Environmental Law


Making It Easy to be Green: Using Impact Fees to Encourage Green Building

Benjamin S. Kingsley

Green building—the construction of buildings designed to minimize environmental impact and resource use—has become significantly more common in the past decade. Many local and state governments have enacted policies designed to stimulate green building. These policies generally include information provision, subsidies for private green development, and outright greenness requirements for all government buildings. Despite this growing commitment from government, as well as substantial evidence that green buildings are financially beneficial for private owners, the private sector has been slow to embrace green building. This Note argues that barriers to innovation in the real estate industry have rendered ineffective these local government attempts to stimulate green building and suggests that impact fees—fees imposed by local governments on land use development—will be more successful in pushing private real estate developers to build green. Although the use of these fees is subject to both state and federal constitutional constraints, an appropriately designed fee can maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of this proposal while also ensuring that the fees are constitutional.

Limiting Preemption in Environmental Law: An Analysis of the Cost-Externalization Argument and California Assembly Bill 1493

Brian T. Burgess

In recent decades, states have exhibited remarkable leadership in environmental policy. This leadership is threatened by federal ceiling preemption, which prevents states from adopting regulations that exceed federal standards. While environmental law scholars have argued that the rise in federal ceiling preemption will undermine environmental policy, these critics have failed to take the arguments in favor of preemption seriously. Specifically, they have not addressed the risk that states may adopt tough environmental regulations because they can externalize costs to other states, or that a single, large, pro-regulatory state like California could effectively dictate excessively stringent national standards. This Note presents a more principled case against federal ceiling preemption in environmental law and contends that the cost-externalization argument’s practical application is limited. It illustrates this primarily through an extended case study of California’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The Note argues that state regulations that provide manufacturers with sufficient flexibility to meet standards without disrupting economies of scale can largely avoid externalizing costs to out- of-state consumers. It further contends that states may have to consider the interests of out-of-state producers when issuing regulations because, among other reasons, compliance costs will be partly internalized by in-state consumers and shareholders. The Note concludes that the merits of the cost-externalization argument must be carefully weighed against the benefits of decentralized policymaking in order to yield optimal environmental policy.

Are Tradable Carbon Emissions Credits Investments? Characterization and Ramifications Under International Investment Law

Lisa Bennett

Implementation of carbon emissions trading schemes such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme requires consideration of how to properly characterize the newly-created emissions credits under various domestic and international law frameworks. Notably absent from the literature on emissions trading is an analysis of whether emissions credits can be characterized as investments, thereby implicating international investment law protections against expropriation and discrimination and giving rise to guarantees of fair and equitable treatment. This Note analyzes the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes’s objective definition of “investment” as well as treaty-specific definitions of “investment” and concludes that carbon credits are properly considered investments. Next, the Note considers the types of investor claims that could be brought against host states if carbon credits are treated as investments. Because of the potential costs to host states in defending against such claims, states’ willingness to adopt carbon trading schemes may be chilled. This risk of regulatory chill, coupled with the global importance of national measures to combat climate change, counsels in favor of limiting the scope of rights afforded to investors. This Note therefore concludes by setting out a range of proposals for enacting such limits.

Bundling Public and Private Goods: The Market for Sustainable Organics

Margot J. Pollans

Modern agriculture has vast environmental externalities. The pesticides, fertilizers, and sediments in irrigation runoff pollute surface and groundwater; single-crop farms destroy biodiversity; and massive amounts of fossil fuels are burned in agricultural production, post-harvest processing, and shipping. Nevertheless, farming operations have largely escaped the post-1970 expansion of federal environmental regulation. Compounding the problem, federal farm policy has encouraged the very farming practices that most cause this degradation.

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), which created an organic food certification and labeling system. While OFPA’s primary purposes are to facilitate the growth of the organic sector and to protect consumers, this Note suggests that the Act’s secondary purpose, underimplemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to foster sustainable farming practices. This Note explores whether the OFPA’s organic labeling system does or could fill the regulatory gap described above.

This Note finds that under current standards the labeling program does not foster sustainable farming, not only because of shortfalls with the standards themselves but also because the market suffers from a freerider problem: Organic foods cost more, but consumers do not want to pay more for dispersed public benefits. Strengthening the standards would drive up production costs and exacerbate the freerider problem, but this Note argues that the USDA could mitigate the resulting decline in demand by taking advantage of the fact that organic products bundle sustainability, a public good for which people are not willing to pay much, with health, a private good for which many people are willing to pay more.

Improving the Protection of Species Endangered in the United States by Revising the Distinct Population Segment Policy

Allison L. Westfahl Kong

While one primary goal of the Endangered Species Act is to prevent the global extinction of species, it is less clear whether the Act is intended, and can be used, to protect species that are endangered solely within the United States. Although the global preservation of species may be sufficient to achieve many of the goals of the Endangered Species Act, some goals may only be completely served by ensuring that certain populations of species occur within the United States, even if the animals are abundant elsewhere. The current Distinct Population Segment Policy being used by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether to list domestic populations of species as threatened or endangered only allows the agencies to protect these population segments if they are significant to the species’ taxon as a whole. This Note argues that this policy should be changed because there are many compelling reasons to protect domestic populations of particular species, even if these species are abundant elsewhere, and suggests criteria that should be used to determine whether a particular population segment should be protected, including the species’ conservation status and importance to the American people. It also demonstrates that this proposal would be consistent with the goals of the Endangered Species Act.

The Tailoring Rule: Mending the Conflict Between Plain Text and Agency Resource Constraints

Kirti Datla

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the Tailoring
Rule. The Rule “tailors” the numeric triggers for permitting requirements in the
Clean Air Act by revising the numbers upward by several orders of magnitude.
EPA argued that doing so was necessary to avoid the impossible administrative
burden that would result from having to carry out the plain text of the Act as
applied to greenhouse gases. At first glance, the Tailoring Rule seems to be a classic
case of an agency exceeding its authority and subverting congressional intent. Upon
further examination, it becomes clear that EPA is grappling with an important issue
that current administrative law doctrine fails to adequately address: What should an
agency do when it does not have the resources to carry out all of its required duties?
This Note argues that courts should use the rationale of administrative necessity to
allow agencies to openly demonstrate that it would be impossible to fully carry out
their nondiscretionary statutory duties. Upon that demonstration, courts should
allow agencies to promulgate regulations that propose a solution to that

Toxic Assets: The EPA’s Settlement of CERCLA Claims in Bankruptcy

Scott E. Blair

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent settlement of environmental
cleanup claims against Asarco, the highest such settlement in history, highlights the
incongruity between the tools at the Agency’s disposal to recover cleanup costs and
its actual behavior in pursuing such claims. The Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1990 (CERCLA) provides statutory
authority that should allow EPA to force polluters to fully bear the burden of
cleaning up pollution. However, despite EPA’s relative success against solvent
responsible parties, EPA appears to be less aggressive in pursuing CERCLA
claims against insolvent polluters, even though the Bankruptcy Code provides additional
tools to give EPA an advantage relative to creditors. This Note explains the
statutory advantages that EPA has under CERCLA and the Bankruptcy Code, and
then explores how EPA fails to behave like a rational economic actor in pursuing
its CERCLA claims. I conclude by positing political factors and budget shortfalls
as two potential explanations of EPA’s behavior.

Judicial Review and the Humane Treatment of Animals

Craig A. Wenner

Humans have a complicated relationship with animals. Animals are at the same
time companions, food, subjects of research, and competitors for resources. Determining
how we should treat them in these different contexts—setting the standards
that capture our concern for their welfare—is difficult. Our contemporary scientific
understanding of animal behavior and physiology should ultimately inform our
standards for animal welfare. However, what science cannot determine is how
much concern we should have in the first place.

This Note focuses on those laws that aim to set humane standards for the treatment
and care of animals. When legislatures place the burden of setting those standards
on administrative agencies, courts should ensure that the meaning of “humane”
relied upon by an agency reflects more than science alone. Through examining a
recent opinion of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, this Note argues that such
standards must incorporate the social value that we place on mitigating animal pain
and suffering and provides examples of how such value should be measured. Furthermore,
judicial review of agency action can be conducted in a manner that both
respects the institutional role of the court and ensures that agencies have actually
made tough ethical decisions.

Sinking Islands? Formulating a Realistic Solution to Climate Change Displacement

Sheila C. McAnaney

Forced migration from climate change has been a hot topic in academia and the media for almost two decades, partly because it puts a human face on the otherwise science heavy issue of climate change. Academics have put forward a number of international solutions for resettling displaced persons and financially supporting them and their host countries. However, these proposals often fail to account for the nature and scope of likely migration and the political realities of the international community. This Note adds to the literature by developing a framework for assessing the responsiveness and viability of any proposed solution to gaps in protection for climate displaced persons. It develops five principles based on a realistic examination of the nature and scope of climate displacement and the political realities of the climate regime, and it then evaluates leading academic proposals against those principles to discover which elements are the most efficient and realistic. Finally, this Note concludes by suggesting one possible nontreaty proposal that meets all five principles and fills existing gaps in protection.

Mending Guatemala’s Tourism Industry Through Private Regulation

Christina M. Argueta

Tourism is an increasingly important source of capital in numerous developing nations, and it accounts for an inflow of nearly $1.4 billion to Guatemala each year. Yet tourism also carries with it negative side effects, principally environmental and cultural degradation. International NGOs working in Guatemala tout a preservationist brand of tourism, yet anthropologists and environmentalists have documented how the tourism industry—and the NGOs that compose it—continually fall short of preservationist goals. This Note suggests that a solution to the industry’s harms lies in private regulation, specifically in a tourism-specific code of conduct. This Note demonstrates how a code would fit within the industry’s current regulatory scheme, explains why the NGOs that dominate the industry would adhere to a code, and identifies specific provisions that should be included in a code to directly target tourism’s environmental and cultural harms.