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 to 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: Continue reading “What President Trump’s “Budget Blueprint” Could Mean For The Great Lakes”
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) stimulate 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: Continue reading “Innovation at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus”
At this time of year it seems appropriate to both examine the year just ended and look forward to the one to come. 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.
Continue reading “Water: 2016 Retrospective (and Issues to Watch in 2017)”
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.” 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.
Continue reading “Pathways to Future Environmental Legislation”
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 environmental 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: Continue reading “Public Policy and American Drinking Water”
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 line, 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. Continue reading “Waukesha Diversion Approved; Focus Shifts to Potential Legal Challenges”
The Clean Water Act requires regulatory agencies to make difficult choices about exactly where “water ends and land begins.” Whether a particular property contains “waters of the United States,” the touchstone for federal jurisdiction under the Act, is not easy to determine, especially when the question involves not traditionally navigable waters but wetlands. The 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. 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.
Continue reading “Justice Kennedy Criticizes “Notoriously Unclear” and “Ominous” Scope of the Clean Water Act”
Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Racine Mayor John Dickert visited Marquette Law School on February 4 for a wide-ranging conversation about Waukesha’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. Continue reading “Waukesha Diversion Application Inches Closer To Conditional Approval, But State Law Questions Remain”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that almost 2.5 million unmanned aerial systems, more commonly known as drones, will be purchased in 2016, and that annual sales will reach almost 7 million units by 2020. Drones have been or soon will be employed in an ever-broadening sphere of applications, including photography, natural resource mapping and management, hobbyist flying, military and police applications, and perhaps even package delivery. But as with many fast-emerging technologies, governance regimes have not kept pace with science. As a result, many of these millions of purchasers have at least one thing in common: uncertainty over how their flying activities are regulated.
On Friday, April 8, the Environmental Law Society hosted a discussion of the future of drone regulation at the federal and state levels, featuring three experts: Russ Klingaman, who teaches Aviation Law and is a licensed pilot; Eric Compas, a UW-Whitewater professor and drone enthusiast who has received grant funding to investigate the use of drones for natural resource and disaster recovery purposes; and Detective Eric Draeger of the Milwaukee Police Department. In a wide-ranging discussion, the panelists agreed that legal regimes governing drones are constantly evolving. They grouped the top legal challenges related to drones into three categories: safety, privacy, and security.
Continue reading “Drone Law 101”
As a general rule, within its borders each individual state holds title to the beds of water bodies that were navigable at the time of its statehood, and has jurisdiction to regulate activity upon those waters. State authority over navigable waters is not absolute, however; in a previous post, for example, I discussed the limits imposed by the public trust doctrine. The “navigational servitude” is another important constraint on state power. It flows from the Commerce Clause and asserts “the paramount power of the United States to control [navigable] waters for purposes of navigation in interstate and foreign commerce.” This power justifies, for example, the acquisition and holding of private lands “to deepen the water . . . or to use them for any structure which the interest of navigation, in [the government’s] judgment, may require.” When validly exercised, the navigational servitude excuses the federal government even from the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, because “the damage sustained does not result from taking property from riparian owners within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment but from the lawful exercise of a power to which the interests of riparian owners have always been subject.” Today, however, the navigational servitude has largely retreated into obscurity. It is often viewed as a relic from a bygone era when rivers were the nation’s primary mode of commerce and long-distance travel.
The advent of emerging technologies that will make water travel more attractive may catapult the navigational servitude to renewed prominence. In the not-too-distant future, transformational technologies like hovercraft and airships may become common modes of commercial and public travel over navigable waters. Integrating the resulting water-based activity into our legal and social systems would require involvement at all levels of governance, including the courts. In fact, a fascinating example of a related dispute has already reached the United States Supreme Court. Continue reading “A Rejuvenated Navigational Servitude?”
Does Waukesha’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan represent the only reasonable option to provide its residents with clean, safe, and sustainable drinking water, or will it cause adverse environmental impacts and set a negative precedent leading to dozens more “straws in the lake”? That was the subject of conversation between Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Racine Mayor John Dickert during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program before a capacity crowd at Marquette Law School.
The Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes states, generally operates as a ban on new and increased diversions of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes basin, with certain limited exceptions. One of those exceptions allows communities located outside the basin, but within counties that straddle the basin line, to apply for a diversion. Waukesha is the first community to apply for a diversion under that exception. Its application has drawn close attention locally and nationally. The Compact sets out strict requirements for such applications. To succeed, the City’s application must demonstrate that it has “no reasonable water supply alternative,” that its need cannot be reasonably avoided through the efficient use and conservation of existing water supplies, and that it will cause no significant adverse impacts to the quantity or quality of the water used, among other legal requirements. Under the terms of the Compact, all eight Great Lakes governors (or their designees) have veto power over the application.
During the “On the Issues” program, the two mayors agreed on the importance of regional cooperation on water and other pressing issues (although both lamented the absence of that cooperation in this particular case), but not on much else. In a respectful but pointed discussion, they staked out opposing positions on the pending application.
Continue reading “Waukesha and Racine Mayors Stake Out Opposing Positions on Water Diversion Application”
Legislative bodies often delegate significant authority to administrative agencies. In the course of its work, an agency must reach legal conclusions about how to interpret and apply a statute it administers. Most agencies employ attorneys for just that purpose. When an agency’s legal interpretation is challenged, federal and state courts commonly defer to the agency in recognition to the agency’s subject-matter expertise and experience. Federal courts use the well-known Chevronstandard, analyzing first whether Congress has “directly spoken to the precise question at issue”; if it has, the court must give effect to that Congressional intent. But if the statute is silent or ambiguous, the court defers to the agency interpretation if it is “based on a permissible construction of the statute,” even if the court would have reached a different outcome. Wisconsin courts take a similarly deferential approach to reviewing agency legal interpretations.
Without the benefit of reliance on an agency’s interpretation of such specialized questions, courts would have to overcome “lack of training and expertise, lack of time, [and] lack of staff assistance. . . .” In the environmental context, federal courts have therefore resisted calls to inject themselves into the day to day management of natural resources, and have avoided becoming “forestmasters,” “roadmasters,” “fishmasters,” “watermasters,” and “rangemasters;” instead, they have deferred to the agencies created for those purposes.
Over the years, however, some jurists have questioned whether this deferential approach straitjackets reviewing courts, sapping their power in favor of unelected administrative agency representatives. Inspired by those concerns, a bill currently pending in the Wisconsin Legislature, A.B. 582, would eliminate judicial deference to agency legal interpretations in particular contexts. To put it mildly, this would be a major development in Wisconsin administrative law and would deeply change the relationship and relative balance of power between agencies and reviewing courts in the state.
Continue reading “Doing away with deference?”