Category Archives: Environment

Most States Are Combating Climate Change and Growing Their Economies

Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, December 8, 2016

But a new report, released right after Trump nominated a climate skeptic to lead the EPA, shows that some states still have rising emissions.
Growth, carbon, and Trump: State progress and drift on economic growth and emissions ‘decoupling’
Source: Devashree Saha and Mark Muro, Brookings Institution, December 8, 2016

…..With the stunning election of Donald Trump to the presidency, every aspect of the low-carbon paradigm for national and world progress has been thrown into doubt, starting with the federal government’s support of the quest to “decarbonize” the economy by decoupling economic growth from emissions growth.

All of which raises the question of how resilient the decarbonization paradigm is at the state and local level. Given their substantial powers to encourage emissions decoupling, states and cities are crucial players in the carbon drama. Therefore, it is worth assessing whether states’ and localities’ momentum on decoupling is strong enough to maintain recent progress.

And so this brief takes a look at state-level decoupling trends by matching data on real GDP growth between 2000 and 2014 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia with data on energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for the same years and locations. In doing so, the brief provides an initial baseline look at the pace and geography of state-side decoupling and decarbonization—with an eye to assessing state-level momentum on the brink of federal pull-back…..

Boomtown, Flood Town

Source: Neena Satija for The Texas Tribune and Reveal; Kiah Collier for The Texas Tribune; and Al Shaw for ProPublica, December 7, 2016

Climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston. But unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone. ….

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues

Source: Mary Tiemann, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report, RS22037, November 8, 2016

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the federal authority for regulating contaminants in public water supplies. It includes the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program, established in 1996 to help public water systems finance infrastructure projects needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet the SDWA’s health objectives. Under this program, states receive annual capitalization grants to provide financial assistance (primarily subsidized loans) to public water systems for drinking water projects and other specified activities. Between FY1997 and FY2015, Congress had appropriated approximately $20 billion, and more than 12,400 projects had received assistance through the program.

The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of capital improvement needs indicates that public water systems need to invest $384.2 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the provision of safe tap water. EPA reports that, although all of the identified projects promote the public health objectives of the SDWA, just $42.0 billion (10.9%) of reported needs are attributable to SDWA compliance. A study by the American Water Works Association projects that restoring aging infrastructure and expanding water systems to keep up with population growth would require a nationwide investment of at least $1 trillion through 2035……

A Law of Just Transitions?: Putting Labor Law to Work on Climate Change

Source: David J. Doorey, Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 35/2016, October 26, 2015 (Last revised: April 19, 2016)

From the abstract:
Climate change will dramatically affect labor markets, but labor law scholars have mostly ignored it. Environmental law scholars are concerned with climate change, but they lack expertise in the complexities of regulating the labor relationship. Neither legal field is equipped to deal adequately with the challenge of governing the effects of climate change on labor markets, employers, and workers. This essay argues that a legal field organized around the concept of a ‘just transition’ to a lower carbon economy could bring together environmental law, labor law, and environment justice scholars in interesting and valuable ways. “Just transitions” is a concept originally developed by the North American labor movement, but has since been endorsed by important global institutions including the International Labour Organization and the U.N. Environmental Program. However, the prescriptions that would guide a policy of just transition have been under-explored in the legal literature. This paper marks an important early contribution to this challenge. It explores the factual and normative boundaries of a legal field called Just Transitions Law and questions whether such a field would offer any new, valuable insights into the challenge of regulating a response to climate change.

Blue Cities, Red States

Source: Abby Rapoport, American Prospect, August 22, 2016

As cities have moved left and states have moved right, the conflicts between them have escalated. ….

…..“PREEMPTION” LAWS ARE not new, nor are they necessarily about undoing local legislation. But with some notable exceptions, past preemption laws have generally enforced what can be called “minimum preemption”: They force localities to do something where they might otherwise have done little or nothing. As it’s often said, they set a “floor” for regulation. For instance, the federal government has been setting minimum standards of environmental protection for years, preempting the states from allowing lower environmental standards. Similarly, states often set a floor for various local regulations, whether regarding pollution, trade licensing, gun ownership, or other matters.

Most current preemption laws, by contrast, are what one might call “maximum preemption.” These laws aren’t about setting minimums; instead, they prohibit local regulation. States have prevented localities from creating paid sick leave requirements for businesses, or raising the minimum wage. Many who oppose these measures blame their proliferation on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, which has drafted “model” preemption bills for state lawmakers to use. “Pretty much anything you can think of that matters to the American family is under assault by local preemption,” says Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which fights preemption laws around the country……

Fire Departments, Airports and Military Bases May Be More Toxic to Workers Than You Think

Source: Elizabeth Grossman, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, August 11, 2016

Drinking water supplies for at least six million Americans contain toxic industrial chemicals at levels that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended safety limit. This number is likely an underestimate since the information available through the EPA does not include data for about one-third of Americans—those 100 million or more people who rely on private wells or the vast majority of public water systems that serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less. These are the conclusions of a new study whose authors include scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of California at Berkeley and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The study “is just showing us the tip of the iceberg,” says author Philippe Grandjean, Harvard T.H. Chan adjunct professor of environmental health and University of Southern Denmark professor of environmental medicine. What also remains largely undocumented is the extent of exposure to workers on the frontline of this chemical use.

While industrial sites were previously recognized as sources of these highly fluorinated, toxic and environmentally-persistent compounds, this is the first nationwide study to document that wastewater treatment plants, along with military bases and airports where these chemicals are used in fire-fighting foams, are also contributing significantly to drinking water contamination. The study reports groundwater and surface water near some of these bases and airports with concentrations of these chemicals 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water….
Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants
Source: Xindi C. Hu, David Q. Andrews, Andrew B. Lindstrom, Thomas A. Bruton, Laurel A. Schaider, Philippe Grandjean, Rainer Lohmann, Courtney C. Carignan, Arlene Blum, Simona A. Balan, Christopher P. Higgins, and Elsie M. Sunderland, Environmental Science & Technology Letters, August 9, 2016
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Fractured Relationships: Exploring Municipal Defiance in Colorado, Texas, and Ohio

Source: Jonathan M. Fisk, State and Local Government Review, Vol. 48 no. 2, June 2016
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From the abstract:
Municipalities are on fracking’s front lines. Unlike the extraction techniques of the past, many of today’s operations are located within a mile or two of residential areas. Yet, little scholarly attention has been paid to the factors that can precipitate municipal challenges to the state’s authority. For some, the decision to oppose the state may be related to environmental concerns, while in other communities, leaders are much more concerned about how development impacts homeowners. Recognizing this debate, this article examines local defiance in the era of fracking with a sample of Colorado, Texas, and Ohio communities.

Utilities Pay Up

Source: Sarah Anderson, Janet Redman, and Scott Klinger, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), July 2016

From the summary:
How ending tax dodging by America’s electric utilities can help fund a job-creating, clean energy transition. … As this report documents, our nation’s utilities companies have become expert tax dodgers at the federal and state levels. Meanwhile, utilities collect taxes at the full rate from customers. This means customers are paying twice — once as ratepayers through the taxes in their monthly utilities bills and a second time as taxpayers when they have to make up for public service funding gaps because utilities are not paying their fair share of taxes. While the Clean Power Plan remains tied up in the courts, climate threats compel us to find ways to reduce carbon emissions quickly. One strategy policymakers should consider is denying utilities costly and ineffective tax breaks, with revenue invested in demand-side energy efficiency programs that create good jobs and reduce energy bills for low-income families. This report calculates how much additional revenue would be available for investment in energy efficiency if utilities paid their fair share of taxes….

Key Findings:
Utilities Are Even Better at Tax-Dodging than Multinationals
– The utilities industry pays the lowest effective federal tax rate of any business sector — more than half of profitable publicly held utilities companies paid no federal income taxes in 2015.
– Southern Company, a fierce Clean Power Plan opponent, is one of the worst offenders, reaping in $210 million in federal and state tax refunds in 2015.
– Special tax rules allow utilities to write off the cost of their investments faster than the wear out, giving them billions in benefits.
Potential Revenue if Utilities Were Taxed Fairly
– If the 40 profitable utilities in 2015 paid the average rate of taxes that retailers paid at the federal and state levels, there would have been more than $14 billion in additional revenue.
Energy Efficiency Costs That Could Be Covered By Fairly Taxing Utilities
– The $14 billion in extra revenue that could have been generated through fair taxation is nearly double the amount state governments and utilities spent on energy efficiency in 2015  — enough to create more than 88,000 energy efficiency jobs, or weatherize homes for up to 3 million low-income families.

Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys

Source: Todd E. Vachon and Jeremy Brecher, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 41 no. 2, June 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study examines the relationship between unionization and environmental attitudes and behaviors in two national surveys. We begin by comparing the responses of union versus nonunion respondents to sixteen environmental questions in the General Social Survey for various years between 1993 and 2010. Overall, union members are, on average, slightly more likely than the general population to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors—having moderately greater mean values for ten of the sixteen pro-environmental items and displaying no difference on the remaining six items. Next, we look at three environmental questions in the American National Election Studies in various years between 1980 and 2012 and find union members on average to be more likely to support environmentalism than the general population for all three items. Finally, we conduct a robustness check by reducing the sample to just employed workers for each of the surveys and find the results to be substantively similar to those for the general population. This study contributes to the ongoing “jobs vs. the environment” debate as well as discussions about the ability of the labor and environmental movements to work together as a broad-based progressive movement for social change.