The Uninvited

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The recent discovery of a voracious, non-native aquatic predator only nine miles from Lake Michigan is alarming but not particularly surprising, in light of the unappealing options for legal and political responses. However, when coupled with policy and budget changes implemented by the Trump administration, the new find may reignite a series of legal battles between the Midwestern states that the Seventh Circuit has dealt with twice in the past six yeAn invasive Asian carp jumps from the waterars. First, the factual background: Asian carp (shorthand for several species including grass carp, bighead carp, silver carp, and black carp) eat up to 20% of their weight per day and grow to several feet long and over one hundred pounds. Videos document their tendency to leap out of the water when startled, sometimes colliding with boaters and causing injury or damage. They have no natural predators and, by some estimates, would wreak havoc on the Great Lakes food chain and devastate the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes fishery. In 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that “Asian carp pose the greatest immediate threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem.”

The story of the carp’s inexorable march to the doorstep of the Great Lakes is both a lesson in the law of unintended consequences and a cautionary tale of political and legal inefficacy. Beginning in the 1960s, southern fish farmers imported several species of carp to control vegetation in ponds. The carp entered the lower Mississippi River basin via accidental releases and flooding events, and have since rapidly migrated through nearly the entire basin, with their populations increasing exponentially. Even so, the carp could not have threatened the Great Lakes without the artificial connection between the Mississippi and Great Lakes basins created by the City of Chicago in the year 1900, which was originally constructed as a crude sewage treatment solution but now serves other purposes.

The Obama administration made some efforts to control the spread of the carp, and especially to keep them out of the Great Lakes. In 2010, the president convened a “carp summit” at the White House and appointed an “Asian carp czar” who led an effort to eradicate them. President Obama also proposed a $78 million plan to improve the federal response to the issue. Later, the United States Army Corps of Engineers developed a four-pronged strategy to prevent carp from becoming established in the Great Lakes, including the construction and operation of a large electric dispersal barrier between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the entry to the Great Lakes. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently developed a “Response Framework for Invasive Species,” which addresses invasive aquatic species without specifically mentioning the carp. None of these well-meaning efforts has successfully halted the carp’s progress.

The Trump administration has taken a different approach that may run afoul of two recent Seventh Circuit decisions and lead to additional legal maneuvering. Read more »




Facing Extinction: Climate Migrant Crisis

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Map showing the continents of the the planet Earth with coastal areas marked in red highlighting the effect of a 6 meter rise in sea level. In recent days, President Trump has declared that he would have the United States withdraw from the Paris climate accord.  Business leaders like Elon Musk of Tesla have said that this decision would ultimately harm the economy by yielding the jobs of the future in clean energy to foreign competitors. I argue that withdrawing from the Paris climate accord also serves to exacerbate the climate migrant crisis that will inevitably hit American shores.

The global environment has long impacted migration patterns. For instance, humans have historically left places when deteriorating conditions threatened their survival. However, accelerated effects from climate change are expected to bring about significant and unprecedented changes to global migration patterns. Climate change is rapidly destabilizing global environments,(1) resulting in increasingly more common rising oceans, longer and more frequent droughts, and higher temperatures.(2)  Consequently, changes to global environments will inevitably dislocate people from their homes and nations. In fact, many communities have already started to suffer from the disastrous consequences of climate change. For example, in Gabura, Bangladesh, many of the three thousand people who live in this coastal region have been forced to move their homes onto skinny, man-made embankments to flee the rising ocean.(3)  Yet because of increasingly cramped conditions and dwindling resources, villagers are unable to work, farm, and live as they traditionally have.(4)  Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight, as scientists predict rising waters will completely submerge Gabura and at least seven percent of all Bangladesh before the end of the century.(5)  Parallel stories of growing displacement caused by rising sea-levels,(6) more frequent droughts,(7) and retreating sea ice(8) are found in ever increasing numbers all around the globe.

As nations debate the causes and treatments for climate change, people everywhere are struggling to adapt to new environmental realities. Regrettably, for many adaptation will mean leaving their countries to survive. Such people who are induced to leave their home country because of the climate change are referred to as “climate migrants”.(9)  Presently there is little empirical research to provide anything more than a rough prediction of population displacement that will occur because of climate change.(10)  In fact there is a wide variety of predictions; however this does not undermine the urgency to address the climate migrant crisis. For example, Christian Aid, a British organization that actively provides refugee assistance, predicts that the global number of displaced people may rise to more than one billion by the year 2050, in large part due to climate change.(11)  In comparison, ecologist Norman Myers reports that up to 200 million people may be become climate migrants by the end of this century.(12)  Despite the lack of empirical research, what is certain is that global warming will lead to massive population displacements and climate migration at numbers never before witnessed.(13)  Such displacement will almost certainly lead to extinction of peoples and cultures. Read more »




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.  ##

 




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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