Sunday, December 31, 2017

Historical analysis in environmental law I: Introduction

This past summer I noted that I posted a draft of my "Historical Analysis in Environmental Law" (on SSRN and Academia), forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Historical Legal Research, edited by Markus Dubber and Chris Tomlins. I believe there's still some time for modifications, so I'll post a series on it now, and hope some of you will have some helpful comments!

Environmental law has no history.

This is not to say environmental law has no past; indeed, scholars are beginning to uncover its historical roots. What I mean by having no history is, first, that there is a general feeling, common to legal historians and environmental lawyers (particularly in the United States), that environmental law is something new under the sun, having emerged in the 1970s from the environmental crises of the preceding decade (such as the Cuyahoga River catching fire) and a contemporaneous sharpening of ecological consciousness (spurred, most prominently, by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring). Modern environmental law lacks of connection both to earlier periods and to the great themes and trends of legal history.

The general view of environmental law's history is that before circa 1970 environmental regulation as we think of it today—a branch of public law in which the regulator sets standards for activities with environmental impacts—was insignificant. Rather, it is taught, the environment was regulated through nuisance law—a system relying on private parties, or sometimes the government, bringing a lawsuit to enjoin environmentally harmful activities or obtain damages for environmental harm: "Prior to the explosion of environmental legislation in the 1970s, the common law was the legal system's primary vehicle for responding to environmental problems.... The common law relied largely on nuisance law doctrines to resolve environmental controversies..." (Percival et al, 63) Some look to this period as a lost golden age; others see it as having been a workable system for its time; while yet others condemn it as a failure.

This view of modern environmental law being created ex nihilo in a moment of crisis is, first and foremost, inherently implausible.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The commons imaginary

I recently came across what seems to me a really important article, John Wagner's "Water and the Commons Imaginary", published in 2012 in Current Anthropology (along with a series of responses by other social scientists of the commons, including Elinor Ostrom, in what must have been one of her last writings). The abstract really doesn't do justice to the article's central argument, so I'll bring some excerpts here (citations omitted):
The term “commons” has been appropriated over recent decades by individuals, corporations, and interest groups seeking to benefit from the positive emotional responses that the term seems to evoke. In some cases—shopping commons, for instance—use of the term appears to be mainly a marketing strategy, but in other cases the term carries a definite political argument, most typically an argument against commodification, privatization, or enclosure and in favor of egalitarian, grassroots approaches to resource management. It is at this point that a clear break occurs between commons as a particular kind of institutional arrangement and commons-as-social-imaginary.
In applying the term “social imaginary” to the commons, I rely especially on the work of Benedict Anderson on imagined communities and of Appadurai on imagination and globalization. Commons constitute a very different kind of imagined community than a nation-state, but much of Anderson’s analysis is applicable nevertheless.... 
The commons imaginary can... be understood as a response to... fundamental changes in our social, economic, and political lives, particularly those associated with economic globalization, the accelerated pace of erasure of place-based communities and social identities, and global environmental and economic crises. The commons imaginary, like the nation-state, is also dependent for its construction on print and electronic media. The recent proliferation of the use of the term “commons”... clearly attests to the manner in which it is being constructed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Water rights VI: A human right to water

(The final installment in the series on water rights:)

Alongside interest in public rights that trump the regular water rights of property law, there is much interest in private, human rights that do so. Many systems of water law have long recognized some right to basic water uses superior to other water rights. Islamic law's "right of thirst", the right to take water to quench one's thirst or to water one's animals, applies even to privately owned waters under most schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Caponera, 1954). Under the system of riparian rights, domestic or "natural" uses have preference over other uses (Beck, 2000), and domestic uses also have priority over other uses in most jurisdictions applying the doctrine of prior appropriation (Trelease, 1955). China's water law, too, exempts household and other small quantity uses (Wouters et al., 2004).

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the idea of a right to water framed in human rights terms. Scholars (e.g. Gleick, 1999) have argued that the right to the minimal amount of water needed to supply basic human needs is implicit in basic human rights norms, and an effort has been made to give this right more explicit, formal, legal recognition.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations' Economic and Social Council issued in 2003 its "General Comment No. 15"  on the right to water as anchored in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stating (para. 2) that "the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses." The right to water was found to be anchored in the rights recognized by the Covenant to the highest attainable standard of health, adequate housing, and adequate food, as well as in the right to human life and dignity enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights; other treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, explicitly recognize a right to water. The general right to water was said by the Comment to include the right to maintain access to existing water supplies necessary for the right to water, the right to be free from arbitrary disconnections or contamination of water supplies, and the right to a system of water supply and management that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the right to water. Adequacy is measured by a number of factors, including the water supply being sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses, safe, physically and economically accessible, and provided without discrimination.
South African Constitutional Court
A prominent recent judicial decision on the issue was the 2009 ruling of South Africa's Constitutional Court in Mazibuko v City of Johannesburg. The South African Bill of Rights recognizes a right to "sufficient food and water" and that "The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights".

Monday, December 25, 2017

The redwood wars

The latest American Historical Review has a review by Neil Maher of Darren Speece's Defending Giants: The Redwood Wars and the Transformation of American Environmental Politics (U. Washington Press, 2017). Some excerpts:
Speece begins with the conflict’s prehistory, describing the rise in the region during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of a “corporatist” logging industry that was permitted, with encouragement from the California Board of Forestry, to self-regulate cutting practices on privately owned land. Redwood preservation during this period most often involved elite groups, such as San Francisco’s Bohemian Club, purchasing groves from timber companies. The next four chapters, which jump to the late twentieth century and the “Redwood Wars” themselves, follow local activists and their two-pronged strategy—involving lawsuits and direct action campaigns—that all but halted old-growth logging on the North Coast and, in doing so, weakened the corporatist reign over redwoods. The legal stalemate that resulted, Speece concludes, fostered “the Deal” orchestrated by President Bill Clinton, which not only protected the old-growth redwoods of the North Coast’s Headwaters Forest but also laid the groundwork for additional protection of endangered landscapes nationwide.
Defending Giants is about more than environmentalists, however, and in order to give voice to the lumber executives, loggers, and lawyers who also serve as foot soldiers in this conflict, Speece embraces a diverse set of historical methodologies. To understand the grassroots beneath his tall trees, he scours local newspapers, digs into unprocessed archival material from North Coast environmental groups, and, perhaps most importantly, conducts dozens of oral interviews with activists, timber workers, lumber company managers, and forest policy bureaucrats. Speece also skillfully navigates a torrent of legal cases initiated by environmentalists to halt redwood logging, and tracks a wide range of timber policy proposals through the hallways of capitols in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Finally, he carefully balances his narrative by analyzing the annual reports of the Pacific Lumber Company, which owned these redwood forests, of its successor, the Maxxam Corporation, and of several other timber businesses from the Pacific Northwest. The result, which successfully blends social, political, legal, and business history, will interest more than environmental historians. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Water rights V: Public rights

(Continuing the series on water rights:)

Whatever property regime applies to water, the public often retains certain rights in the resource. Thus, for instance, in American law, though a river's water may be owned by riparian landowners or appropriators, the federal government retains a "navigation servitude" in the water with which private owners (and states) cannot interfere (Trelease, 1965).

Joseph Sax
Recent decades have seen much discussion of the "public trust doctrine", rules that allow public interests, especially environmental ones, to trump the normal property rules in water. Though the doctrine has its roots in the traditional civil and common law, particularly with regard to tidelands (Selvin, 1980), its modern form was first articulated by Joseph Sax in a highly influential article (1970), in which he argued that the historical doctrine should be developed to encourage courts to subject actions that harm the environment to strict scrutiny. In the field of water rights the doctrine has been applied by American state courts in recent decades to push states to protect environmental values, even when this protection is in tension with private property rights (Craig, 2010). The best-known expression of this trend is the decision of the California Supreme Court in the Mono Lake case, in which the court ruled that longstanding water diversions from the lake by the city of Los Angeles might need to be limited by the state in order to protect ecological values being harmed by the lowering of the lake level. In recent years the doctrine has been adopted in additional countries around the world (Cullet, 2009; Blumm and Guthrie, 2012).

The public trust doctrine continues to receive support from many commentators, but it has also been criticized. On the one hand, it has been argued that the doctrine places undue reliance on an inflexible, property rule as applied by the judiciary, while environmental protection should be sought from progressive legislation (Lazarus, 1986). On the other, the doctrine has been criticizes as historically without basis, undemocratic, and invasive of private property rights (Huffman, 1989, 2007).

Next: A human right to water. The full article is here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Forest regulation and its critics in early China

The latest Environmental History has an article by Ian Matthew Miller, "Forestry and the Politics of Sustainability in Early China", with some fascinating discussion of arguments for and against regulation in Chinese philosophy. The abstract:
Between the sixth and second centuries BCE, Chinese states developed offices to oversee the sustainable use of forest resources. This era, often cited as a period of rampant environmental degradation, also saw the emergence of a discourse of sustainability. The early philosopher texts criticized the environmental and moral degradation of their era in order to promote specific policy interventions. In response to the deforestation they depicted, moralist and pragmatist philosophers alike argued for regulations on land use as the basis of a sustainable political order. Early states used these ideas to justify state forestry, culminating in extensive forest bureaucracies under the Qin and Han empires in the second and third centuries. These forestry institutions were among the earliest in the world, preceding state forestry programs in Europe and Japan by nearly two millennia. Yet even at the early apex of state forestry, many thinkers criticized government regulation as immoral or ineffective and promoted the self-sufficient community as an alternative basis of conservation. These early texts were established as the core of the Chinese philosophical tradition, and their arguments for and against state regulation became the basis of many later debates over sustainability and institutional forestry.
9th century version of the character yu (hunter or forester)
(Chuan Cao, 2016, from the article)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Water rights IV: Property in water: Empirical and historical evidence

(Continuing the series on water rights:)

The empirical work of Ostrom (1990; Ostrom and Gardner, 1993) and others on institutions for governing commons resources has shown that, in practice, common property can be highly successful in managing water resources, depending on the structure and functioning of the institutions involved. She and her collaborators summed up their conclusions (Ostrom et al., 2010):
Elinor Ostrom
Researchers usually distinguish four basic types of governance systems, defined in terms of who controls access to resources: private property, government property, common property, and open access (i.e., no one's property). Research has consistently shown the inefficient outcomes of open access since open access almost always leads to destruction of any resource that is in great demand. This is the problem identified in Hardin's famous essay, although he called open access "commons," which led to substantial subsequent confusion. The other three systems, however, have mixed records in terms of sustaining water resources, including both great successes and massive failures. Thus, the ability of a type of ownership to enhance sustainable resource management depends on a number of other factors…
Many legal and environmental historians have focused on historical transitions between property regimes in water, particularly two major developments in the Anglo-American legal world: the development of the "reasonable use" riparian regime in the early to mid-nineteenth century, and the rejection of riparian rights in favor of the system known as "prior appropriation" in the western United States in the second half of the same century.

Some historians' accounts, beginning with Walter Prescott Webb's "Great Plains Thesis" (Webb, 1931), have supported the economic view associating with aridity with private rights in water (Robert G. Dunbar (1985) 'The Adaptability of Water Law to the Aridity of the West', Journal of the West 24: 57; Percy, 2005). Yet aridity has also been associated with strict state control, as in Karl Wittfogel's (1957) hypothesis associating "hydraulic civilizations" with "oriental despotism", applied to the western American context by Donald Worster (1985).

Monday, December 18, 2017

California Air Resources Board’s 50th anniversary

On Friday, January 19, 2018, the University of California, Davis, will host a major conference commemorating the California Air Resources Board’s 50th anniversary.  The conference represents a three-way partnership between UCD School of Law’s California Environmental Law and Policy Center, UCD’s Institute for Transportation Studies and CARB.
Since its creation in 1967, CARB has been a model of environmental stewardship, pollution control innovation and public service.  Years before passage of the federal Clean Air Act, CARB pioneered the nation’s first air pollution emission limits and pollution control technologies for motor vehicles—accomplishments that served as a model for the nation and the world.  More recently, CARB has led California’s multifaceted strategy to curb the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, again serving as both an inspiration and model for the global community.
The January 19th conference at UC Davis will both celebrate CARB’s past accomplishments and—at least as importantly—identify the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for CARB in the next half century.  Featured speakers will include California Governor Jerry Brown, former USEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and current CARB Chair Mary Nichols.  Also on the agenda is a diverse panel of “young visionaries” who will venture predictions on CARB’s future course and priorities.
Registration for the event is now open.  You can register here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Water rights III - Property in water: Theory

(Continuing the series on water rights:)

The question of how and why water has been governed by regimes of private, public, and common property has occupied scholars for some time, often in tandem with the normative issue of which type of property regime is best for the resource. 
Harold Demsetz

As in many other fields, economic analysis has proved to be a dominant theoretical lens for understanding the development of water rights, generating both direct insights and provoking trenchant critiques. On the level of positive theory, many have built on the framework of Harold Demsetz's (1967) theory of property rights, according to which property regimes progress from common to private property as the increasing value of the resource in question, or pressure on it, renders the advantages of its privatization greater than the administrative costs of establishing and maintaining a private-property regime. According to this theory, we should expect to see water regimes characterized by relatively open access or common property in societies and environments characterized by an abundance of water, and increasing reliance on private rights as pressure on the resource increases. An influential work in this tradition is Anderson and Hill (1975), which posits that the abandonment of a common-property regime (riparian rights) in favor of private rights (the prior appropriation doctrine) in the American West was a result of the region's aridity and consequent pressure on the resource. 

Economic analysis has also developed a normative critique of existing systems of water rights. Beginning with the work of Milliman (1956, 1959) and others, many scholars have argued that common property in water leads to waste, inefficiency, and depletion of the resource. The solution, according to this line of argument, is the creation or recognition of completely specified private property rights in water, rights that will allow the functioning of an efficient market that will move water to its most valuable uses and create incentives to avoid waste (Charles J. Meyers & Richard A. Posner (1971) Market Transfers of Water Rights: Toward an Improved Market in Water Resources. Arlington: National Water Commission; Terry L. Anderson (ed.) (1983) Water Rights: Scarce Resource Allocation, Bureaucracy, and the Environment. Cambridge: Ballinger). This sort of argument has obviously resonated with Hardin's (1968) famous article on the tragedy of the commons, and also fit in well with general enthusiasm for market solutions to policy issues in recent decades. It continues to be advanced in various contexts, such as with regard to water rights in China (Speed, 2009).

Yet other theorists have questioned the above conclusions, both positive and normative.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Looking back on Lucas

Dan Farber recently posted at Legal Planet on the 35th anniversary of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission, "the high-water mark of the Supreme Court’s expansion of the takings clause, which makes it unconstitutional for the government to take private property without compensation." (For an earlier post on the case, see here.) Farber writes:
Lucas epitomized the late Justice Scalia’s crusade to limit government regulation of property. The decision left environmentalists and regulators quaking in their boots, especially because of its possible impact on protection for wetlands and habitat for endangered species. Ultimately, however, Scalia failed to make a compelling case for ignoring other language in earlier cases dating back decades that spoke broadly of the government’s power to limit harmful uses of property, rather than imposing the limits of common law doctrines on the government. Thirty-five years later, it is striking how little impact the case has had.
Understanding the reasons requires something of a deep dive into the case and its complicated legal setting. Lucas had purchased two lots on an island in 1986. Two years later, the state had passed a beachfront management act, which prohibited new construction on the island because it was in a high erosion zone. Relying primarily on dicta in preceding cases, the Court held that “when the owner of real property has been called upon to sacrifice all economically beneficial uses in the name of the common good, that is, to leave his property economically idle, he has suffered a taking.” Thus, while an owner deprived of 95% of the property’s use might sometimes recover nothing, the owner deprived of 100% would recover completely, due to the bright-line nature of the rule. 
David Lucas on the lot at stake
*****
In retrospect, the Lucas rule had some fundamental flaws that limited its potential to restrain regulators. First, it is extremely rare to find that a regulation leaves land with literally no value. It probably wasn’t even true in the Lucas case itself. Second, the legal foundations of the opinion were flimsy. Scalia cited only dicta in earlier cases, that is, language in those cases that wasn’t really necessary and for that reason wasn’t binding. And... Scalia failed to make a compelling case for ignoring other language in earlier cases dating back decades that spoke broadly of the government’s power to limit harmful uses of property, rather than imposing the limits of common law doctrines on the government.
Lucas’s limited influence compared to early fears has something to do with Justice Scalia’s approach to opinion writing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Water rights II - Systems of property rights in water

(Continuing the series on water rights - the first installment was here.)

Property in water takes a great variety of forms. Many countries' laws state that all water is the property of the public or the state (Trelease, 1957; Cumyn, 2007; Sun, 2009; Schorr, 2013). Most civil law countries, following Roman law, distinguish between public and private waters. The "absolute dominion" rule of the common law, still in force in some American states, treats groundwater as an unowned resource, open to capture by any overlying landowner (Dellapenna, 2013). The riparian rights system of the common law views water sources as the common property of all landowners abutting the source (Getzler, 2004). The system of prior appropriation applied in the western United States recognizes private property rights to amounts of flows of water. In Australia (Davis, 1968) and western Canada the Crown owns the water and distributes it to users through a permit system (Percy, 2005). (A useful survey of most of the world's property regimes for water, including those mentioned in this paragraph, is found in Dante A. Caponera, Principles of Water Law and Administration (2nd ed., revised & updated by Marcella Nanni, 2007).)

Though most legal systems are viewed as reflecting a view of water either as private, common, or public property, most systems in practice recognize a mix of these types of rights in water sources. For instance, often quoted (e.g. Samuel C. Wiel, "Running Water", Harvard Law Review 22: 190 (1914)) is the statement from Justinian's Institutes (1913: 2.1.1): "The following things are by natural law common to all—the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the seashore"; yet the Roman law, in every period, contained a complex mix of private, communal, and public rights in water (Caponera, 2007). Of Islamic water law it is said that "true Muslim believers cannot grab water in excess to their needs since they are obliged to allow free access to any amounts of water beyond these needs" (Al-Awar et al., 2010: 32) and that the Prophet prohibited selling of water (Caponera, 1954),  but also that "Islam supports privatization of water supply… as long as it leads to a fair and free market" (Al-Awar et al., 2010: 34). The civil law's distinction between public and private waters has often ceased to exist in practice, with state approval being required for use of private waters as well as public (Caponera, 2007). China's constitution (Art. 9) and 2002 Water Law (Art. 3) state that all water is owned by the state, but in practice a system of private rights exists (Wouters et al., 2004; Shen and Speed, 2009). In the Anglo-American world much is made of the difference between the common-property rules of the riparian system in force in England and the eastern United States, and the system of private appropriative rights in the western U.S., but both systems in fact contain a mix of features typically associated with each type of property (Smith, 2008).

If the reality of formal water rights at the level of state law is a complex mix of public, private, and common, a large body of research on water management at the local level (e.g. Maass and Anderson, 1978; Meyer, 1984; Ostrom, 1990; Rivera, 1998; Boelens, 2008) reveals an almost infinite variety of property and governance systems. In various places water is sometimes allocated in proportion to field size, in accordance with the age of the field, by family, by position on the stream, or by any other of a multitude of possible principles, often anchored in long-standing custom and close social, economic, cultural, and religious ties. Integrating these locally embedded rights into systems of state law is a complex task, one often accompanied by significant redistributions of water rights (e.g. Reich, 1994; Van Koppen, 2007; Hendriks, 2010; Hicks, 2010; Boelens and Seemann, 2014).

Next: Property in water: Theory. The full article is here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Materialism and legal historiography

Environmental history has been debating its relationship with materialism. Now Chris Tomlins calls for legal history to turn toward the material in his recently posted "A Poetics for Spatial Justice: Materialism and Legal Historiography, from Bachelard to Benjamin". The abstract:
As the linguistic/cultural turn of the last forty years has begun to ebb, socio-legal and legal-humanist scholarship has seen an accelerating return to materiality. This paper asks what relationship may be forthcoming between the “new materialisms” and “vibrant matter” of recent years, and older materialisms – both historical and literary, both Marxist and non-Marxist – that held sway prior to post-structuralism? What impact might such a relationship have on the forms, notably “spatial justice,” that materiality is assuming in current legal studies? To attempt answers, the paper turns to two figures from more than half a century ago: Gaston Bachelard – once famous, now mostly forgotten; and Walter Benjamin – once largely forgotten, now famous. A prolific and much-admired writer between 1930 and 1960, Bachelard pursued two trajectories of inquiry: a dialectical and materialist and historical (but non-Marxist) philosophy of science; and a poetics of the material imagination based on inquiry into the literary reception and representation of the prime elements – earth, water, fire, and air. Between the late 1920s and 1940, meanwhile, Benjamin developed an idiosyncratic but potent form of historical materialism dedicated to “arousing [the world] from its dream of itself.” The paper argues that by mobilizing Bachelard and Benjamin for scholarship at the intersection of law and the humanities, old and new materialisms can be brought into a satisfying conjunction that simultaneously offers a poetics for spatial justice and lays a foundation for a materialist legal historiography for the twenty-first century.
Might legal history be ready for an environmental turn?
Jan Brueghel the Elder & Hendrick de Clerck, Abundance And The Four Elements (c. 1606)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Water rights I - Introduction

Earlier this year I published a short chapter on water rights in the collection Comparative Property Law: Global Perspectives, edited by Michele Graziadei and Lionel Smith (also on SSRN and Academia). The chapter has a strong historical component, so I'll blog it here (in bite-size pieces). The full series is here. Here's the introduction:

In a world in which ever-growing demand for water meets an essentially finite supply, it is unsurprising that rights in water have received much attention from courts and legislatures. Perhaps more surprising are the radical variety of property regimes governing this resource and the intensity of attention water rights have received in the scholarly literature. "Property" can sometimes connote land, the classic resource of property law; yet water often serves as land's alter ego, an exemplar of the odd, the esoteric, the colorful, or the cutting-edge in property law, set against the staid familiarity of land law.

Moreover, water represents a way of thinking about property that departs from the usual models, based on land. As one commentator (Rose, 1996: 351) has written:
If water were our chief symbol for property, we might think of property rights--and perhaps other rights--in a quite different way. We might think of rights literally and figuratively as more fluid and less fenced-in; we might think of property as entailing less of the awesome Blackstonian power of exclusion and more of the qualities of flexibility, reasonableness and moderation, attentiveness to others, and cooperative solutions to common problems.
More generally, it has been observed (Smith, 2008: 446), "Water law is seemingly so special that many commentators have seen reflected in it their preferred paradigms for property law more generally and have drawn very different lessons from it for the problems facing water users today."

Indeed, much of the writing on water rights has revolved around the paradigmatic axis of private-common-public property, and this will be the focus of most of the following posts. Much of the literature in this vein belongs to positive theory, attempting to explain why property in water has taken various forms in various places at various times. Lying alongside this body of positive work, and oftentimes intertwined with it, is a more normative strain of scholarship, advancing arguments as to the proper property regime for water, whether in general or under specific sorts of conditions. Both topics have been deeply engaged, as well, by large bodies of historical and contemporary empirical work.

More recently, the traditional law of property rights in water has been challenged and complemented with two different sorts of "rights talk", with lawmaking institutions and legal scholars advancing and grappling with the ideas of public rights in water and a human right to water, rights that may interact with classic property rights in water in complex ways. Developments around these topics will be treated in the final posts of this series.

Next: Systems of property rights in water

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Love Canal, CERCLA, and deregulation

This past summer H-Environment published a Roundtable Review of Richard Newman's Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present (OUP, 2016). An excerpt from Stephanie Malin's contribution:
While the Superfund Act [CERCLA] resulted from national awareness of Love Canal, and though Newman focuses on the success that legislation represents, we conclude with a troubling denouement. Love Canal is now Black Village Creek, filling up with a new round of working-class residents enticed by homes priced 10 – 20% below market value. Though former residents including Gibbs fought the relocation, they lost this battle. Developers won. The results have been tragic; as Newman recounts, health problems and toxic exposures have reemerged in this ‘remediated’ community, despite the extensive, state-of-­the-­art environmental engineering schemes used to filter leachate and otherwise remediate the site.
Newman’s Love Canal succeeds in highlighting for readers an exceptionally timely notion: before the institutionalization of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program, the American landscape was riddled with unregulated, unmonitored, and often unknown chemical and industrial dumps from America’s dizzying participation in the Industrial Revolution. Communities like Love Canal that dealt with these historical mistakes, Newman shows, contended with rampant pollution, contested and rare health outcomes, and instances of deep disempowerment. Newman showcases for his readers the immense risks and voluminous unintended consequences that emerge when environmental regulations are absent and when the precautionary principle is eschewed in favor of industrial economic development, in one era after another. His historical details, and his careful examination of the numerous barriers faced by Love Canal activists, display that regulatory programs that protect public and environmental health are relatively new, have been hard won, and are constantly vulnerable to eradication. Indeed, these are the very programs that have most swiftly come under attack under the Trump Administration – which makes Newmans’s message so relevant and timely. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Recreational conflict on British rivers

Wastwater, the Lake District, England
(Canoekayak,com)
Rounding out coverage of September's issue of Water History, Marianna Dudley published “Muddying the waters: recreational conflict and rights of use of British rivers”. The abstract:
Rivers have historically been spaces of recreation, in addition to work, trade, and sustenance. Today, multiple groups (anglers, canoeists, rowers, swimmers) vie for the recreational use of rivers in Britain. But, this paper argues, legal definitions of rights of use have not kept up with the growth of recreational river use. Focusing on two groups, anglers and canoeists, it explores the emergence of conflict between recreational users of British rivers in the twentieth century, and subsequent campaigns for universal public rights of navigation on inland waterways. As a result of conflict (real and perceived), small-scale organized groups have re-conceptualized river spaces in ways that reflect a modern engagement with, and understanding of, water through recreation. This papers foregrounds recreation as a form of water-use that generates important water-knowledge. Grounded in the Environmental Humanities, it draws on notions of legal geographies, ‘modern’ waters, and hydrocommons to suggest that small-scale conflicts on British rivers are challenging how we use, govern, and conceptualize river water.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

US energy regulation

Hauling crude oil to a refinery in Casper, Wyoming, c. 1900
(Casper College Western History Center)
Dan Farber at Legal Planet posted the other day on how the US federal government's regulation of the energy sector goes back a while:
To hear some of the debate, you’d think that the Obama Administration breached some longstanding barrier that left energy policy to the states and the market. If there ever was such a barrier, it disappeared over a century ago, with the onset of World War I.  Ever since then, the federal government has been actively shaping energy production, distribution, and sale.  We wouldn’t have the oil industry or the coal industry we have today if the Feds hadn’t been involved.  That’s not to mention all the money the Feds poured into building dams for hydroelectric power. Putting aside hydro, efforts to move the nation away from reliance solely on fossil fuels dates back sixty years when Congress decided to promote the use of nuclear power.
Simply listing federal statutes is enough to show how pervasively the Feds have been involved. Here is a timeline of major federal actions with a sentence about what each one did. I’ve included only a couple of the Supreme Court decisions that have helped shape the law, and none of the major administrative actions, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) deregulation of wholesale electricity prices and revamping of power grid management. I’m also excluding environmental regulations, which obviously have had a substantial impact on the energy sector. Nevertheless, the number and scope of federal interventions is overwhelming:
1906.  Congress passes the Hepburn Act, which limited ownership of oil pipelines by oil producers.
The rest is at Legal Planet.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rhine river governance

The law of the Rhine River seems to be a fruitful topic (see here and here). The latest Water History has an article by Jennifer Schiff, "The evolution of Rhine river governance: historical lessons for modern transboundary water management". The abstract:
Transboundary rivers pose significant governing challenges to state actors, as riparian stakeholders struggle to balance their own interests in a critical resource against those of their neighbors. To that end, a case study of Europe’s Rhine River is illustrative, as it provides a strong historical example of shared water management. Indeed, the Rhine experience suggests at least two universal lessons that modern riparian actors the world over would do well to consider when balancing shared riverine interests. First, that transboundary water cooperation is supported by a shared historical legacy of water governance, suggesting that, if a governing regime does not yet exist, riparian actors should purposefully create one in anticipation of future coordination issues. Second, the case of the Rhine demonstrates that an acute environmental crisis is not a necessary condition for intensive shared riverine governance, and instead, it is extant historical collaboration that leads to later effective crisis coordination.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Water Resources Research Act

The latest issue of Water History has a few articles with legal aspects on which I plan to post. The first is "Instituting water research: the Water Resources Research Act (1964) and the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute", by Adam M. Sowards and Brynn M. Lacabanne. The abstract:
In 1964, Congress passed the Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) and created state research institutes to pursue practical research for the nation’s growing water problems. The Idaho Water Resources Research Institute (IWRRI), initiated as part of WRRA, implemented its research program with multidisciplinary specialists across Idaho. Collaborating with public and private partners, IWRRI advanced research that reflected distinct political, economic, and environmental needs at a time when the state required more rigorous water planning. Case studies presented here include research on understanding and valuing wild and scenic rivers, tracing and mitigating water pollution from industrial mining, and improving efficiency and promoting maximization in irrigation among rural landscapes. Scientists developed new methods and advised on ways to improve water quality. Tracing IWRRI’s research demonstrates how concerns about wilderness, pollution, and efficiency developed within a research regime determined to improve water resources management. Each element reflected historical forces and social values, something only occasionally acknowledged by the researchers but nonetheless central to their efforts. In this way, IWRRI shines analytical light on state water use and the policy and scientific methods used to comprehend, mitigate, and manage water resources. The history of institutes like IWRRI provide a neglected, but useful, avenue to explore the powerful ways contemporary legal, political, and economic concerns shaped scientific research agendas, reminding us of the larger social context in which scientific research occurs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trump, Carl Schmitt, and climate change denial

Over at the Niskanen Center blog, Mark Weiner recently posted the very interesting "Climate Change Denial as the Historical Consciousness of Trumpism: Lessons from Carl Schmitt". Some excerpts:
We need to understand Trumpism as a philosophical movement even better than its own adherents do, and with full interpretive sympathy, and we need to be prepared to confront it along all its philosophical axes.
The most central of these axes is Trumpism’s approach to history, because the identity of a political movement, like that of a nation, becomes fully apparent only once it possesses a self-conscious understanding of the past.
*****
As a framework for interpreting the past, climate change denial grows logically from the core metaphysical commitments of contemporary populist nationalism in its confrontation with trans-Atlantic, cosmopolitan, individualist liberalism.
In this respect one might thus regard it as the distinctive form of anti-liberal historical thinking of our era. 
*****
Two principles of Schmitt’s writing are especially relevant to understanding the place of climate change denial in Trumpism’s historical consciousness, and they’re worth discussing at some length. Each principle links Trumpian domestic and international politics as two sides of the same philosophical coin.
The political is inviolable
First, for Schmitt a community’s ability to draw the friend-enemy distinction can—by definition—brook no conceptual or institutional restraint.
Most notably, the distinction can’t be predicated on other domains of human value, such as morals, aesthetics, or economics. Ideals from these fields may be used to enhance public feelings of opposition. Enemies are regularly portrayed as ugly, for instance—a practice at which Trump personally excels.
But the object of a community’s political dissociation is made on the basis of criteria independent from judgments about good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or profit and loss.
Liberals today regularly violate this principle. They seek to circumscribe national sovereignty within generally-applicable legal norms such as individual human dignity—consider Article I of the German Basic Law—and to restrict it through institutions like the United Nations.
Schmitt views such liberal projects not simply as na├»ve, but also as a recipe for social chaos at home and unrestrained, imperialistic violence abroad. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A colonial history of the River Murray dispute

Adam Webster recently posted his article, "A Colonial History of the River Murray Dispute". The abstract:
This article examines the history of the dispute over the sharing of the waters of the River Murray between the colonies, with particular emphasis on the period from the mid-1880s to the mid-1890s. The article shows that the change in water use by the colonies during this period had a significant impact on the question of how the water should be shared between the colonies. The article examines the early legal arguments regarding the ‘rights’ of the colonies to the waters of the River Murray and argues that these early legal analyses influenced the drafting of the Australian Constitution, which in turn has influenced the way similar disputes between the states are resolved today.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Animal welfare law in Scotland

Daniel James Carr recently posted "The Historical Development of Animal Welfare Law in Nineteenth Century Scotland". The abstract:
This paper examines the development of animal welfare in Scotland. Whilst the law developed in tandem with developments across nineteenth century Britain, the paper draws attention to the distinctive Scottish situation. By examining the development from disparate common law protections to the statutory interventions of the nineteenth century the paper charts that development, and begins to place it within nascent 'humanist' movements emerging around this time. The piece examines how the Scottish doctrinal law took a distinctive direction in decisions, and in particular considers contemporary opinion. The paper is the first to take a look at the particular Scottish development and opens up new avenues of research into the nineteenth century, and also frames developments in the modern law which I will pursue in future research.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

London's smoke regulation

The Court of Aldermen and Common Council of the City of London (1780)
Last week's Reviews in History posted a review by Elly Robson of William Cavert's The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge UP, 2016, recently out in paperback). (For an earlier review see here.) From the review:
Cavert is particularly strong on the complex role of political and legal institutions – both local and national – in managing coal supply and regulating smoke. In his account, the politics of coal and smoke was a politics of governance. Chapter five, ‘Nuisance and neighbours’, deals with the legal category of ‘nuisance’ to cast light on how conflict over pollution was defined and mediated. In it, Calvert investigates a smorgasbord of relatively ineffective litigious avenues for pursuing redress against industrial polluters who infringed on royal or individual property and health. Law Reports form the mainstay of the chapter and Cavert’s frustration is evident when he describes searching for nuisance cases in Westminster court archives, including 10,000 pleas in King’s Bench, as akin to ‘looking for needles in large and messy haystacks’. Yet he casts his net wide, examining an impressive array of London institutions, including the Fishmongers Company, the Court of Aldermen, and the Wardmote Courts. He consequently has an acute sense of the regulative capacity of different, interlocking jurisdictions, but does not present them as totalising in influence. Instead his emphasis falls on their limitations. Private contracts by landlords were far more effective than common law courts in excluding noxious trades from certain parts of the city, particularly in creating an elite non-industrial zone in genteel west London. This chapter tells us more about institutions and their limits than it does about the ways in which smoke sparked neighbourly negotiation. Royal and aristocratic attempts to limit air pollution in their vicinity have left a more prominent archival trace. However, further light may be cast on environmental conflict between more lowly urban neighbours through further examination of legal depositions, which tend to be well catalogued and have provided a rich lens for early modern historians examining rural disputes over resources.
A concern with governance recurs in part three, where several chapters examine the role of the state in regulating London’s coal supply and mediating the competing claims of civic governors, coal suppliers, the military, the urban poor, merchants, and industries. Efforts to ensure a constant flow of coal to the capital were more energetically pursued than attempts to alleviate pollution, because the former aligned with the priorities of the fiscal-military state: taxation, naval power, social stability, and economic development. Although there was never a state monopoly over the coal trade, the state gathered information through taxes on coal imports and intervened in markets by granting and revoking charters. Tensions could arise, however, between state revenues and economic growth, as merchants mobilised to lobby against rising coal taxes. Similarly, in times of war, able seamen transporting coal down the coast became a valued resource and were vulnerable to naval impressment, forcing the government to balance external military dangers with the threat that fuel scarcity posed to internal social order. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Postwar America's greatest environmentalist

More on working-class environmentalism and the law (see, most recently, here): Jacobin recently ran a piece by Connor Kilpatrick claiming that "Postwar America’s greatest environmentalist was a labor leader". There's a lot here also about politics, religion, climate skepticism and more. Some excerpts:
Today, the AFL-CIO lobbies Congress to pass the Keystone XL pipeline while noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen, one of the first to link global warming to fossil fuels, is repeatedly arrested for protesting such projects. And while in 2017, the idea that the interests between wonky environmentalists and jobs-focused trade unionists would diverge seems like common sense, it’s only because the bad guys won.
But it wasn’t a preordained victory. For nearly a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, environmentalism seemed to be on the cusp of a popular reckoning against the powers of capital. And it found an ally in the labor movement which, for a few years, looked like it might be able to not only cling to life but find a way back into the heart of American society.
[Tony] Mazzocchi and his union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International (OCAW), were the primary muscle behind the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), signed into law by Richard Nixon. Looking back on that victory, which mobilized both labor and the burgeoning environmental movement, Mazzocchi said: “We have demonstrated that an unpopular idea can be generated into a powerful political program that’ll reignite the consciousness of the American people.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Colonial aspects of international environmental law

Signing the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946
Douglas de Castro recently posted "The Colonial Aspects of the International Environmental Law – Treaties as Promoters of Continuous Structural Violence". This is a topic that has come up before in work by Yoriko Otomo and others. De Castro's abstract:
The formation of international institutions in the twentieth century occurs under a scenario marked by the rule of colonialism and imperialism. Thus, instead of reducing inequalities in the world system, international institutions reproduce a prevalent logic of material and subjective discrimination based on a colonialist ideology marked by violence, which is communicated in a certain way so that it can justify its importance and legitimacy. The colonial violence is perpetuated under the form of symbolic violence manifested in the language that imposes a universal meaning and systemic violence that manifests itself in the "perfect" functioning of the world economic and political system as the ultimate form of development. One of the perverse and subtle dimensions of this violence is observed in the emergence of the International Environmental Law in terms of metanarratives that excludes minorities and perceptions other than the ones propagated by international institutions. The main objective of this article is identifying the dynamics in the formation of environmental treaties leading to standard results of discursive practices that feeds the process of dependence and legitimation marked by colonial ruling and structural violence. The methodological approach relies on the critical theory tenets to expose the non-emancipatory features of the current International Environmental Law by the application of the socio-legal approach to the treaties that consists of the text analysis (law), subtext (the moral aspects of the law – deep or implicit meanings), and context (the undeniable connection between law and reality). The empirical dimension is developed with the help of the computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CADQAS) called ATLAS.ti.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Policy symbolism and regulatory standardization

Toronto Terminals Railway Central Heating Plant, 1929
Working through my backlog, I recently came across Owen Temby's 2015 article in Planning Perspectives, "Policy symbolism and air pollution in Toronto and Ontario, 1963–1967". The article has an interesting take on the secular movement of environmental regulation from the local level to higher levels of government. The argument that industry had more influence at the provincial level than at the municipal level is interesting since environmental groups are also often assumed to prefer higher levels of government, where they can better concentrate the diffuse environmental interests of the public. The article also cuts against the assumption that local regulation was relatively weak, and that the national-level regulation of the 1960s and later was some kind of victory for environmental interests. Food for thought.

The abstract:
In 1967, jurisdiction over clean air policy in Toronto and the rest of Ontario's municipalities was transferred to the provincial government. Even though the municipalities had obtained extensive authority to regulate air pollution within their own boundaries nine years earlier, the vast majority (apart from Toronto) had not developed clean air programmes. Yet air pollution was a highly salient issue that aroused considerable public attention and local activism. This paper provides an account of the provincial takeover in air pollution, focusing on two factors enabling the Ontario government to pass two statutes transferring authority from municipalities to the provincial Department of Health. First, despite resistance in Toronto, the policy change was favoured by industry, which had more influence in the provincial government than across municipalities. Second, the inherently symbolic features of clean air policy allowed the provincial government to satisfy public demand for action while not appreciably creating more stringent regulations. These findings are consistent with studies of US clean air policy displaying a similar tendency among industry to support regulatory standardization across broad political scales.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Aboriginal water rights

Aboriginal men obtain water from mallee root at Yalata in South Australia, 1981
(National Library of Australia)
Peter D. Burdon, Georgina Drew, Matthew T. Stubbs, Adam Webster, and Marcus Barber recently posted "Decolonising Indigenous Water ‘Rights’ in Australia: Flow, Difference and the Limits of Law". The abstract:
This article addresses Indigenous Australian claims to water resources and how they inform and relate to current Australian law and contemporary legal thinking about future possibilities. It adopts a multidisciplinary approach, drawing from historical records, previous ethnographic investigation with Indigenous Australians, current legal scholarship, and social anthropological theory. In doing so, it analyses Indigenous dependencies on water, the history of settler colonial orientations to water bodies, the evolution of settler colonial–Indigenous relations to natural resources, and the development of the Australian legal system’s regulation of water. This provides foundations for a discussion of the limitations of settler colonial notions of property and the failure of settler colonial law to understand and incorporate the dynamism of Indigenous relationships to water, particularly the meaning and productive capacity of water flows within Indigenous cosmologies and sociocultural and ecological systems. Calling for a decolonial turn in legal approaches to Indigenous access and water resource determination, the authors explore the ways in which Australian law may need to ‘unthink’ settler colonial notions of resource ownership as a prerequisite for reformulating future water policy and planning. This reformulation relies on a more extensive legal philosophical engagement with the concept of ‘flow’, a concept that already exists in both water law and planning, but which has not been adequately theorised and enacted. A more comprehensive legal understanding of flow in the context of Indigenous understandings of, and claims to, water provides more sustainable and equitable legal and analytical foundations for managing future water resources issues. The article creates the space for a more culturally relevant notion of ‘Indigenous water rights’ and for new ways of honouring the interrelationship between water flows, meaning-making practices, and cultural continuity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Cold War context of "risk"

The Journal of Policy History recently published Linda Nash's "From Safety to Risk: The Cold War Contexts of American Environmental Policy". From the introduction (notes omitted):
The late twentieth century marked the rise of “risk society,” to use Ulrich Beck’s well-known term. In Beck’s account, the seemingly endless proliferation of material risks to health and environmental integrity is the outcome of late capitalist modernization, a proliferation that society’s institutions are completely unable to control or address. But without disputing the fact that industrialization has introduced a multitude of new threats to both bodies and environments, their conceptualization as “risks”—rather than merely as “dangers”—was more than a choice of words; it marked both an important policy change and a crucial cultural and political shift.
The dominance of risk discourse in environmental and health policy has not gone unchallenged. Since its inception in the 1970s, the assumptions and methods of regulatory risk assessment have been critiqued and interrogated from a number of perspectives. The social science literature on the topic is vast, much of it quite nuanced and attuned to the social, cultural, and political contexts that structure both lay people’s and experts’ perception of risk. But most who write about risk do not seriously question the term itself, nor do they consider its history. To the contrary, most scholars treat the language of “risk” ahistorically, often conflating “risk” with any kind of danger. Existing historical treatments have been narrowly framed as studies of a single area of federal law and policy. In these accounts, the rise of risk is portrayed either as a necessary maturation of environmental policy that was driven by greater understanding of the issues and improvements in science and technology, or, alternatively, as a triumph of industry and business-friendly politicians in opposing federal regulations. In all these accounts, the focus has been on government actors and, to a lesser extent, industry representatives.
This article builds upon the existing historical work but offers a somewhat broader institutional and intellectual history of risk in the postwar period, drawing particularly on scholarship that has emphasized the role of the Cold War in shaping American social and political thought across the second half of the twentieth century. Rather than locating the shift toward risk in techno-scientific developments or solely in conservative politics, I emphasize the role of intellectuals committed to new modes of formalized decision making and their influence among a new generation of agency managers. Scholars of environmental politics have paid little attention to the intellectual contexts that influenced the development of environmental policy. At the same time, historical accounts of systems analysis and its key institutions have emphasized their influence in defense rather than domestic policy, while their impact on environmental policy has been left almost completely unexplored.
Moreover, when the institutional and intellectual contexts of risk discourse are examined, it emerges not as a logical response to advances in science or technology, nor as simply a response to the challenges of “modernity”; rather, it depended upon the particular political and material forms that modernity took in the post–World War II United States. While acknowledging that politics played an important role in the ultimate adoption of the risk framework, the core of my argument is that risk thinking marked a radical departure from previous approaches to environmental regulation—from an approach based in biology and assumptions about human rights to one based in economics—and that the roots of this shift lay in Cold War defense planning and the insular academic and intellectual worlds it spawned.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Drinking water standards

Yesterday's This Day in Water History had this quote from the AWWA's Water Quality and Treatment (3rd ed., 1971) (most comments removed):
“On October 21, 1914, pursuant to the recommendation of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, the Treasury Department adopted the first standards for drinking water supplied to the public by any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. These standards specified the maximum permissible limits of bacteriological impurity, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. The bacterial plate count on standard agar incubated for 24 [hours] at 37 C was not to exceed 100/cc.
  2. Not more than one of the five 10-cc portions of each sample examined was to show presence of B. coli.
  3. The recommended procedures were those in Standard Methods of Water Analysis (APHA, 1912).

These standards were drafted by a commission of 15 appointed members. Among the members of this commission were Charles Gilman Hyde, Milton J. Rosenau, William T. Sedgwick, George C. Whipple and C.-E. A. Winslow, names well known to those who have studied early developments in water treatment.
Though not a part of the standards, the accompanying first progress report is very interesting as it provides insight into the commission’s deliberations on other problems. There appears to have been considerable discussion on whether the standards should also state that the water shall ‘be free from injurious effects upon the human body and free from offensiveness to the sense of sight, taste, or smell’; whether the quality of water required should be obtainable by the common carriers without prohibitive expense; and whether it would be necessary to require more than a ‘few and simple examinations to determine the quality of drinking water.’”
US Public Health Service Hygienic Laboratory, c. 1930

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bevin Boys - WWII coal conscription

Bevin Boys report for duty in 1943 (Express)
The blog "ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly" earlier this week had an interesting post on something I knew nothing about, despite my once-future career as a military historian. It seems that Britain conscripted nearly 50,000 men to work in its coal mines, in place of the military service, during the period 1943-48. From the blog:
Coal was essential for military production during WW2; somehow Britain had to match the quotas needed to keep fact­ories churn­ing out the munitions required at the front. And as Britain was unable to import coal in wartime, the production of coal from local mines had to be increased. But how? 36,000 miners were already cons­crip­t­ed for army duty and had left their collieries.
Ernest Bevin, wartime Minister of Labour and National Service and a former Trade Unionist, believed the short­age could be remedied by using conscripted men to fill the vacancies in the mines, keeping production at the rates requir­ed. In Dec 1943 he announced a scheme in Parliament. 
A ballot would take place to put a fixed perc­ent­age of cons­cript­ed men into the underground collieries rather than into the armed services. “We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.” Any refusal to comply with the Direction Order would result in a heavy fine and/or imprisonment under the Emergency Powers Act in force back then.
There's lots more on the story at the blog, worth a read.