Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Regulation by river commission

This Day in Water History recently posted the following:
December 18, 1913: Municipal Journal article—To Prevent Fox River Pollution. “Geneva, Ill.-Acting under authority conferred at the last session of the legislature, the State Rivers and Lakes Commission has ordered officials of the cities of Batavia, Aurora, Geneva, Elgin and St. Charles to take immediate steps to prevent the pollution of Fox river by sewage and factory wastes. The five cities were given until April 7, 1914, to prepare plans and specifications for filtration or sewage disposal plants or otherwise prepare to discontinue the emptying of sewage into the river. The Fox river cases are the first of the sort to be acted upon by the commission. Similar action will be taken in numerous other cities located along Illinois rivers or lakes if complaints are made and substantiated. Lake Forest and other North Shore cities that have complained of lake water pollution by factories are expected to take their grievances to the commission. Witnesses before the commission testified that during low water periods the Fox river was polluted to such an extent as to he a serious menace to the health of 200,000 inhabitants of the Fox river valley. It was also shown that thousands of tons of ice were taken from the river every year and sold in these cities and in Chicago. Another objection to the emptying of sewage into the river was the fact that fish were unable to survive.”
Commentary: River commissions in several states were beginning to take action against the grossest pollution problems in the early part of the 20th century.

For more on regulation of water pollution in the Great Lakes see here and here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Natural resource law in Salzburg

Mark Weiner's recently posted his video, "Anna in the Mine", which, among other things, has some interesting talk about historical legal rights to natural resources in the Salzburg region. Archaeologist Anna Holzner explains that the Austrian administrative court has ruled that workers on the Dürrnberg still retain their medieval right to mine (salt) on the mountain.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Art and the history of environmental law - part V: Art and the effects of environmental law

The latest in a series based on my article on art and history of environmental law. After looking at what art can teach us about the historical background of environmental law, we turn now to what we can learn from it about environmental law's effects.
James W. Earl, Twelve Square Miles, 2010 (courtesy of the artist)
Hugh Ferriss, Study for Maximum Mass Permitted
by the 1916 New York Zoning Law, Stage 4,
Smithsonian Design Museum, Cooper Hewitt collection
(courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
The effects of law on landscape are clearly seen in the case of land use law. The U.S. Northwest Ordinance’s imposition of Cartesian order on the living earth is perhaps best appreciated through often beautiful satellite or aerial images (e.g. above). The effects of New York City’s famous zoning ordinance of 1916 were given visual form in Hugh Ferriss’s drawings (e.g. right) and in photographs of the architectural icons built under the code (e.g. below). And the environmental upheaval wrought by American postwar suburban zoning ordinances was given early expression in the utopian/dystopian photographs of places like Levittown, Long Island (below).
Samuel Gottscho, Chrysler Building Midtown Manhattan New York City 1932
Thomas Airviews, Aerial view of Levittown, 1949
(courtesy of Levittown Public Library)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Environmental regulation by public service commission

December 10th's This Day in Water History contains the following interesting snippet, offering some insight on how environmental regulation was carried out before the establishment of agencies with "environment" in their title:
December 10, 1910: Municipal Journal article—Protest Against Impure Water. New Albany, Ind.-Col. Charles L. Jewett, acting for the law department of the city of New Albany, has filed with the Indiana Public Service Commission in Indianapolis a petition asking for the investigation by the commission of the water supply furnished by the New Albany Waterworks Company. It is alleged in the petition that the water is not pure and wholesome, and that the company has not complied with the terms of its contract and franchise, granted August 26, 1904, and for more than three years has failed, neglected and refused to furnish the city pure and wholesome water, as its contract specifically provided. The petitioner avers that the water company has furnished nothing but impure and unwholesome water, containing large amounts of mud, filth, sewage, industrial waste and other foreign matter. The petitioner asks that an investigation be made by the Public Service Commission, and that an order be entered requiring the water company to make improvements, additions and changes in its system.
Commentary: A similar lawsuit was by Jersey City, NJ against the Jersey City Water Supply Company in 1905.
Anyone know what the outcomes of these petitions were?

Update: Michael McGuire points out that the Jersey City lawsuit was covered in detail in his book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives (AWWA, 2013).

Friday, December 11, 2015

Art and the history of environmental law - part IV: Art and the conditions of environmental law (twentieth century)

Following Part III of this series, featuring the French Impressionists and Oscar Wilde, we move on to the twentieth century.

Franz Marie Jansen, untitled, from Industrie, 1920
In the first half of the twentieth century, air pollution seems to take on a progressively darker cast, both literally and figuratively. While it is difficult to read the pollution in many posters of the interwar era, such as one for the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs (above), as anything but a symbol of progress, in the works of the German Expressionists such as George Grosz and Franz Marie Jansen (right), pollution often seems an inseparable part of their generally bleak world view.
George Grosz, Outside the Factories, 1921
Beyond the cultural and aesthetic, American art in this period also seems to begin to engage with pollution as a political issue, and thus potentially a legal one. An early but suggestive understanding of pollution is offered by the symbolist Elihu Vedder’s mural Corrupt Legislation (below) created for the new Library of Congress building around 1898. Art historian Richard Murray explains:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A call to research

Dave Owen recently posted the following at Environmental Law Prof Blog:
(from NMFS)
In environmental law circles, we often talk about gridlock.  Laments about the inability of Congress to pass new environmental laws, or make significant improvements to existing ones, are common.  And we often look to 1990, when Congress passed major Clean Air Act Amendments and the Oil Pollution Act, as the end of environmental law’s era of legislative progress.
But there’s one important American environmental law that didn’t stop evolving in 1990. In 1996, at the height of Bill Clinton’s battles with Newt Gingrich and his insurgent conservative majority, Congress passed amendments designed to turn the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act into a genuine environmental law. Initially, the new protections didn’t work particularly well, but in January 2007—before Democrats took back control of Congress—President George W. Bush signed into law a second set of amendments (Representative Richard Pombo—no environmental luminary, to say the least—was a sponsor).  These amendments were unequivocally protective; their core provisions were designed to end overfishing, and to do so quickly.  And there’s growing evidence that they’re working.
How did this happen?  I’d love to read an article that delves into the legislative history of these amendments, and that explains how fishery law managed to become more protective in what seem like the most unlikely of times.  Perhaps that story might hold lessons for other fronts where environmental legislation really is stalled.  Or perhaps fisheries law is just an outlier, a unique, strange area where the usual political rules don’t apply.  But either way, I suspect there’s a good story here, just waiting to be told.  And to the best of my knowledge, no one has told it yet.
So if you’re an environmental law student or a graduate student looking for a good (if ambitious) research project, I think this might be a great idea.  And I—and hopefully many other people—would be very interested to see what you find.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Art and the history of environmental law - part III: Art and the conditions of environmental law (more Impressionists and Wilde)

Following Part II of this series, I continue the discussion of art and the conditions of environmental law as seen in the work of the French Impressionists.

Monet and Pissarro produced many landscapes of the industrializing Seine Valley around Paris, as did other Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Manet’s 1874 Argenteuil, les canotiers (1874, above), with its idyllic foreground and smoky background, seems uncertain in its attitude to industrial pollution. It was ridiculed by a contemporary critic who insinuated that the blue of the river must have been the product of industrial pollution, yet T.J. Clark sees it as the picture in which effort was made to place in order the middle class, the countryside, and industry “and insist they belong together.”  

Gustave Caillebotte’s depictions of the same site show a cubist-like ability to shatter reality into multiple points of view. While his Boats Moored at Argenteuil (1883, above) shows no hint of the industry in the area, Factories at Argenteuil (1888, right) shows a bleak industrial landscape with gray smoke feeding gray skies, reflected again in the gray water. La Seine à Argenteuil (c. 1892, below), with its almost natural landscape dominating the foreground and smoking factories in the background, juxtaposes these two aspects of reality, distinguishing, on the one hand, between pristine nature and industrial pollution, yet at the same time melding chimney smoke and natural clouds.  Are these depictions of Argenteuil simply the artist’s attempt to depict different facets of reality, a celebration of industrialization, or a critique and warning of the threat posed by modern pollution to the aesthetic of nature and countryside?