Sunday, November 23, 2014

Competing heritages in international environmental law

I recently came across "Theorising International Environmental Law", by Stephen Humphreys and Yoriko Otomo. The abstract:
This paper, part of a larger work on international law theory, sketches some early lines of inquiry towards a theoretical understanding of international environmental law. 
As the body of international law regulating human interaction with the natural world, one might expect this branch of law to be a cornerstone of the international system. Yet in practice, international environmental law’s reach is strikingly circumscribed. Little of the governance of natural resources, for example, is ‘environmental’. Subsisting at the periphery, environmental law focuses on conserving particular (rare, exotic) species and ‘ecosystems’, and curbing certain kinds of pollution. Its principles are vague, peppering the margins of rulings within other judicial fora: it is quintessential soft law.
Caspar David Friedrich,
The Wanderer above the Mists (1817-18)
In this paper, we suggest that international environmental law’s dilemmas are due to two competing heritages. On one hand, this law enshrines the peculiar pantheism of the European romantic period, positing the ‘natural world’ as sacred, inviolable, redemptive. On the other, its main antecedents are found in colonial era practices, which provided the data for the earliest environmental science and a laboratory for prototypical attempts at conservation and sustainable development. Caught between irreconcilable demands, international environmental law struggles today to avoid utopian irrelevance or nugatory paralysis.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The history of capitalism, growth, and environmental limits

The Nov. 24 issue of The Nation has a very interesting, extended review by Timothy Shenk of a number of recent books on the history of capitalism. Given that environmental history is now intensively engaged with the topic of capitalism, that legal historians are also part of the new school, and that the emerging history of environmental law gives a prominent place to the industrial revolution and capitalism, I think this is a central topic for readers of this blog. Shenk writes:
Mostly young, and mostly specializing in the history of the United States, historians of capitalism are one part of a broader revival in political economy. Yet the success enjoyed by this segment of a larger groundswell remains noteworthy—and surprising. Despite the seeming predictability of the subject’s popularity at a time when economic issues have moved to the forefront of public debate, turning capitalism into the central category of historical analysis requires intellectual sacrifices, pushing some topics into the spotlight and relegating others to the shadows. This has not escaped the capitalism cohort’s peers, many of whom fear that the trend would undo advances made by a generation of cultural historians, while leading to even more scholarship of and by white men. Historians of capitalism vigorously protest those charges, but murmurs of discontent have already begun, and they will grow louder if the field continues to thrive.
Shenk is critical of the new trend's focus on economic growth as a corollary of capitalism:

“The First Cotton Gin,” Harper’s Weekly, Dec. 18, 1869
...the new historians of capitalism have a... complicated relationship with economists.... This is nowhere more evident than in the routine conflation of economic growth with capitalism. Though far from the only subject addressed by these historians, economic growth serves a crucial purpose in their accounts, in which capitalism’s ability to satisfy the yearning for more becomes its trump card. An incentive that has stymied would-be revolutionaries for centuries, economic growth unites communities around the pursuit of mutual enrichment, promises social mobility and political stability, and excuses every sacrifice made in its name. Despite its contemporary ubiquity, however, the idea that economic growth is a necessary feature of collective life has a brief history—much briefer than the history of economic growth itself. Not until the middle of the twentieth century was economic growth accepted as a natural and obviously attractive feature of a modern economy, and even then its reign soon came under assault.
Today, confronting the twin pressures of mounting income inequality and escalating concerns about climate change, partisans of economic growth face stronger opposition than at any time in decades. Even if continued growth were desirable, an increasing number of economists are convinced that a decrease from the last century’s norm will be unavoidable in the century ahead. It is a strange tableau: while economists speculate on growth’s decline, a swath of the historical profession, eager to challenge the tyranny of economists, has attempted to make modernity into the story of economic growth—a story that the economists of a prior generation did more than any other group to canonize. Understanding how we arrived at this intellectual crossroads requires a history of its own. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nuisance injunctions

The Journal of Environmental Law has a review by Patrick Bishop of Ben Pontin's Nuisance and Environmental Protection - A Study of Nuisance Injunctions in Practice (Lawtext, 2013) (Ben blogged here about the book and his related work last summer.) Bishop writes:
This book’s aim is succinctly stated from the outset, namely to examine: ‘what nuisance law is with reference to what it does in practice, in circumstances where a claimant is awarded an injunction to restrain ongoing pollution’ (p 1). Pontin posits various nomenclatures to describe his methodology, ‘realist’, ‘law-in-action’ or ‘law-in-context’ (p 3), but in essence the approach adopted is contextual.... The intention is to elucidate the socio-economic and environmental impact of nuisance injunctions by the study of materials extraneous to the law reports; in summary this book intends to broaden and enhance our understanding of nuisance by considering ‘what happened next’.
...the introduction provides a discussion of the main theories relating to the effect of the grant of an injunction. The author identifies four hypotheses gleaned from the literature. First, the idea that the grant of an injunction is likely to result in the closure of the defendant’s polluting exercise (the closure theory). Secondly, it will simulate thinking and investment into new modes of business in a manner which eliminates or at least reduces pollution to acceptable (non-actionable) levels (the clean-up theory). Thirdly, there is the possibility that an injunction might force the defendant to relocate its place of business to an alternative area where the nature of the locality is such that the polluting activity would not constitute an actionable nuisance (relocation theory). Finally, the parties might enter into a post injunction bargain, whereby the claimant is paid to move on or waive their legal rights as suggested by Ronald Coase in his ground-breaking work, ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, (Coase theorem). Thus, while it is Pontin’s intention to produce a text of practical significance, useful to potential litigants as well as lawyers and academics, the discussion of each of the four cases is grounded in theory and the outcome of each case study is judged against the four hypotheses identified. 
*****
Across the cases, the emphasis of the contextual discussion varies considerably; the chapter discussing Attorney General v Birmingham Corporation (1858–1895) focuses on the life and career of the claimant, Sir Charles Adderley. While he has faded into relative obscurity, Adderley is described by Pontin as a figure comparable to Rachel Carson and Gro Harlem Brundtland for his contribution to the enactment of the Public Health Act 1875 (p 59). In contrast, the claimant in Halsey v Esso Petroleum Ltd (1961–1972) is given scant attention and instead the background discussion is concentrated on national economic policy. The focus of each chapter is presumably shaped by the available archival material: it is safe to assume that the life of a former parliamentarian and cabinet minister (Adderley) has been recorded in considerably more depth than that of a Fulham van driver (Halsey). Regardless of the differing emphasis of each chapter, the contextual discussion is fascinating and more importantly, it is always enlightening.
The conclusion to each case study returns to the four hypotheses identified in the introduction. Of these, only the closure theory is discredited; the post-injunction investigation reveals that in none of the four cases was the defendant forced out of business. There is evidence, to a greater or lesser extent, to support the clean-up theory (Birmingham and Halsey), the relocation theory (Tipping v St Helens Smelting Co Ltd (1863-1884) and eventually Halsey) and in Farnworth v Manchester Corporation (1928–1930), the parties entered into a Coasian bargain, albeit that an agreement was reached after 40 years of negotiation! Significantly, in each case the injunction was suspended, thereby providing the defendant with the necessary time to find an alternative to outright closure. As Pontin notes: ‘The costs to industry were bearable, and indeed in each case the defendant had a choice as to compliance. Thus, the law afforded them a measure of flexibility’ (p 167). 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

After the Grizzly

The recent issue of American Historical Review has a review by Kevin Armitage of Peter Alagona's After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California (University of California Press, 2013) (we covered an earlier review here). Armitage writes:
The book argues that the ESA ensnared developers and environmentalists in familiar standoffs, and that battles over endangered species drove new law, science, and land-use policy. From these conflicts emerged the concept of “protected natural areas,” one of the dominant tools for species management, but one that Alagona thoroughly questions. Alagona notes how habitat protection alone cannot account for diseases, invasive species, the complexities of species interaction, and even how historic land-use patterns may or may not provide species habitat. This superb volume is an excellent history of California wildlife and shows how environmental history can prompt a fundamental reevaluation of public policy and scientific debates.
After the Grizzly is not an exhaustive history of wildlife in California, providing, instead, detailed case studies of four species—not the eponymous grizzly, but the California condor, the Mojave Desert tortoise, the San Joaquin kit fox, and the delta smelt—to exemplify the science and politics of wildlife conservation. Grizzlies, however, remain an important part of Alagona's story. Extinct in California for most of the twentieth century, grizzlies still haunt the state. They are emblematically abundant, a symbol of statehood, a creature at once adopted and eradicated. But the fate of this species does not fit into a simple morality tale of environmental decline. The grizzly, as well as the other species Alagona discusses, came to embody debates that are as much about “the politics of place as about wild animals” (p. 41). The politics of endangered species thus became the politics of endangered habitats, which in turn helped elevate the concept of habitat in legal doctrine and ecological science.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mono Lake at 20

A favorite of environmentalists, environmental law professors, and students is the California Supreme Court's 1983 decision in the Mono Lake Case, applying the public trust doctrine in a particularly emphatic way on the side of ecological values. Anyone who's read the case knows that the court didn't apply the trust in a strong, "property" sort of way, but rather sent the issue back to the administrative agency to reconsider diversions from the lake, giving due weight to the values protected by the trust. So what actually happened afterwards?

On November 17 Berkeley Law will be holding a symposium on the issue, "Mono Lake at 20: Past, Present and Future". Note that the "20" is not since the famous court decision, but the 20th anniversary of the ensuing State Water Resources Control Board’s Decision 1631. Michael Kiparsky explains at Legal Planet:
In 1983 the California Supreme Court directed the SWRCB to amend Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s water rights to protect Mono Lake and its tributary creeks. In 1994, the SWRCB issued Decision 1631, its landmark decision in the Mono Lake Cases. The decision was the first in the state’s history to integrate the Water Code, Fish and Game Code, and the common law of public trust, to achieve such a result.
The symposium will address a number of fundamental questions. What are the actual results of implementation of D-1631? What does the decision mean for other water rights, as the State Water Board seeks to determine how best to protect public trust uses of the Delta and Central Valley rivers....
This effort will extend the academic symposia at UC Davis in 1980 and 2011 in several intentional ways. Building on the doctrinal syntheses of the Public Trust Doctrine developed by the scholars at UC Davis, we will seek to move from problem definition towards solutions statements. The symposium will do so by bringing together panelists from multiple perspectives to distill lessons learned from twenty years of concerted effort, placing them in the context of institutional, fiscal, and ecological realities.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Environmental law in India

Saumya Umashankar has posted "Evolution of Environmental Policy and Law in India". The abstract:
The paper examines the evolution of environmental policy and law in India and the dominant influences that defined the course of policy. It identifies four distinct phases – the colonial and immediate post-colonial phase, the second phase commencing from the UN Conference on Human Environment in 1972, the Bhopal Gas leak disaster marking the milestone for the third phase and judicial activism extending over two decades as the fourth phase. In the initial colonial and post-colonial phase, environment policy was centered around State rights over forests and usage of forest produce. The dominant themes were revenue accretion and usage of forest products to fulfill development needs specifically in the spread of the railways and communication network. The post-colonial phase immediately after Independence in 1947 did not see a significant shift from the colonial period. The UN Conference on Human Environment in 1972 marked a significant milestone that changed the course of environment policy forever. The presence and participation of the Prime Minister of India in the Conference deliberations brought an immediate response in Government’s focus towards conservation actions. The period from 1972 to 1980 saw a large number of legislations being enacted. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster was a defining movement in India’s environmental history. The inadequacy of the governance structure in prevention of the disaster, the inability of legal and administrative processes to deliver adequate compensation to the affected people and stirring of public consciousness about the threats posed by environmental negligence came together to reshape environmental policy. A chemical leak incident in the national capital shortly after the Bhopal disaster and the death of a practicing advocate in the incident became the trigger for judicial involvement in environmental matters. The source of policy developments in environment decisively shifted from an elected political executive to an unelected judiciary. International debates on climate change in recent years and commitments to abatement measures appeared only at the fringes of policy discussions. The paper narrates the progression of environment policy and law in India in each of these phases.
Mining in Goa (Sugandh Juneja)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Memoriam: Frank Grad

Columbia Law School notes the recent passing of Professor Emeritus Frank Grad. Some excerpts from the press release:
Born in Austria in 1924, Grad immigrated to the United States in 1939 to escape Nazism. He and his sister left Austria on the Kindertransport, and Grad lived with a family in England before coming to the U.S. 
*****
In 1959, Grad was given the task of revising the New York City Health Code, including provisions relating to water pollution and its prevention, control of sewage fallouts, and the control of toxic substances and poisons. The code also included numerous provisions relating to the protection of food and water supplies against contamination by pollutants.
*****
In 1969, Grad became director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund and a full-time faculty member. He chose to take on classes in an emerging area in which his expertise would prove invaluable: environmental law. Grad was the first to teach the subject at Columbia Law School and, when he couldn’t find any materials to teach with, he wrote one of the earliest books on the subject. 
“Frank Grad was one of the true pioneers in the study and teaching of environmental law,” said Michael B. Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and director of the Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “The field's seminal year was 1970 (when President Nixon created the EPA and signed the first major laws of the modern era), and Frank was out of the box with one of the first casebooks in 1971, and then one of the first treatises in 1973.  He trained generations of environmental lawyers.”
Grad updated his eight-volume Treatise on Environmental Law twice a year.
According to a December 20, 1969, article in The New York Times, “Environmental Law is Attracting Students,” 69 students applied to be in Grad’s 18-seat first course. “The school, in an unusual relaxation of its rules, will permit 30 students to take the course,” the Times wrote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stone Age environmental law

Environmentalists are sometimes accused of wanting to return to the Stone Age. Here's a fascinating, recently posted article--Ryan Soa's "Droughts, Floods, and Wildfires: Paleo Perspectives on Disaster Law in the Anthropocene"--that argues that the problem with modern American environmental law is precisely that it neglects the coping strategies of hunter-gatherer societies in favor of patterns of behavior adopted in the wake of the neolithic revolution. From the article's conclusion:
Hundreds of thousands of years of hunter-gatherers survived, and in some ways evolved as a result of, extreme droughts, floods, and wildfires. They did so despite extraordinary ecological changes they could not dream of controlling, adapting themselves to the new realities of their environment. Some approaches worked, and inevitably some did not. But a hominid record that stretches millions of years reveals a model for resilience to extreme natural events like droughts, floods, and wildfires. First and foremost, they were mobile. For some hunter-gatherer societies this meant the entire community migrated to a more favorable environment; for others, the relocations were temporary. Whatever the extent, societies that prioritized mobility were successful in removing people and assets from harm’s way. Second, their approaches were diversified. Societies were adept at recognizing and exploiting many potential food sources and ecosystem services. Mobility and diversification, in turn, were made possible by a sophisticated awareness of the surrounding environment. Ecological changes and opportunities were recognized and effectively integrated into community decision-making processes. These characteristics of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer – mobility, diversification, and awareness – allowed societies to survive for thousands if not millions of years. 
Neolithic tools
The Neolithic Revolution brought a fundamental shift to the human lifestyle. Agricultural systems require settlement and management of a static area. When a drought, flood, or wildfire strikes the region, escape to more favorable conditions is not possible. The vulnerabilities of this approach are exacerbated by reliance on one or a limited number of short-sighted resilience strategies, such as cutting down a forest or building a dam. What mitigation options remain are not capitalized on due to a low level of awareness of the surrounding environment and its feedbacks, or an inability to effectively translate awareness into meaningful policy change. These characteristics of vulnerable civilizations are apparent in the legal frameworks of the United States. The totality of drought, flood, and wildfire laws and policies conform to three basic approaches: 1) controlling nature; 2) spreading risk across society; and 3) providing ex-post disaster relief. The first approach utilizes impressive feats of human engineering and ingenuity, but inadequately considers the consequences of modifying natural systems. Relying on infrastructure is equally problematic because built structures are prone to deteriorate and fail.Spreading risks across society by subsidizing insurance premiums for people and property in high-risk areas is compassionate and may promote other policy interests, but for purposes of building resilience to extreme natural events is not productive, and may in fact be counterproductive. The current trend of distributing generous disaster relief packages to affected communities is similarly compassionate but ineffectual in building resilience. Taken together the paradigm of disaster law in the United States boils down to strategies that control nature or, should that fail, reactively soften the blow.
...It is unlikely that the highly populated agricultural societies of the Anthropocene will return to a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle. Nonetheless, millions of years of human evolution and adaptation to droughts, floods, and wildfires tells a success story that has long been overlooked. For the sake of our collective resilience to extreme events, we would be wise to take another look. Despite the contrast in lifestyles, droughts, floods, and wildfires have been a constant feature of humans in their environment. The resilience model of the past provides a paleo perspective on contemporary legal frameworks, and can helpfully inform the future.

Monday, October 13, 2014

More on the Wilderness Act

Actually, more from Environmental Law's special issue on the Wilderness Act: John Leshy has posted "Legal Wilderness: Its Past and Some Speculations on Its Future". The abstract:
This Article considers the past and possible future of the effort to provide legal protection for tracts of federal lands under the umbrella of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Because legal protection comes through the political process, the task requires examining the politics of wilderness. Therefore, the Article spends considerable time looking at the political forces that led up to enactment of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and have shaped its implementation in the half-century that has followed. It explores the political compromises contained in the Wilderness Act, and how these have worked out in practice. It discusses how the legal meaning of wilderness has been shaped since enactment, and how successful the idea of legally protecting wild values has been. It also puts the Wilderness Act in the broader context of changes in federal land management policy since 1964. For example, whereas in 1964 wilderness designation was just about the only reasonably secure way to protect land from road building and other forms of intensive development, today many legal tools are available to accomplish it. Finally, the Article discusses current and likely future challenges to wilderness protection, some but not all of which stem from a destabilizing climate. The cumulative effect of these and other factors identified in the paper has already slowed down expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and will likely continue to do so. Nevertheless, the System stands as a monumental achievement, expressing some of the more high-minded objectives of American political culture.
Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon (Lake Wallpapers)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Environmental-policy-relevant history

I suspect we'll be hearing a lot in the coming months about The History Manifesto by David Armitage and Jo Guldi (Cambridge UP, forthcoming, available already for free on line). In the meantime Armitage gives us a preview in The Guardian, including this on history and current environmental policy (links added):
Debates on climate change also reflect the advantages and the limitations of historical perspective. On the one hand, Barack Obama’s former undersecretary for science in the US energy department, Steven Koonin, has recently argued for humility about future policy because we lack long-run data about the role of the oceans in climate change: “Precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades.” On the other, historical economist Anil Markandya has shown that environmental regulation in 19th-century Britain did not have “any serious impact on GDP per capita”, overturning the orthodoxy that there is a necessary trade-off between growth and environmental protection. Meanwhile, French historians Sabine Barles and Gilles Billen have examined Paris’s “nitrogen footprint” to show how urban managers there invented sustainable practices for recycling waste in large cities: these are precedents relevant to practice and policy today.

UK sulfur emissions/capita, real GDP/capita, selected air pollution regulations
(Markandya et al, Envtl & Resource Econ (2006) 35: 221-257)