With the tremendous potential that comes with the green economy, so also come many challenges, such as managing environmental policies, corporate contracts, manufacturing agreements, and so on. The new economy is going to also require a great deal of understanding when it comes to the rule of law, the essence of which will help bind all of us together in understanding what it is going to take to move forward in a clear and concise manner that will allow our efforts to be protected and safe.
Sustainable Law will help shine the light on some of the cutting edge issues that will challenge us, and how we may go about managing them before they become unmanageable. We will also provide our visitors with the opportunity to get to know some of the leading professionals when it comes to all aspects of environmental, green, and sustainable law.
Can the Standing Rock coalition claim victory, or is it just a temporary pause to defuse tensions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? On Sunday December 4, the U.S. Army released the following:
"The Department of the Army will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army's Assistant Secretary for Civil Works announced today.
Jo-Ellen Darcy said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. Her office had announced on November 14, 2016 that it was delaying the decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing. Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.
"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."
Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis."
This decision came with many cheering, including actor and long time environmental activist, Mark Rufalo, who said, “Dakota Access Pipeline Denied by Army Corps of Engineers! No win is ever permanent but we can rejoice today because together we created greater justice in the world, we opened the door to heal the old wounds sustained by our indigenous people. President Obama will leave the White House as a great chief of America for this. We must all thank the Native Youth who started this movement who started the camp and ran all over the USA to stop this from happening. It is for them, the unborn and the voiceless that we persist in the struggle. We must also have compassion for the Police who were on the other side of this struggle but are still our brothers and sisters.”
As far as the developer’s concerns, Energy Transfer Partners remained committed to the project without a reroute. "The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions," the statement read, "by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency."
We’ll continue to watch how this story evolves it seems that this ultimately will play out in court and what ever decision prevails one side will feel the loss.
Ten years in prison for multi-state
biodiesel fraud scheme
Photo Credit: United Soybean Board
Sustainable crime: a terrible thought but an unfortunate reality.
Last week, Thomas Davanzo of Estero, Florida, and Robert Fedyna of Naples, Florida, were sentenced to 121 months and 135 months in prison, respectively, for their participation in a multi-state scheme to defraud biodiesel buyers and U.S. taxpayers by fraudulently selling biodiesel credits and fraudulently claiming tax credits, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida. Both defendants were also ordered to forfeit ill-gotten gains from the conspiracy of over $46 million and other items to the government, including gold coins, jewelry and Rolex watches, thoroughbred horses, vehicles and properties.
Davanzo and Fedyna operated several shell companies that were used to facilitate the scheme. As part of the scheme, Davanzo and Fedyna operated entities that purported to purchase renewable fuel, on which credits had been claimed and which was ineligible for additional credits, produced by their co-conspirators at Gen-X Energy Group (Gen-X), headquartered in Pasco, Washington, and its subsidiary, Southern Resources and Commodities (SRC), located in Dublin, Georgia. They then used a series of false transactions to transform the fuel back into feedstock needed for the production of renewable fuel, and sold it back to Gen-X or SRC, allowing credits to be claimed again. This cycle was repeated multiple times.
“This case shows that EPA is committed to eliminating fraud in the renewable fuels market and ensuring a level playing field for businesses that play by the rules,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The sentences handed down show the serious nature of these crimes and that EPA will continue to hold criminals accountable.”
“In their pursuit of personal gain, the defendants perpetrated a multi-state conspiracy that defrauded and undermined a federal program intended to further the energy independence of our nation,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “Today’s sentence is a just punishment for these serious crimes against the American people.”
In addition, both Davanzo and Fedyna laundered the proceeds of the scheme through various shell entities. Davanzo and Fedyna established bank accounts in the names of shell entities. Funds were cycled through these shell companies’ bank accounts to perpetuate the fraud scheme and conceal its proceeds.
Davanzo and Fedyna also directed and participated in the generation of false paperwork designed to create the façade that the renewable identification number (or RIN, a serial number used to track biodiesel credits) created and claimed by co-conspirators were legitimate. The paperwork included false invoices from Gen-X or SRC to shell entities, which purported to show sales of renewable fuel, false invoices from shell entities to Gen-X and SRC, which purported to show the purchase of feedstock and false bills of lading, which purported to show the transportation of fuel and feedstock by tanker truck.
From March 2013 to March 2014, the co-conspirators generated at least 60 million RINs that were based on fuel that was either never produced or was merely re-processed at the Gen-X or SRC facilities. The co-conspirators received at least $42 million from the sale of these fraudulent RINs to third parties. In addition, Gen-X received approximately $4,360,724.50 in false tax credits for this fuel.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Environmental Protection Agency -Criminal Investigation Division, and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Sara C. Sweeney and Megan Kistler and Trial Attorney Adam Cullman of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.
Puerto Rican Business Groups File Legal Challenge to Hike In Electric Rates Forced By PREPA
A group of nine leading Puerto Rico industry and business associations are joining in an unprecedented legal challenge to a Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) move to impose the first in a series of unlimited, "blank check" rate increases under the controversial debt-restructuring agreement for Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
Available online at www.icsepr.org, the filing -- made jointly by the Institute for Competitiveness and Sustainable Economy of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, the United Retailers or "Centro Unido de Detallistas," the Puerto Rico Products Association, the Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution (MIDA), Puerto Rico Hospitals Association, the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association, the Asociación de Constructores de Puerto Rico, and the Association of Contractors and Consultants of Renewable Energy -- seeks to block the rate hike that hinders the already weakened Puerto Rico economy and could unravel the PREPA debt deal.
If allowed to proceed, the initial 22 percent rate increase would be one of the largest in recent U.S. history to be imposed on a state-wide or territory-wide basis. The June 2016 order by the Puerto Rico Energy Commission provided for a new surcharge to service the $9-billion PREPA debt restructuring. PREPA requested that the complete financial cost of the restructuring is passed to the Puerto Rico energy consumers plus an additional increase on the base rate. PREPA is seeking to raise electricity prices by 22 percent in the first year of the plan or 4.2 cents/KWh, increasing the rates from 16.5 cents/kWh to 20.1 cents/kWh in 2017. The order also imposes the surcharges to energy generated by the consumer, "behind-the meter" generation, as renewable energy or other distributed generation means as co-generation.
"As approved, these charges are an unnecessary and direct hit to Puerto Rico's already struggling economy," said Tomas Torres, coordinator for ICES-PR. "It also goes against national and international market trends toward expansion of renewable energy and distributed generation. If electricity rates are allowed to continue to increase, and options for establishing own generation are blocked with excessive surcharges, production costs would considerably rise and Puerto Rico will lose competitiveness in the manufacturing and other important sectors of our economy, with fewer options for economic development."
Rodrigo Masses, president, Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, said: "None of us are against the restructuring of PREPA or a well-structured process that results in the long term benefit to all parties. Wall Street investors need to understand that short-term measures may result in an excessive financial burden resulting in the unraveling of the proposed restructuring process; and the financial banning of renewable and distributed energy, will not provide a medium- or long-term solution."
Luis Garden Acosta, president of El Puente and the Latino Climate Action Network, noted that Puerto Rico electricity rates are higher than anywhere on the U.S. mainland and said that PREPA's refinancing is occurring at the expense of Puerto Rican consumers and Puerto Rico's struggling economy. Acosta said: "The world is united in demanding that we all put aside our political ideologies and our immediate self-interest to work collectively to save our planet. Sadly, by their actions, PREPA stands as an institutional climate change denier. Their voice is demonstrably clear in calling for a plan that creates obstacles for communities and individuals to adopt solar, wind and other sustainable, renewable energy resources."
Garden cited recent research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) concluding that the refinancing was not done transparently and that it fails to achieve its stated goal of achieving financial stability for PREPA.
Tom Sanzillo, director of finance, IEFFA said: "Each quarter PREPA will be able to raise the Transition Charge without limit if conditions change. We have identified several conditions that are likely to change and drive the rate upward and create a blank check for rate increases. PREPA has stated that it is reducing debt levels, it is saving money and that their plan is the best plan possible. We do not agree that a plan that sends electricity rates back up at a time when even fossil fuel generation is cheaper is a good course. From a strictly financial perspective – PREPA's plan does not provide it with a path to re-enter the bond markets in order to fund its future. This plan leaves Puerto Rico in the shadows of a bad debt deal for the next 25 years and shuts it off from the sunlight that could power its future."
Edward Previdi, president, Association of Contractors and Consultants of Renewable Energy, said: "The Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority is launching a direct attack on renewable energy generation as well as any other form of auto-generation such as co-generation, fuel cells, etc. … Thousands of jobs, including those created by the construction and upkeep of green projects as well as jobs saved in businesses that are benefiting from net metering are being threatened right now by these retrograde measures taken by PREPA to protect their failing monopoly on electrical energy. We will fight these unjust charges at all venues available to assure that Puerto Rico stays in the World's mainstream of renewable energy production goals."
Carlos Nieves, director of servicing, District Council 9 Painters & Allied Trades, said: "When we knew about the renewable energy surcharge and the related rates increases that will be imposed in Puerto Rico, equal to approximately 20 percent of their current rate, to back-up a $9 billion debt restructuring process of the power utility, we cannot give them our support and solidarity. Those kind of things would not happen in the States. This seems to be an injustice being committed against 3.4 million of American citizens on the island."
Jessica Alba’s Honest Company Hit With Consumer Lawsuit
Can trying to do something good, go bad? It happens, but lets hope things work out for our friend Jessica Alba who is under fire after a consumer lawsuit has been launched against The Honest Company, Alba’s non-toxic household goods brand that focuses on ethical consumption and natural products. Unfortunately, some are claiming that the company isn’t so honest, after all.
A class action lawsuit for $5 million was filed against the company this month, claiming that certain “products described as ‘natural’ actually contain synthetic chemicals such as Methylisothiazolinone and Phenoxyethanol, both synthetic preservatives, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, a synthetic surfactant, and Sodium Polycrylate, a petrochemical-based additive.” The suit also claims that many products, including a sunscreen that many other costumers have complained about on review sites online, are being “deceptively and misleadingly labeled and marketed.” Yikes.
But Alba isn’t taking the lawsuit lightly—nor is she taking it sitting down, fighting back against the allegations with this personal statement in defense of her company’s integrity:
“Seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was frustrated by the lack of healthy and safe product options for me and my new family. In fact, prior to launching The Honest Company, I began lobbying Congress to require that ingredients used in everyday products are tested for safety prior to entry into the marketplace. I started The Honest Company to develop safe and effective products not just for my children, but for families everywhere. I am very proud that we have built this company into an industry leader focused on using natural ingredients and developing products that people love. We believe that consumers deserve to know what’s in their products—whether it’s diapers for their children, cleaning products for their families or beauty products for themselves. Our formulations are made with integrity and strict standards of safety, and we label each ingredient that goes into every product – not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Only time will tell how this one plays out, but for now we’ll give Jessica the benefit of the doubt!
Energy Future Coalition v. Environmental Protection Agency
Citation: 45 ELR 20135
No. 14-1123, (D.C. Cir., 07/14/2015)
The D.C. Circuit upheld an EPA regulation that requires automobile manufacturers to use "commercially available" fuel when testing the emissions of new vehicles under the CAA. Several producers of E30, a fuel that contains 30% ethanol, argued that a fuel shouldn't have to be commercially available in order to be approved as a test fuel. But the court disagreed. It is entirely "commonsensical and reasonable" for EPA to require vehicle manufacturers to use the same fuels in emissions testing that vehicles will use out on the road. Moreover, the CAA requires EPA's test fuel regulation to "reflect the actual current driving conditions under which motor vehicles are used, including conditions relating to fuel." As such, it is not arbitrary and capricious for EPA to fulfill that statutory mandate by requiring that test fuels be "commercially available." DOWNLOAD CASE
Worst Drought in 1,200 Years, California's Reality
Renewable Now always tries to stay positive when it comes to sharing stories but at the same time we can't turn away from stories that are both dire and that could have an impact on all of us. When you read the statement that Governor Brown's office shared with us you'll see he uses a strong visual example of how the drought has already changed California as he calls for action. California and Governor Brown may be on the front lines when it comes to evolving weather patterns due to climate change but hopefully their response will make a difference and the rest of us can be put on notice that this could happen in our own back yard if we don't act.
So how is California responding? Recently the state imposed the first mandatory water restrictions, as nearly 40 million people enter the fourth year of severe drought. Farmers, business owners, and residents will be forced to cut their usage by 25% as scientists warn of the worst drought in 1,200 years. (view report)
Following the lowest snowpack ever recorded and with no end to the drought in sight, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on April 1st announced actions that will save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state's drought response and invest in new technologies that will make California more drought resilient.
“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Governor Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”
For more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one. Last year, the Governor proclaimed a drought state of emergency. The state has taken steps to make sure that water is available for human health and safety, growing food, fighting fires and protecting fish and wildlife. Millions have been spent helping thousands of California families most impacted by the drought pay their bills, put food on their tables and have water to drink.
The following is a summary of the executive order issued by the Governor today.
For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.
To save more water now, the order will also:
Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.
The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.
Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state's ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.
Additional actions required by the order include:
Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.
Streamline Government Response
Prioritizes state review and decision-making of water infrastructure projects and requires state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending for more than 90 days.
Streamlines permitting and review of emergency drought salinity barriers – necessary to keep freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered and threatened species;
Simplifies the review and approval process for voluntary water transfers and emergency drinking water projects; and
Directs state departments to provide temporary relocation assistance to families who need to move from homes where domestic wells have run dry to housing with running water.
Invest in New Technologies
The order helps make California more drought resilient by:
Incentivizing promising new technology that will make California more water efficient through a new program administered by the California Energy Commission.
Ground-Breaking Carbon Pricing Bill Proposed in Rhode Island
In the Rhode Island General Assembly, lawmakers have recently introduced the Energize Rhode Island: Carbon Pricing and Clean Energy Investment Act (S0417/H5857). The bill, introduced by Senator Walter S. Felag, D-Bristol, Tiverton and Warren in the Senate and Representative Daniel P. McKiernan, D-Providence in the House, addresses global warming by placing a gradually increasing price on carbon.
The fee, initially set at $15 and scheduled to rise by $5 every year, will be imposed on fossil fuels at the point of entry into the state. The steadily increasing price of these fossil fuels will reduce emissions by encouraging residents and businesses to instead use clean energy.
This focus on clean energy is particularly significant because Rhode Island does not have fossil fuel resources. In 2010, it spent $1.09 billion on energy sales, mostly generated by fossil fuels from out of state. The bill will ensure the money is kept within the state to boost local industries, including clean energy research and development.
The revenue from the carbon fee will be appropriated to one of several strategies, such as direct rebates to households and businesses, clean energy research and development or Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, which will in turn fund clean energy and infrastructure projects. By reinvesting the revenue on state infrastructure, including weatherization and construction projects, the bill aims to produce green jobs and stimulate the Rhode Island economy.
“The bill shows that we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment. It is important we pay the actual price of carbon now so we don’t have to play the full price of global warming later,” said Solomon Goldstein-Rose, an undergraduate at Brown University who developed the bill. He is currently working with J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown, to lead the initiative.
Carbon pricing systems have been implemented in several other regions, notably the province of British Columbia (BC) in Canada. Since it adopted the continent’s first state-wide carbon price in 2008, its fuel consumption has decreased 4.5 percent faster than any other province, while its GDP has grown at a faster rate. Similar carbon prices have also been implemented in certain municipalities in the United States, including Boulder, Colorado. However, no state has currently implemented a price on carbon.
Similar bills are being considered other states including Massachusetts and Vermont but have yet to be approved. If the Energize Rhode Island Act were passed in Rhode Island, it would make the state a national leader in addressing climate change.
On Tuesday, April 7 at 1:00 pm representatives from Energize RI will be in our studios for a live discussion about the bill, while they also discuss Energize RI’s creation and objectives. Our guest will include; the author of the bill Brown Student, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Brown Environmental Professor, Timmons Roberts, and MJ Sorrentino from Citizens Climate Lobby Rhode Island. The public is invited to be part of the live studio audience click here to reserve your seat.
With the many pollutants that make their way into our water supply every day from factories, acid rain, illegal dumping, etc., who would've ever thought that farms would be added to that list? Well know it's get serious, so much so that a water utility is now taking legal action. We came across an article from AP that looks at one case in particular.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - After years of struggling to keep drinking water for almost 500,000 residents in Des Moines and its surrounding areas clear of contaminants largely from upstream farms, the Des Moines Water Works board says it plans to sue three counties.
Water Works’ lawsuit would aim to hold Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac counties responsible for the high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a primary water source for Des Moines. Before the suit can be filed, the Water Works board must approve doing so in a vote, which is planned for Thursday.
It could be one of the first lawsuits in the U.S. filed by a water utility holding local officials responsible for pollution from farm drainage systems.
“They’re transporting groundwater that is heavily polluted because of the agricultural activities,” Water Works CEO Bill Stowe said. “They’re a point-source polluter like a factory or a city stormwater system or a wastewater plant. The state has chosen to turn its head from regulating them and we’re obviously at a point where we no longer consider that to be a tenable outcome.”
The Sac County Board of Supervisors who were meeting about the issue Wednesday had no immediate comment, a woman in the county auditor’s office said. That board oversees seven drainage districts in coordination with Buena Vista and Calhoun.
Drainage districts were established to help move water out of farm fields so they can be more agriculturally productive. Northern Iowa has the most extensively drained farmland in the country - an estimated 9 million acres.
The three counties that would be targeted under the lawsuit have about 1.2 million hogs, more than a million turkeys and 96,000 cows, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Manure and fertilizer are rich in nitrogen, which helps produce high corn yields. But when left unused in the soil, it can wash into rivers and streams as nitrates.
Iowa began a voluntary program in May 2013 that encourages farmers to reduce runoff, but Stowe and environmental groups argue that strategy lacks measurable benchmarks or a timeline for improvement.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and his administration have refused to consider stronger regulation.
“I believe the voluntary approach we have is the most likely to be effective,” Branstad said Wednesday. “I think a lawsuit would be a big mistake. I think it would be much better to work in a collaborative basis to try to identify where the problems are and how they can be addressed.”
The struggle to maintain drinkable water leaves Stowe with little choice, he said, adding that equipment that removes nitrates has been running since early December at a cost of thousands of dollars a day - which is passed on to water users.
The EPA has set a safe limit of 10 milligrams per liter for city water systems. The Raccoon River was at 14 mg/l on Wednesday morning and above 12 mg/l on the Des Moines River, which is another source of drinking water for Des Moines. The treated water distributed by Water Works was just under 8 mg/l on Wednesday.
Each drainage district is set up so that each landowner pays an assessment equal to the benefit received, which means farmers in the districts will bear the legal costs, according to John Torbert, the executive director of trade group Iowa Drainage District Association.
“It would be like suing the highway because cars travel the highway and cause pollution,” he said.
Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wants a $42 per ton tax on carbon emitters
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Wednesday, November 19th, said that he will propose a bill to impose a $42 per ton tax on all carbon dioxide emissions to punish polluters.
The fee comes from the Obama’s administration's “social cost of carbon,” the price it puts on carbon pollution when calculating the benefits of climate change regulations.
Whitehouse said his bill is meant to remedy the fact that the societal costs of carbon pollution — which is believed to cause climate change — are not reflected in the monetary costs. “That is, by every economist’s standard, a market failure,” he said at a Wednesday forum on electric vehicles hosted by The Hill.
“If we can correct that, we can make a huge difference for this industry and for the move that we need to make to cleaner technologies,” he said of electric cars.
California Delivers A Death Blow to Plastic Bags
Last month, ReNewable Now interviewed Proco Joe Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s 1st Ward, who was instrumental in getting the city of Chicago to pass an ordinance to ban plastic bags. The efforts to ban plastic bags are growing stronger week-by-week as we see the death of plastic bags now becoming law for the entire state of California.
It's official: California is now the first state in the country to institute a statewide plastic bag ban! Though it took years for state legislators to pass this bill plus an additional month that felt like an eternity for the governor to sign the bill into law, environmentalists can finally rejoice in the knowledge that grocery store plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past.
Analysts expect the legislation will eliminate at least 13 billion plastic bags per year. Don't expect to see a change immediately, however: the ban won't go into effect until next July. Liquor and convenience stores will have until July of 2016 to switch to paper or reusable bags.
Don't expect pandemonium when the bags disappear from stores — plenty of local California communities have proven that it's not nearly the inconvenience that naysayers declare. Approximately 25% of Californians already live in an area where single-use plastic bags are forbidden.
So far, impacted citizens generally approve of the bans. Researchers found that while only 10% of people brought reusable bags before they were removed from stores, around 70% started doing it (or skipping bags altogether) once bags came with a surcharge. Sure, the government had to nudge Californians to act more responsibly, but they met the challenge with few complaints.
That hasn't stopped the plastic bag industry from threatening action. Organizations representing affected companies plan to put a proposition on the ballot two years from now for voters to decide whether the bag ban should be revoked. In the meantime, the group hopes to prevent the ban from taking hold until after voters have their say, though the courts will have to decide if their request holds water.
California hasn't disregarded the plastic bag industry altogether, either. The legislation includes a stipulation for the state to loan millions to companies that produce bags so they can expand their businesses to come up with more sustainable alternatives.
This is no trend, and is going to spread nationally, and globally. So stay on the look out for some great start up companies, and smart entrepreneurs to take advantage of this, as we're sure we'll see an evolution in paper bags, and other things that carry what we like to buy.
Anti-Wind Lobby Falls Flat In Court Cases
The U.S. Energy Policy Institute says anti-wind farm campaigners have failed miserably in their legal efforts due in part to poorly constructed opinions being used in the absence of real evidence.
The Institute studied the outcome of 49 legal challenges the around the world relating to wind farms and health effects and found only one case where wind turbines exceeded standard industry noise levels.
Authored by wind policy expert Mike Barnard, the report derides the "inexpert expertise" and misinformation utilised by anti-wind activists and identifies 16 individuals who claim to be wind energy experts, but who actually "have overstated the relevance of their credentials, as well as the depth and breadth of their expertise. These individuals lacked expertise and substantial evidence as detailed by courts around the world."
"Additionally, these non-experts often introduce hundreds of pages of what they term evidence, but the vast majority of the documents are poorly constructed opinion pieces by other non-experts," Barnard said.
The report assesses legal cases in five countries pertaining to wind energy and highlights the weaknesses of evidence and expertise that are common in health-related suits against wind farms.
Detailed examination of court proceedings against wind farms in Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom, and Australia, along with a study of anti-wind groups such as Australia’s Waubra Foundation and U.S. National Wind Watch, found that since 1998, 49 hearings have been held under rules of legal evidence, with 48 finding no potential harm to human health.
Canada’s powerful anti-wind lobby has brought 17 separate cases against wind farms for its 7.8 GW of wind energy capacity, the highest number of all nations studied. In all cases Canadian courts found wind farms would not and do not cause health impacts with proper setbacks in place. Australia is second on the list, with 10 cases over its 2.7 GW of capacity and a population of 23 million. No health impacts were found in these cases and were dismissed.
According to Barnard, court challenges jumped dramatically in 2002 after U.S. citizen Nina Pierpont, a paediatrician and wife of an anti-wind farm activist, self-published a book entitled "Wind Turbine Syndrome", after interviewing 23 people by phone and accepting hearsay evidence from 15 others.
In Australia, former GP and CEO of the Waubra Foundation Sarah Laurie has come under fire for intentionally spreading unfounded health fears in communities near wind farms through the "nocebo effect" – the belief that a thing is harmful because a trusted source tells you so. This psychogenic hypothesis, according to the report, is a dominant factor in wind farm "infrasound" complaints.
With nearly 320,000MW of installed wind capacity globally, the report concludes municipalities and levels of government have little to fear from legal challenges mounted by so-called wind experts connected to anti-wind groups.
"In civil cases, judges have typically awarded costs to the defending organizations, so while court cases are time consuming, organizations will typically not find them costly otherwise. The courts have spoken. Wind farms do not cause health problems."
Is Vermont Doing Away with Nuclear Power?
Is Vermont Doing Away with Nuclear Power?
On August 14th, 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Case No. 12-707. Appealed from U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. A summary indicates that the owners of the nuclear power plant brought action against officials of the State of Vermont, seeking a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction that three Vermont statutes are preempted by the Atomic Energy Act, and that Vermont's efforts to require a below-market power purchase agreement is preempted by the Federal Power Act and violates the dormant Commerce Clause. Following a bench trial, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont ruled in plaintiffs' favor on the Atomic Energy Act preemption claim and the dormant Commerce Clause claim, and found that the Federal Power Act preemption claim was not ripe. The Appeals Court affirmed We the district court as to the Atomic Energy Act and Federal Power Act preemption claims, and reversed the district court as to the dormant Commerce Clause claim. One Judge issued a separate and "reluctantly" concurring opinion.
Without getting into the complete details, at the heart of the litigation are two relatively new Vermont laws which would have limited or prohibited the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Act 74, which was enacted on June 21, 2005, had two principal effects. First, Entergy would only need to seek a "certificate of public good" (CPG) from the Board before constructing storage facilities for new spent nuclear fuel, rather than the Vermont Legislature as had been required by section 6501(a). However, the CPG would remain in effect only until March 21, 2012. The second effect of Act 7 74 was that after March 21, 2012, the storage of any new spent nuclear fuel in Vermont would require an affirmative vote by the Vermont Legislature. If no such affirmative vote occurred, storage of nuclear waste generated from operations after March 21, 2012, would not be permitted. Thus, Vermont Yankee would have to shut down. Act 160 was passed on May 18, 2006, and provides that "a nuclear energy generating plant may be operated in Vermont only with the explicit approval of the General Assembly."
In its conclusion the Appeals Court said, ". . .we affirm the district court's grant of a declaratory judgment that Act 74 and Act 160 are facially preempted by the Atomic Energy Act. We reverse the district court's determination that Vermont's efforts to condition a new Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee on the execution of a favorable power purchase agreement violate the dormant Commerce Clause. We affirm the district court's determination that Entergy's challenge under the Federal Power Act is unripe. We affirm the district court's grant of a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from enforcing sections 6522(c)(2) or 6522(c)(4) in title 10 of the Vermont Statutes, as enacted by Act 74, or sections 248(e)(2), 248(m), or 254 in title 30 of the Vermont Statutes, as enacted by Act 160. Finally, we vacate the district court's permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from conditioning the issuance of a Certificate of Public Good on the execution of a below-wholesale-market power purchase agreement between Entergy and Vermont utilities or otherwise requiring Vermont Yankee to sell power to Vermont utilities at preferential rates."
Judge Susan Carney issued a separate concurring opinion stating in part, "I concur, reluctantly, in the majority's detailed and carefully reasoned opinion striking down Vermont Acts 74 and 160. My reluctance stems not from any flaw in the majority's analysis, but rather from my concern that Congress, in enacting the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), did not intend the result we reach. Rather, we are led to our conclusion principally by an expansive gloss on the preemptive scope of the AEA first set forth in Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission, 461 U.S. 190 (1983) (Pacific Gas). There, the Supreme Court instructed that '[a] state moratorium on nuclear construction grounded in safety concerns falls squarely within the prohibited field' and would therefore be preempted. Id. at 213 (emphasis added)."
For more of a historic sense of how this may have all come about you can look at GREENPEACE's Blog that provides details.
Making Sustainability Legal: 9 Zombie Laws That Keep Cities From Going Green
These outdated laws forbid sustainable choices -- and here's what you can do to change them.
You’ve done your part, you good greenie, you. You’ve changed out the light bulbs, bought energy-saving appliances, learned to recycle, tuned up your bike, joined a co-op, and bought a transit pass and/or a fuel-efficient car. Now you’re looking around, wondering what to do next. With spring around the corner, maybe you’d like to hang out the wash on a sunny day. Or perhaps you could build an apartment in your basement to increase both your income and your neighborhood’s density….
Not so fast. Because this is the point at which your city government is very likely to swoop down in a flurry of paperwork and citations, telling you in no uncertain terms: No. You can’t do that. We don’t care how green it is, it’s also against the law.
The Sightline Institute in Seattle is compiling a list of zombie laws — outdated city ordinances and homeowners’ association policies that may once have served a purpose, but now mostly just get in the way of people’s desire to live more sustainably. Sightline's Making Sustainability Legal Web site offers a couple of dozen examples — some obvious, some off-the-wall — and they’re looking to add to the list. Sightline executive director Alan Durning hopes this project will give inspiration to activists looking for easy battles that will result in big sustainability wins.
Here are nine examples of local laws that stand in the way of change, and need to be pulled off the books:
1. Clotheslines. Consider the facts. The clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the average American home. There’s nothing like the sweet smell of sheets and towels that have been freshly dried out in the air and sunshine. Nineteen states have already put in place laws that allow home solar installations of all kinds. So why do over half the homeowners’ associations in the US — including some in those 19 states — explicitly ban clotheslines in their neighborhoods?
A gathering “right-to-dry” movement is rising up to challenge these rules, asserting that laws permitting solar hot water heaters and PV electrical cells must also permit solar-powered clothes drying technologies (that is, clotheslines). Model legislation is being proposed, and legal challenges are being launched. Take up your clothespins, America! You have nothing to lose but your big electricity bills.
2. Granny flats in suburban houses. The first step in making suburbs more sustainable is to increase their density. Those big lots usually have plenty of room to tuck a small apartment into the basement or over the garage; and allowing people to build them has all kinds of salutary effects. The extra rental income can help families afford their homes. The units increase the share of low-cost housing, thus expanding the economic and age diversity of the neighborhood. They allow families more flexibility in terms of elder care and launching young-adult kids; and also provide a new option to public employees like teachers or cops who may not be able to afford to live in the affluent neighborhoods they serve. They also enhance property values, increasing the tax base. And as the density goes up, so does the argument for building new amenities closer by, and increasing transit service to the area.
But most homeowners know how hard it is to get a legal permit to build such suites. City and county governments are still clinging to the same 1950s ordinances that created suburban sprawl in the first place. If we want to update our suburban infrastructure, simply letting people build infill housing that raises density is the first and most obvious step to take.
3. White Pages. When was the last time you used the White Pages? I know -- me neither. In an era of online 411, that big paper brick that arrives at your door once a year is mostly useful as an emergency booster-seat for visiting toddlers. Yet most states have laws mandating that this volume must be delivered to every residence, every year. Most of these laws also allow people to opt out, but almost nobody knows about this, so few people do.
Some states are beginning to reconsider this, though. In a warming world, we need those millions of trees a lot more than we need the White Pages. it makes more sense to change the laws so people will only get these volumes if they specifically ask for them. An opt-in policy will allow people who like and use their White Pages to have them — and the rest of us can do something else with the drawer or shelf we used to keep it on.
4. Strollers on buses. It sounds ridiculous. But it’s far from silly if you’re a mom who’s struggling to get around on transit with a stroller. In many cities, parents are required to unpack their kid and all their purchases out of the stroller, then fold up the stroller and pick it all up — stroller, bags and squirming baby — in two hands, then somehow get it all up onto the bus, then pay the fare, and then find a seat and not fall over while everybody else stands there, getting increasingly annoyed.
It’s no surprise that this routine is forcing the nation’s transit-loving urban parents off the buses and into minivans. They don’t really have any other choice if they want to get the shopping done. Some cities are starting to allow babies to stay in the strollers, and letting strollers park in the same seat-free open areas reserved for wheelchairs. Others, like Portland, OR, are raising curbs and buying buses with extra-low floors, creating a level path for anybody on wheels to drive right onto the bus.
5. Couchsurfing. In these more constrained times, a lot of intrepid travelers are discovering the joys of sites like couchsurfing.com and airbnb.com. Rather than pay for an expensive hotel room, you crash in someone’s spare bedroom. The traveler saves money and gets a local guide, and the homeowner makes money and maybe a new friend. And best of all, the ecological footprint of travel is dramatically reduced.
This is legal in much of the country. But in some big cities where hotel competition is already intense, hotel owners are goading cities into cracking down. New York, for example, is notoriously rigid about telling people who they can and can’t let stay in their houses, for how long, and under what terms. This is an emerging new travel option (or, more accurately, the modern revival of a cherished old custom of taking in lodgers and boarders), and Sightline warns that it needs to be aggressively guarded from a rising wave of ill-considered and protectionist regulation.
6. Toxic couches. While we’re on the subject of couches, don’t look now, but is yours toxic? Sightline’s Web site explains why you might have reason to worry:
California’s 12-second rule, a state flammability standard for foam-containing furniture, induces manufacturers to load their products with chemical flame retardants. It’s a stupid rule: it contaminates tens of millions of homes across North America with toxic substances — compounds that spread, harming people and animals. Of all the toxic industrial compounds in your body right now, a substantial share are flame retardants that came from foam furnishings — probably a larger share than any other category of industrial compounds....But the rule has no compensating benefit for fire safety. The 12-second rule does not save lives in fires. It is useless. That’s what the scientific evidence says. This rule is all pain, no gain.
This is one of those places where California’s outsized population footprint effectively imposes that state’s standards on the whole nation. Usually, that’s a good thing from a progressive standpoint; but on this issue, it’s putting us all in serious danger. In this case, it’s a big national problem that will entirely go away if just one state legislature decides to end it.
7. Food cart regulations. One of the most savory benefits of increasing density in a city is the rise of street food. Food carts and trucks are a cardinal sign of healthy urbanism, providing expanded food options on the fly wherever crowds are gathering right now. And they’re important new business incubators for upwardly mobile families as well.
However, wherever you see a thriving new street food scene, you’ll almost certainly hear the grumbling of nearby restaurant owners complaining about smell, crowds, mess, and hygiene. All of this, of course, is code for “our profits.” And critics naturally take their concerns to City Hall, where they get ordinances passed that stop the food trucks and carts in their tracks.
But these low-impact, small-footprint, flexible businesses deserve a place in our cities, and need to be protected. If the restaurant owners are smart, they’ll join the movement instead of fighting it, and start launching trucks of their own. There’s plenty of room for everybody — but only if we insist that there should be.
8. Person-to-person car-sharing. “The Pacific Northwest’s rolling stock of cars and trucks constitutes a mind-boggling amount of underutilized capital,” writes Sightline's Alan Durning. “The region has substantially more motor vehicles than licensed drivers. Everyone in the region could climb into a vehicle and no one would have to sit in the backseat. What’s more, the typical car is parked 23 hours a day. Most of us have more money tied up in our cars than in any other physical assets aside from our homes, and all that wealth is just sitting there in the driveway depreciating.”
The answer to this? Car-sharing. “Imagine leaving town for a week and coming back to learn that your vehicle had earned you $300 on the rental market. Or imagine that your car-sharing membership gave you access, on a moment’s notice, to thousands of private cars and trucks sprinkled around your city. Why endure the expense and hassle of car ownership when you can drive any make or model you choose and only pay for what you use?” Car-sharing not only makes far more effective use of the cars we have; paying for driving by the trip also incentivizes us to drive much, much less (up to 44 percent less, according to a UC Berkeley study) than we do.
Once again, the only thing standing in the way of implementing this idea is a thick wall of state laws. Some make it impossible to assign insurance liability to the person actually driving, leaving it all on the owner. Others try to apply stiff car rental taxes to car-sharing companies. Fortunately, California has led the way: in 2011, the state legislature cleared away the legal obstacles, and now car-sharing is thriving in the state. Other states are watching and following suit.
9. Pay-as-you-drive insurance. Auto insurers and sustainability experts agree: The most sensible way to buy auto insurance is by the mile. The less you drive, the more you save. Recent advances in technology make tracking car mileage easy; and consumers like it, because you don’t have to buy an expensive policy for a car you don’t drive very often. You pay for exactly what you use — no more, no less.
But most states still have insurance laws on the books that assume that people buy insurance by the year, not by the mile. There are old laws covering cancellation notifications and oversight regimes that simply aren’t compatible with the idea of buying and using insurance in blocks of 100 or 1,000 miles at time. A few states are starting to revise these laws, but there’s still a very long way to go before this will be legal.
Profiles in Excellence Series
Environmental Attorney and community activist Seth Handy speaks about stewardship when it comes to his passion for the environment, and how this gift has to be preserved for our future generations.