of environmental law such as the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Antiquities Act. The Trump EPA has also recently begun the long process of repealing and replacing the Clean Water Rule, under direction from President Trump to rewrite it in a manner consistent with one of Justice Scalia’s previous opinions.

Whether or not those efforts succeed, the executive branch has a major impact on the day-to-day operation of environmental law even in the absence of major statutory or regulatory reforms. The most direct avenues for this are through budgeting decisions and enforcement discretion. With debates over spending engulfing Washington, it’s worth examining the potential impact of President Trump’s recent “America First – Budget Blueprint” on the Great Lakes region. Several features of the proposal have generated controversy and may be especially significant in the Great Lakes region: Read more »




Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

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I have previously written in this space about the importance of policy innovation at the food-energy-water nexus. On Tuesday, May 16, Marquette Law School will host an interactive and interdisciplinary workshop to explore those issues, drawing from engineering, legal, scientific, and policy spheres. The workshop format and accompanying discussions will (1) provoke conversations about overcoming barriers to the implementation of innovative water solutions, (2) A circle graph showing how water and energy are relatedstimulate ideas for focused academic research in the nexus, and (3) drive the development of organizational policy and technology roadmaps. The event incorporates sessions on energy use, recovery, and minimization at water and wastewater utilities; on groundwater; on agricultural sustainability and food waste; and on ethical considerations for stakeholders, a topic often absent from similar events. A working lunch and roundtable discussion as well as breakout sessions will invite and encourage broad-based attendee participation. Attendees will also have numerous opportunities to network with experts, researchers, and students. This event is sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation I/UCRC for Water Equipment and Policy. More details, including an agenda and registration information, are available here. Confirmed participants include: Read more »




Water: 2016 Retrospective (and Issues to Watch in 2017)

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At this time of year it seems appropriate to both examine the year just ended and look forward to the one to come.[1] 2016 brought numerous developments in the water law and policy sector at the national and state levels, and also here at Marquette University Law School’s Water Law and Policy Initiative. 2017 promises more of the same.

Nationally, the Flint drinking water crisis continued to dominate headlines. While the quality of Flint’s drinking water is slowly improving, it’s certainly too early to declare the crisis over. As a stark reminder of that, an ongoing investigation led to a series of criminal charges against those at the heart of the disaster.  Here at Marquette, drinking water issues also took center stage. The Water Law & Policy Initiative’s September Public Policy and American Drinking Water conference, organized in combination with the Law School’s larger Public Policy Initiative, drew widespread attention and brought together national experts in a variety of water-related fields. It was at this event that Mayor Barrett spoke of the pressing risks of lead in Milwaukee because of the 70,000 lead laterals serving City of Milwaukee residences. The mayor’s comments at and after the conference provoked intense media coverage and quickly resulted in the City making numerous policy changes. For example, Mayor Barrett agreed to provide free water filters to affected citizens, and ultimately budgeted to pay a substantial part of the cost to replace (privately owned) lead service lines.

Many other stories also captured headlines in 2016.

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Pathways to Future Environmental Legislation

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Over the past quarter century, repeated congressional failures to enact any significant piece of environmental legislation led observers to describe such efforts as “gridlocked,” “deadlock[ed],” “dysfunction[al],” “broken,” the subject of “considerable, self-imposed inertia,” and the surrounding atmosphere as “highly inhospitable to the enactment of major environmental legislation.”[1] Things weren’t always this way, as I discuss in more detail below; in the 1970s, a remarkable burst of legislative activity largely shaped the field we know today as federal environmental law.

In a paper soon forthcoming in the Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, I argue that a perhaps minor and certainly uncontroversial piece of environmental legislation known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (“the Act”) reveals potential pathways through or around this modern gridlock. The Act prohibits the manufacture or introduction into interstate commerce of useful – but environmentally harmful – microscopic plastic particles known as “microbeads” that are commonly used in cosmetic products. Its provisions are direct and uncomplicated.

Yet the strategic building blocks underlying the Act—including an emphasis on public health issues and broad stakeholder support driven by industry concerns about unfair competition and opposition to local legislation—may provide innovative and useful foundations for future efforts to pass environmental legislation.

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Marquette Law School Poll Reveals Public Perceptions Of Water-Related Issues

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Public perceptions of environmental risk have long been controversial when used as a tool to help set public policy.  Many scholars have argued that there is a fundamental “mismatch”[1] between “notoriously inaccurate”[2] public perceptions of the magnitude and sources of environmental risks, as compared with expert analyses of the same.  Even if that is true, public perceptionBanner logo - Earth in a drops would be worth measuring for other reasons: for example, studies have confirmed that “federal environmental laws reflect public perceptions of risks more than they do scientific understanding.”[3]  And just this year, a gathering of environmental law scholars discussing the future of environmental law stressed the increasing ethical obligation to consider (often marginalized) community voices, turning environmental law into “a tool for collaboration and connection . . . rather than conflict.”  In short, perhaps “public perceptions of environmental risk deserve more credit than comparative risk analysts admit.”[4]

Despite a general sense of “increasing public concerns about issues of water quality and the health of riparian environments,”[5] surprisingly few efforts have been made to quantify the level of public disquiet over these problems.  To help fill that gap in Wisconsin, two surveys were conducted in August 2016 by the Marquette Law School Poll, and find significant levels of concern over water quality and policy generally.  However, most Wisconsin voters reported lower levels of worry regarding their personal sources of drinking water.

Interest in Water Quality

Recent reporting has highlighted drinking water concerns across the state—including lead levels,[6] agriculture-related bacterial contamination,[7] and a failed legislative effort to ease municipal water system privatization.[8] Our survey results indicate that not only journalists are taking an interest in these topics. Seventy-eight percent of respondents reported hearing at least some about the lead crisis in the Flint, Michigan water supply. When asked about the safety of the water supply in Wisconsin’s own low income communities, 68% were very or somewhat concerned, 17% not too concerned, and just 13% not at all concerned. However, when asked about the safety of the water supply in their own community, respondents were more confident. A combined 56% were either not too concerned or not at all concerned, with another 44% being very or somewhat concerned.

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Conference Offers Light — and Some Heat — on Gamut of Crucial Water Issues

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To the general public, water is “an issue that’s obscure under normal circumstances,” Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll and professor of law and public policy, said at the end of the major conference on water issues this week (Sept. 7, 2016) at the Law School.

Franklin was commenting on the relatively mixed level of concern about water issues found in responses to several questions in the Law School Poll’s results from late August. For many people, you turn on the faucet, drinkable water comes out, and you’re likely to pretty much take this for granted.

But then, Franklin said, there are disasters that demand great attention and drive perceptions.

The Law School’s conference, “Public Policy and American Drinking Water,” drew a capacity audience to the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. Both among the speakers and members of the audience, the room was filled with experts and leading activists on water issues – as well as interested members of the public, Marquette undergraduate and graduate students, and a dozen high school students.

And as Franklin suggested, the conference offered some controversial content of great public interest – namely, discussion of issues around lead in drinking water in Flint, Mich., Milwaukee, and elsewhere – and quite a bit of lower-key discussion around important water issues that don’t attract so much attention (the state of groundwater supplies, pricing and valuation of water, and the role of private ventures in water delivery systems). Read more »




Public Policy and American Drinking Water

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On September 7, 2016, amid great concern about the future of water quality and quantity, Marquette Law School will host a conference titled “Public Policy and American Drinking Water.”  The conference will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the legal, scientific, engineering, and Banner logo - Earth in a dropenvironmental water issues that fill today’s news and touch all of our lives.  Leading figures from a variety of disciplines will discuss topics such as lead and aging infrastructure, privatization of water systems, public perceptions of water quality issues, the (under)valuation of water, and quantity and quality concerns related to groundwater.

Attendance is complimentary and open to the public, but pre-registration – available at this link – is required.

Participants include: Read more »




Waukesha Diversion Approved; Focus Shifts to Potential Legal Challenges

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This week the City of Waukesha celebrates the success of an impressive technical effort 13 years in the making.  After inserting some final conditions, the Great Lakes Compact Council unanimously approved Waukesha’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan for its public supply.  The application has generated significant regional and national interest because of its status as a “test case” for the Great Lakes Compact.  The Compact generally bans diversions of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes basin, but offers limited exceptions for communities that straddle the basin Waukesha diversionline, or that lie within counties that straddle the basin line, provided a community’s application meets certain stringent technical conditions.  Waukesha is the first community wholly outside the Great Lakes basin to apply for a diversion (though not the first community to receive a diversion; New Berlin, which straddles the basin line, successfully achieved that distinction in 2009).  As I have written previously in this space, the Waukesha case has been a striking demonstration that the process set up under the Compact works, no matter what one’s position on the outcome.

Yet from a legal perspective, that process may not be complete.  The technical review and approval challenge remains subject to legal challenges.  One vehicle for such a challenge is the Compact itself.  It contains a “dispute resolution and enforcement” provision that offers redress to “any person aggrieved” by an action of the Compact Council or of a party to the Compact.  The provision offers a glimpse of a legal process that may be just as complex as the technical approval process just completed. Read more »




Justice Kennedy Criticizes “Notoriously Unclear” and “Ominous” Scope of the Clean Water Act

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The Clean Water Act requires regulatory agencies to make difficult choices about exactly where “water ends and land begins.”[1]  Whether a particular property contains “waters of the United States,” the touchstone for federal jurisdiction under the Act,[2] is not easy to determine, especially when the question involves not traditionally navigable waters but wetlands.  public trustThe Environmental Protection Agency defines “wetlands” as areas such as swamps, marshes, and bogs that are periodically inundated with water.  Severe consequences flow from unpermitted actions that impact “waters of the United States.”  The Act imposes criminal liability and civil penalties to the tune of $37,500 per day of violation.[3]  Upon request, the Army Corps of Engineers will issue jurisdictional determinations (“JDs”) specifying whether a particular property contains jurisdictional waters.  In recent years, the Supreme Court has wrestled with various aspects of wetlands issues again and again and again and again.  The most recent such case, United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., No. 15-290, raised the question of whether Corps JDs constitute “final agency action” that is immediately appealable in federal court under the Bennett v. Spear analysis rooted in the Administrative Procedure Act.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that JDs constitute final agency action and are immediately appealable.  The Court quickly rejected the Corps’ two arguments to the contrary: first, the rather unreasonable suggestion that affected citizens could simply proceed without a permit, risking an enforcement action during which one could argue that no permit was required; and second, that upon receiving a “positive” JD, affected citizens could apply for a permit and seek judicial review of the JD upon the conclusion of the lengthy permitting process (the property owners in Hawkes estimated that it would cost well over $100,000 to “earn” the appeal right under that scenario).

Despite its importance, the decision is not particularly surprising given the tenor of the oral argument as well as the Court’s recent decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, 566 U.S. — (2012) that an EPA compliance order is immediately appealable to federal court when it was based on the factual assumption that a parcel contained wetlands.  Perhaps for that reason, it’s not the majority opinion that has everyone talking; instead, Justice Kennedy stole the show with a three-paragraph concurrence.

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Waukesha Diversion Application Inches Closer To Conditional Approval, But State Law Questions Remain

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Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Racine Mayor John Dickert visited Marquette Law School on February 4 for a wide-ranging conversation about Waukesha diversionWaukesha’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan pursuant to the Great Lakes Compact.  At the time, few observers expressed confidence about the application’s prospects for approval.  Now, after several intervening meetings by the Regional Body that governs the Compact, we have more clarity on a path forward.

The Regional Body has offered a revised plan for consideration under which it could grant a conditional approval if, in exchange, Waukesha accepts a smaller water service area (and a diversion reduced by a corresponding amount.)  In its application papers, Waukesha took the position that state law required it to request enough water to supply a water service area contiguous with its sewer service area.  The boundaries extended well beyond the city limits and included parts of the City of Pewaukee and the Towns of Delafield, Genesee, and Waukesha.  During a Regional Body meeting on April 21, it became clear that the expanded service area was a sticking point for several other states, all of which hold a veto power over the application.  Partly, this is because the exception to the Compact’s ban on diversions refers only to a “community,” in the singular; it makes no reference to a water service area.  The Regional Body therefore drafted, and yesterday posted to its website, a revised map showing a reduced service area that would decrease the estimated diversion request from about 10.1 million gallons of water per day (MGD) to about 8.2 MGD.  Waukesha leaders appear willing to accept the change: “[W]e’re approaching a workable solution for residents of the city,” said Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak.  The decreased water service area may satisfy the requirements of the Compact.  But does it simultaneously violate state law for Waukesha’s water service area to be non-contiguous with its sewer service area, as the city originally posited?  The answer isn’t readily apparent, but some statutory calisthenics reveal the dilemma. Read more »