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Archive for the ‘REGULATIONS’ Category

By Arthur Allen

"Get your Farm in the Fight", 1941 - 1945." Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

“Get your Farm in the Fight”, 1941 – 1945.” Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

Environmental issues don’t always focus the minds of the people who write the nation’s farm bills. A 2012 report showing that corn and soy plantings had chewed up 1.3 million acres of grassland in the upper Midwest raised hardly an eyebrow in Congress. Perhaps unsurprising, it took people with guns to draw the legislators’ attention to conservation.

The warnings came from pheasant hunters, who spend $175 million a year in eastern South Dakota (“It’s fun—like shooting free-range chickens,” says one) and have grown increasingly disheartened at seeing their best hunting spots turned into rows of corn. According to a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the loss in grassland—two Rhode Islands’ worth over five northern states—occurred during five years starting in 2006.

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Ethanols Environmental Damage

Erosion on land recently converted from pasture to cornfield near Lineville, Iowa. July 26, 2013. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

By Bradford McKee

What has been sold as a great fix to the nation’s fossil fuel problems is rapidly creating a disaster in the American landscape. Ethanol made from corn is supposed to work all kinds of magic for the United States by making us less reliant on foreign oil and, by supplanting petroleum products, cutting the carbon released into the atmosphere. Support for the ethanol industry is now enmeshed in federal policy. In 2007, Congress and the Bush administration passed a law, the Energy Independence and Security Act, that dramatically steps up the amounts of ethanol and other biofuels required to be added to gasoline each year through 2022. The Obama administration promotes ethanol production as a major part of its green-energy strategy to slow climate change.

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Northern_Oregon_Coast_Range_logging_road_-_Washington_and_Yamhill_counties,_OregonLast week, the Supreme Court released its decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, a case that considered the ability to regulate stormwater runoff and sediment from logging roads under the Clean Water Act. Some news reports played it as an unequivocal win for the timber industry, but a close look at the decision shows that it’s a little bit more complicated—environmental advocates may even find some comfort in it.

The case (see “On Forest Roads, Loggerheads” in the December 2012 issue of LAM) involved the application of the Clean Water Act’s “point source” permitting requirements to runoff from roads built to transport harvested timber from forested land.

The NEDC, based in Portland, Oregon, argued that building and using these roads, known as logging or forest roads, is “industrial activity” as the Clean Water Act defines it. A lot of logging roads are unpaved, and the group said that sediment from them, carried into rivers and streams by stormwater runoff, is harming aquatic life and impairing water quality.

When it rains hard, these roads do not simply produce “discharges composed entirely of stormwater,” which don’t require permits—the runoff events are more like a byproduct of gathering raw materials for a manufacturing process, the group said. So the owners of these roads should be required to get permits from the EPA or authorized state governments to cover these discharges, just as owners of a factory or mine would have to do. (more…)

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Hear ye! Hear ye! This river is private property! The Washington Post has an engaging story on how a colonial land grant may limit public access to a river in Virginia.

“In Virginia, the rivers, bays, creeks, ocean shores, and their bottomlands are owned by the state and are legally presumed to be public lands unless they are proven to be subject to a special grant that predates commonwealth law,” explains the Post. “No one knows how many of these old titles, often known as king’s or crown or commonwealth grants, exist, said game and fisheries official Ryan Brown.”

If it is possible to ride in a boat along the river, the property owners cannot prevent others from boating. But apparently they can stop people from wading in the river and fishing, under Virginia law. After you’ve read the Post’s story, check out this very odd ruling from Virginia’s highest court, which closed a section of the Jackson River to public fishing in 1996. The court held that fishing rights were granted to property owners by the King of England, despite the fact that such wording was never included in the grant. The whole case hangs on the meaning of the word “etcetera.”

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From the August 2012 issue of LAM:

The commissioners of Baldwin County, Alabama, are set to decide this month whether to file the comprehensive county plan the commission adopted in July 2009—a plan that cost $280,000—in the garbage can. The commissioners passed the plan, by a vote of 3 to 1, as a way to “guide the timing and quality of future development” in the county, which borders the Gulf of Mexico. One commissioner, Charles “Skip” Gruber, told Connie Baggett of the Press-Register in Mobile that “[T]his was voted the best plan in Alabama, and we paid good money for that plan.” It was also the way for the county to comply with Alabama’s state requirement that localities “maintain a comprehensive plan,” as Baggett reported.

But now the state has a different kind of rule: In mid-May, the state’s lawmakers voted unanimously to pretty much proscribe any kind of planning, comprehensive or otherwise, by the state or its local jurisdictions that would “deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict private property rights without due process, as may be required by policy recommendations originating in, or traceable to, ‘Agenda 21.’”

Over the past few years, one of the most bizarre and widespread political conflicts about land use and sustainability centers on Agenda 21, a 20-year-old, nonbinding United Nations document that has become a piñata for people skeptical of sustainability programs and smart growth. What began as rants on conspiracy-minded web sites is now playing out in public meetings, op-ed pages, and statehouses across the country. (more…)

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For a while, it seemed like rising oil prices and shrinking supplies might help us kick our greenhouse gas addiction. But if recent research holds true, we won’t be able to rely on the market to rein in global warming any time soon. In a paper published by Harvard’s Geopolitics of Energy Project, Leonardo Maugeri, a former oil executive and current research fellow, concludes: “Oil is not in short supply. From a purely physical point of view, there are huge volumes of conventional and unconventional oils still to be developed, with no ‘peak oil’ in sight. The real problems concerning future oil production are above the surface, not beneath it, and relate to political decisions and geopolitical instability.”

Maugeri does a comprehensive analysis of oil resources and predicts production could increase by nearly 20 percent in the coming decade and prices could collapse, thanks in part to the new opportunities for tapping tar sands and producing shale oil by hydraulic fracturing. “The Western Hemisphere could return to a pre-World War II status of theoretical oil self-sufficiency,” Maugeri writes, “and the United States could dramatically reduce its oil import needs.” (more…)

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The luxury home builder Toll Brothers will pay a $741,000 civil penalty and make major changes to the way it manages stormwater on its construction sites, following allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act on more than 600 occasions. The settlement, announced Wednesday by federal officials, addresses 370 sites in 23 states.

Among the permit violations alleged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice were the “failure to stabilize disturbed soil” and the failure to properly install and maintain “stormwater controls such as silt fences, swales, sediment basins, sediment traps, storm drain inlet protection, and construction entrances and exits.” (more…)

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