Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Environmental originalism

Over at Legal Planet Dan Farber recently blogged on "The Truth About Environmental Originalism". Farber writes:
Scott Pruitt has taken to talking about environmental originalism – going back to the original intent of our environmental laws. But he’s got the original intent completely backwards. The statutes weren’t intended to protect jobs or grow the economy. They were intended to protect the environment, with cost at best a secondary consideration.
In fact, some of the key provisions of our environmental laws preclude consideration of cost or even technological feasibility. For instance, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national air quality standards based entirely on possible risks to public health – and “with an adequate margin of safety.” As Justice Scalia himself was forced to admit in Whitman v. American Trucking Ass’n, the statute “unambiguously bars cost considerations.” In fact, he said in a footnote, EPA would be reversed in court there was proof that it secretly did take cost into account. (Pruitt might want to take note of this, given the number of leaks from the government these days.) As Scalia also recognized, these cost-oblivious air quality standards are the linchpin of the Clean Air Act. 
This is not the only statutory provision that ignores costs. The Endangered Species Act prohibits agencies from jeopardizing the survival of species in absolute terms, with only a rarely used exception for extraordinary cases, requiring approval by a special cabinet-level committee. OSHA requires that standards for toxic chemicals in the workplace be set to eliminate any significant risk to workers, unless doing so would bankrupt the industry.
It’s important to recognize that the federal environmental laws were passed in a time of remarkable public ferment over the environment. Don’t forget this was the era of the first Earth Day, of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and of a public shocked by a fire on the Cuyahoga River and the Love Canal toxic dump. As I discuss in a recent paper, even arch-conservatives like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley were calling for much stricter pollution control. The public today remains broadly supportive of environmental regulation but the issue is no longer a top priority for most people. But it was an urgent priority in the 1970s when these laws were passed. The original intent was about as far away from current Republican views as humanly possible. If they could see that Scott Pruitt had become head of the EPA, the framers of these laws would have been appalled.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Property law and flooding

William Smyth Maynard Wolfe, “Maugerville on the St. John River, New Brunswick”
Continuing our trend on water, the Osgoode Society recently announced that Jason Hall has won its Peter Oliver Prize for best published student writing for his article, "High Freshets and Low-Lying Farms: Property Law and St. John River Flooding in Colonial New Brunswick". The abstract:
Although New Brunswick was founded on private land ownership, colonists who settled low-lying land along the St. John River found that the waterway's erratic flood cycle and ever-changing nature threatened their lives and farms, and thwarted their efforts to divide riverbanks and islands into fixed parcels of private  property. This article draws upon colonial petitions, sessional court records, and colonial legislation in analyzing the response of the colonial legislature and of local governance to the challenge that the St. John River created for property rights and a private land management system dependent on static boundaries and fixed fences. In examining the colonists' attempts to adapt property law to foster appropriate responses to their changing environment and social needs, this article provides insight into the evolution of colonial law, local governance, the ecological knowledge of farmers, social conflict, and adaptations to flooding in early New Brunswick.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Legal traditions and environmental factors in water law

Gonzalo Rodriguez recently posted "Protecting Inland Waterways: From the Institutes of Gaius to Magna Carta". The abstract:
No single factor has had a more significant effect on the ebbs and flows of history than water. Water creates civilizations, and water brings them to extinction. Even today, thousands of years after we learned to harness the power of water, we continue to struggle in determining how to prioritize competing uses of water resources, how to make water available to all who need it, and how to protect it. Yet, these are questions that humans have faced since as long as history dares to recollect.
What factors guide civilizations in their decision whether, and to what extent, to regulate and protect inland waterways? This article looks at four legal codes from three distinct civilizations: From the Romans, The Institutes of Gaius and the Corpus Juris Civilis; from the Visigoth Kingdom, the Visigothic Code; and from the English, Magna Carta. This article proposes that, perhaps more so than inherited Roman tradition, two sets of factors influenced the extent to which these codes protected inland waterways: perceptions of water resource abundance and the propensity for navigability and trade of these civilizations’ inland waterways.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Scalia's "takings" legacy

John Echeverria recently posted "Antonin Scalia's Flawed Takings Legacy". The abstract:
This essay offers a generally negative appraisal of the significance of Justice Antonin Scalia’s work on the takings issue during his tenure on the Supreme Court. While Justice Scalia was a visible advocate for expanding the scope of regulatory takings doctrine, and his opinion for the Court in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council represents an important precedent, the totality of Scalia’s takings work turned out to be relatively inconsequential. He only authored two majority opinions in takings cases during 30-plus years on the Court. No grand theory motivated his work on the issue, though he was surely sympathetic to the potential for the Takings Clause to constrain the permissible scope of government regulation. Scalia’s substantive contributions to takings jurisprudence are best understood as an effort to elaborate upon the two-part takings test articulated by Justice Lewis Powell in his 1980 opinion for the Court in Agins v. City of Tiburon. The first branch of this test, suggesting that a regulation denying economically viable use of property necessarily represents a taking, blossomed into the Lucas decision; though undeniably important, Lucas has turned out to have a relatively narrow scope. The second branch of the Agins test, suggesting that a regulation results in a taking if it fails to substantially advance a legitimate governmental interest, was repudiated by a unanimous Supreme Court, including Scalia himself, in the 2005 decision in Lingle v. Chevron USA Inc.
For more on Scalia and takings, see here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Property in water and urban water supply

"New" Jersey City reservoir, c. 1880
Yesterday's This Day in Water History posted an interesting story on a 1919 fine handed down to Jersey City for using too much water, but both the original report and the commentary reflect some misunderstandings. The blog quotes an editorial on "Public Control of Water" from the Municipal Journal of June 14, 1919:
Water companies and departments have appealed to consumers from time to time to restrict consumption in order to avert a water famine in the city, and meters are used largely to prevent waste; but we believe it is something new to impose a penalty for excessive consumption. As told last week, Jersey City, N. J., has been fined by the state $22,285 for using from the Rockaway river more than the 100 gallons per day per capita which had been allotted to it. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Indian water rights, federal water rights, and state courts

Ed Mendoza of the Gila River Indian Community, Arizona (photo: Monica Almeida/NYT)
Dylan Hedden-Nicely recently posted "The Legislative History of the McCarran Amendment: An Effort to Determine Whether Congress Intended for State Court Jurisdiction to Extend to Indian Reserved Water Rights", published in Environmental Law. The abstract:
The year 1976 marked a sea change in federal policy regarding the treatment of American Indian tribes and their water rights. In that year, the Supreme Court of the United States was called upon to determine the scope of the McCarran Amendment, a rider on a federal appropriations bill that waived the sovereign immunity of the United States in state court general stream adjudications “where it appears that the United States is the owner or is in the process of acquiring water rights by appropriation under State law, by purchase, by exchange, or otherwise.” The Supreme Court, in what has been called a “clear example of judicial legislation,” interpreted that language to grant state court jurisdiction for the determination of Indian reserved water rights. In so doing, the Court abandoned the “deeply rooted” federal policy of “leaving Indians free from state jurisdiction and control,” and has subjected the tribes to “hostile [state court] forums in which [the tribes] must be prepared to compromise their [water right] claims.”
The purpose of this Article is to examine the legislative history of the McCarran Amendment ― the available Congressional Record, the Senate Report, as well as the Hearing Minutes ― in an effort to ascertain whether it was Congress’s intent to include Indian reserved water rights within the scope of the McCarran Amendment.
The legislative history indicates that “the McCarran Amendment was meant to be interpreted narrowly, not broadly.” It demonstrates that the Senators’ actual concern had not to do with federal reserved water rights but instead that the United States, acting in a proprietary rather than sovereign capacity, had been acquiring an ever-increasing number of state law water rights but was refusing to enter state court proceedings to either adjudicate or administer those rights. As the presence of the federal government increased in the river basins of the West, the proponents of the McCarran Amendment became increasingly alarmed that federal claims of sovereign immunity would effectively preclude state courts from enforcing state water law, thereby causing “the years of building the water laws of the Western States . . . [to] be seriously jeopardized.”
Far from a general waiver, the legislative history reveals that the sponsors of the McCarran Amendment intended to address only this narrow but politically explosive problem where the United States was claiming a “privilege of immunity that the original owner wouldn’t have.” Indian reserved water rights, which are reserved by the federal government in its sovereign capacity for the benefit of Indian tribes that have sovereign immunity independent of the United States, do not appear to have been considered or intended to be included by Congress as the McCarran Amendment was passed into law.
For more on Indian water rights, see here.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Water law and apartheid

The latest Water History has an article by Johann Tempelhoff, "The Water Act, No. 54 of 1956 and the first phase of apartheid in South Africa (1948–1960)". The abstract:
After the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 the government department responsible for water governance, in terms of the Irrigation and Conservation of Water Act, No. 8 of 1912 went by the name of the Department of Irrigation. In 1956, when the Water Act, No. 54 of 1956, was passed its name changed to the Department of Water Affairs. The new legislation marked the beginning of a new era in South Africa’s water governance. The focus of the department shifted from irrigation infrastructure and bulk water governance responsibilities, to make an important contribution to the country’s social and economic development. Priorities of the day included the need for more comprehensive water infrastructure for industrial development; the greater demand for water in the country’s rapidly growing urban areas; and taking steps against the increasing threat of water pollution. In this paper the focus is on the way the department, in terms of the Water Act of 1956, responded to the policy of separate development (apartheid), but at the same time took a deeper and long-term view of the development of water infrastructure to be of value for the country and its people, beyond the shorter temporal view of the political leaders of the day. The period 1948–1960 can be seen as the first phase of apartheid (1948–1960). It was notable for the initial emergence of significant opposition amongst the country’s indigenous African people to the white minority government’s apartheid policies, but their struggle was subdued. This phase came to an end at a time when the rest of Africa was engaged in rapid decolonisation and South Africa became politically ostracised in the international arena. What is apparent is that the emergent hydraulic mission of industrialisation promoted unsurpassed development that was destined to have a marked effect on South Africa’s status as a modern state on the African continent.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Unraveling the racial context of property rights

Joseph Singer recently posted "Indian Title: Unraveling the Racial Context of Property Rights, or How to Stop Engaging in Conquest", an article relevant, I think, to those engaged with the history of law and the environment. The abstract:
John Marshall
The case of Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 US 543 (1823), is taught in many property law classes and is the only information given to new law students about the property rights of Indian nations. However, the case is often misunderstood as denying title to those nations. A close reading of the opinion, in light of three later cases decided in the early 19th century, reveals that the Supreme Court intended to recognize "Indian title" while granting the United States a right of first refusal if tribes sought to sell property on the open market to non-Indians. Far from denying tribal property rights, Justice Marshall's opinion in this case, as explicated by later cases, actually sought to protect tribal title from expropriation by the United States unless the tribes voluntarily consented to the transfer of land.
While it is true that the opinion contains offensive and racist language, assumptions, and arguments, it is important not to ignore the ways in which the opinion sought to criticize, as well as justify, conquest and to put a halt to it in the future. Of course, history did not turn out that way but it did result in our current reality where conquest was incomplete. There are 567 federally-recognized Indian nations in the US and if property law professors teach students that conquest was complete and that tribes have no property rights in their land, those messages have current consequences for tribes trying to exercise sovereignty and property rights today. The truth is that Indian nations have both sovereignty and property rights over their lands and they do not have a mere license or "permission from the whites to occupy" (as the Supreme Court suggested in the 1955 case of Tee-Hit-Ton v. United States).
Both property law professors and scholars of federal Indian law should understand both the offensive racist reasoning in the decision and the ways in which the opinion represents one of the most pro-Indian nation decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. Treating the opinion as simply a racist relic of the past, like the Dred Scott decision, and nothing more, deprives Indian nations of the ability to use the case (and later cases like it) as a bulwark against further non-consensual deprivation of tribal property rights. And such a misreading of the case infects current politics by suggesting that tribes are being unreasonable when they seek to have their property rights be given equal respect to the property rights of non-Indians.
The importance of recognizing that federal law does protect tribal title can be seen easily if one simply considers the Standing Rock Sioux's opposition to a pipeline that threatens their ancient lands—lands that are currently protected both by tribal law, a treaty with the United States, and federal statutes and common law. Understanding Indian title as an estate in land that is every bit as powerful as the fee simple—as equally "sacred" in the words of the Supreme Court—is the message we should be sending to new lawyers, not the opposite.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Pope, the Archbishop, and the Poet

(A little off the beaten path for this blog, but--despite the title--not a joke.
Thanks to Bruce Huber, John Langbein, and Shai Wozner for introducing me to the sources in this post.)

I. The Pope

Last year I was fortunate to be invited by Bruce Huber to participate in a great little conference on Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. The conference and reading the encyclical got me thinking about the relationship between law, religion, and urgent matters of policy (such as the environment and social justice), with some help from a classic source in English legal history courses (see below). More specifically, it got me thinking about the relative absence of law in contemporary discussions of religion and the environment, exemplified by Laudato Si'.

Reading the document with legal eyes, one thing that caught my attention was the essentially legal argument that the Pope makes about the responsibility of privileged classes and nations towards those less fortunate. Put simply, Francis argues that the earth's resources are the common property of humankind, and that disproportional exploitation by some creates a debt towards those who have benefited less from the common property:
Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone. (93)
The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. (95) 
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. (23)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

State-federal relations and American antienvironmentalism

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company’s Campbell Works, Youngstown, Ohio (c. 1960)
Ohio Valley History recently published Allen Dieterich-Ward's "'We’ve Got Jobs. Let’s Fight for Them': Coal, Clean Air, and the Politics of Antienvironmentalism". From the introduction (notes omitted):
Narrating the history of the environmental opposition has grown in importance over the past four decades as the rapid expansion of environmental laws gave way to a conservative antienvironmental movement determined to roll back policies seen as challenging older legal imperatives and in conflict with economic goals. Since the 1980s, first journalists and then historians have focused on the back and forth of environmental policymaking. The basic narrative is of an environmental backlash, which began in the mid-1970s in western states—the Sage Brush Rebellion that formed one of the conservative pillars in Reagan’s coalition. By the 1990s, protests over tightening federal land regulations coalesced ideologically into the wise use movement, which purported to be a modern update of Progressive Era practices (conservationist Gifford Pinchot coined the term “wise use” in 1910). As environmental politics became increasingly partisan, resurgent Republicans in Congress, such as Idaho’s Helen Chenoweth, Tom Delay of Texas, and Alaskan Don Young seized on the principles of wise use and made rolling back environmental regulations key to their “Contract with America.”
The Sage Brush Rebellion narrative provides a compelling shorthand for journalists and historians alike and is doubtless accurate in describing one element of the rise of the environmental opposition. However, the broader narrative of a grassroots backlash prompted by the relative liberalism of the 1970s has recently faced criticism by scholars who point out the ways this framework can mask the purposeful top-down strategies of powerful elites seeking policy wedges to divide the Democratic political coalition. Further, the regional focus of the Sage Brush Rebellion poses the same problems for the story of antienvironmentalism as the overemphasis on the American West that has often characterized scholarship on the environmental movement. While western concerns about federal land ownership sometimes dovetailed with fears among eastern politicians, industrialists, and blue-collar workers about the effects of environmental regulation on jobs, the latter proved at least as decisive in shaping the political landscape as conservationists within the Republican Party were first sidelined and then largely eliminated on the national level. The saga of the spotted owl and old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, after all, cannot fully serve as a stand-in for battles over algae blooms in Lake Erie or acid rain in the Ohio Valley and New England. In industrial cities like Gary, Indiana, and Cleveland, Ohio, opponents of environmentalism seized on plant closures as proof positive of their concerns about privileging “clean air and pure water” over “jobs and continued economic progress.”