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On June 24, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009 which gave up to $4,500 to owners of vehicles with poor fuel economy who trade them in for more efficient new vehicles. This "cash-for-clunkers" program was touted as meeting three objectives: increasing vehicle sales, at a time when the U.S. auto industry is struggling; reducing fuel use; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This column examines the workings of the program as well as describes what kinds of vehicles can be turned in and purchased under it. The column then assesses how well the program meets its stated objectives. In conclusion, the authors found that the program will chiefly benefit the vehicle manufacturers as there is such a narrow differential in mileage between traded-in and new vehicles eligible for credit that the resulting reductions in fuel usage and GHG emissions will be modest. In addition to this, they found that the energy cost of building new vehicles must be factored into the equation as the carbon dioxide payback time for manufacturing vehicles can take several years. Lastly, the column points out that the program greatly affects income distribution as it encourages old cars to be crushed and shredded, thus reducing the supply of old cars and presumably raising the price of those that remain, in turn hurting lower income people.
Currently 83 percent of the energy consumed in the United States is from fossil fuels. This in turn creates 81 percent of the United States' emissions of greenhouse gases, is the principle source of air pollution, and leads to major environmental problems where the fuel is extracted from the ground. Increasing the share of non-fossil energy involves a switch from the fuels that took tens of millions of years to form under the ground, to sources that are constantly renewed. This column is devoted to the legal aspects involved in increasing the share of the energy that we use that comes from renewable sources. The author points to six legal techniques that have been developed to increase the use of renewable energy: 1) Portfolio Standards 2)Mandatory Utility Purchases 3)Renewable Fuel Standards 4)Carbon Price 5) Tax Incentives and 6)Research and Development. In addition to this, the author points to six impediments to the growth of renewables: 1)Intermittency 2)Fossil Subsidies 3)Capital Availability 4)Turnover Rate of Capital Plant 5)Scale and Timing and 6)Siting and Environmental Impacts.
In recent years the frequency and severity of heavy precipitation and floods in parts of the United States have been increasing to a statistically significant degree, and this trend is expected to worsen. This article summarizes some of the liability issues that result from floods, and efforts to control them. Under governmental liability, the author highlights multiple participating factors including sovereign immunity, structural measures, nonstructural measures, flood-related regulations, and land use regulations. Under private liability, the column points to issues regarding neighboring property owners, dams and other obstructions, overflow, insurance, utilities, and design professionals. Lastly, the author draws upon the Hurricane Katrina Case where the U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in an important case on flood liability.
Numerous federal and state judicial decisions have established that environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act and its state equivalents should examine the impact of proposed projects on emissions of greenhouse gases. Administrative agencies and court settlements are now establishing the guidelines for the conduct of these examinations. This column surveys the emergence of these new guidelines, which is occurring against a backdrop of accelerated activity in both Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leading towards federal regulation of GHGs. The column looks at these guidelines on the federal level as well as within New York, California, Massachusetts, Washington, and Hawaii.
The New York State Energy Plan, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, calls for a doubling to 50 percent of the portion of the electricity used in the state that comes from renewable sources by 2030. This would lower greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and reduce the use of fossil fuels, especially natural gas. Much of this new renewable energy would be generated by wind and solar projects. Some of it would be from wind facilities to be built offshore in the Atlantic Ocean; the rest would be on the land. Various federal and state incentives and mandates, as well as declining costs, have induced private developers to propose large onshore wind and solar farms. However, a number of upstate and Long Island municipalities have adopted or are considering local laws that would inhibit this construction and thus make it more difficult for the state to meet its renewable energy goals. As state statute, Article X of the Public Service Law, allows the state to override these local laws. This column discusses the history and contents of Article X, the case law under it and its predecessors, and how it can be used to help the construction of renewable energy facilities.
While climate change legislation was mired in Congress, several units in the Obama administration had used their existing statutory authority to adopt rules or guidance requiring extensive disclosure about greenhouse gases in a wide variety of contexts. Every registered public company, the operators of many industrial facilities, and those involved in significant federal actions are now or will soon be covered by one or more of these requirements. In this article, the author explains different disclosure requirements, including the GHG reporting rule, securities disclosure, and lastly, the National Environmental Policy Act.
During the election on November 7, the voters in New York state will be presented with the ballot question, "Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?" If the referendum passes, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention will be elected in November 2018, and the Convention's proposed changes will appear on the ballot, most likely in November 2019. Many issues are under debate: ethics reform, reorganizing the judiciary, voting rights, and several more. The focus of this column is on environmental rights. The current Constitution has a "Forever Wild clause", adopted in 1894- which has helped preserve the wild areas of Adirondack and Catskill parks. It also has a Conservation Bill of Rights, declaring a state policy of protecting natural resources and scenic beauty, but it has been held to be unenforceable, and has been of little consequence. This column discusses these environmental rights and their implications within New York as well as across the country.
On April 30, President Barack Obama signed into law the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015, a much pared-down version of a bill that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Sen. Rob Portman have been pushing for several years. Several other energy-efficiency bills just underwent hearings in Congress. At the same time, the House Appropriations Committee has just voted to slash federal research on energy efficiency, and several bills to impede efficiency efforts are advancing. Thus it remains to be seen whether the EEIA has broken the logjam on energy-efficiency legislation, and will be followed by a gush of other bills, or is an anomaly in a Congress that is much friendlier to fossil fuels than to clean energy. This column begins with a description of the new enactment. It then discusses the other pending energy-efficiency legislation, and it concludes with a summary of the appropriations actions.
The high point of congressional support for comprehensive climate change legislation came on June 26, 2009, when the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy Security Act by a vote of 219 to 212. For several years the proponents of climate regulation have pinned their hopes on Congress. Now, the principal action is shifting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the courts and the states, though important questions will still be faced by Congress. This column surveys what is likely to happen with climate regulation without any congressional action. The author highlights the topics of renewable electricity, EPA action, state and regional action, litigation, and international agreements.
Litigation aiming to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is coming to be dominated by battles over coal-fired power plants. Ten of the last 20 judicial or administrative decisions or case filings in matters aiming to reduce emissions of Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) have concerned such plants. This column discusses the most recent legal developments concerning coal plants, including those on the regulatory and legislative fronts. Specifically, the author points to legal developments in the areas of air pollution litigation, regulatory activity, and congressional activity.