Friday, April 19, 2019

LBJ's Green Great Society and environmental law

Dan Farber recently posted at Legal Planet on the environmental aspects US President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society". From the post:
When he announced the Great Society in a commencement speech at the University of Michigan, Johnson gave the environment a leading place. He began his May 1964 speech with the plight of American cities, where he decried “the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs.” Then he turned to the environment: “The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing.” He added, “For once the battle is lost, once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.”
Johnson’s Presidency was accompanied by a surge of environmental laws. Here are some of the laws he signed:
1963 The Clean Air Act
1964 The Pesticide Control Bill
The Water Quality Act
The Wilderness Act
1965 The Water Resource Planning Act
The Water and Sanitation Systems in Rural Areas Bill
The Solid Waste Disposal Bill
The Safe Water Conservation Act
1966 The Air Quality Act
National Historic Preservation Act
Endangered Species Act
1967 The National Water Commission
Wild and Scenic Rivers
Wetlands Preservation Bill
Many of these laws are remembered today only as the preludes to the stronger laws that followed in the 1970s. But these Johnson-era laws provided the foundation for that later legislation, and they set the precedent for vigorous federal protection of the environment.
For a different list of environmental laws signed by LBJ, see here.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Coke, Popham, and Commissions of Sewers

Eric Ash's The Draining of the Fens: Projectors, Popular Politics, and State Building in Early Modern England (JHU Press, 2016) was recently reviewed by Bob Silvester in Environment and History (for an interview with the author see here). Famous common law judges play a big role in this story. The review reports that Ash:
Sir John Popham,
copy by George Perfect Harding, after unknown
succeeds admirably though is in fleshing out the procedures – there is a masterly commentary on the commissions of sewers – and events that have been dealt with only cursorily in the past. Lord Chief Justice Popham’s plans to dry out the Great Level, which resulted in little more than the construction of a large drain known as Popham’s Eau lying east of March in Cambridgeshire, seemed an obscure event when I worked in the Fens in the 1980s...; just what Popham sought to achieve and how it fitted into the overall sequence of drainage ventures is now much clearer through the careful analysis of archival material.
Regarding the author's statement that his "principal goal is to use the drainage projects to connect the broader political, economic, social and environmental developments of the era", Silvester writes that "there are times when fenland drainage appears to be subsumed within a broader discourse as simply an outstanding example of state-building in progress. It accounts for the lengthy digression on Lord Chief Justice Coke’s interference in fenland affairs around 1609".

For more on Commissions of Sewers and drainage law, see here.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The "government take" and environmental protection

Suncor oilsands mine near Fort McMurray (Todd Korol, Toronto Star)
Though Israel's coming elections revolve around other issues (and non-issues), a major political issue in Israel over the last decade has been how to divide the profits of the country's natural gas finds between the developers and the public (the legal owners of the resource). While environmental groups have argued - and this has also been my natural inclination - that the public's ownership should be expressed with a relatively large "government take" (the percentage of revenue paid over to the state in the form of royalties and taxes), I have also noted that increasing the government's financial interest in the gas decreases its motivation to effectively regulate the environmental aspects of its development.

Hereward Longley's recent article in Environment and History, "Conflicting Interests: Development Politics and the Environmental Regulation of the Alberta Oil Sands Industry, 1970–1980", provides historical support for this argument. The abstract:
This article examines the relationship between development politics and environmental regulation and research during the first commercial development phase of the oil sands industry. As demand for oil grew after the Second World War, and oil supplies from the Middle East became less stable, oil companies began building facilities to produce synthetic oil from the bitumen deposits in north-eastern Alberta. The commercialisation of the oil sands industry coincided with the formalisation of environmental policy at both the provincial and federal levels. When the Progressive Conservative Party, led by Premier Peter Lougheed, formed a government after winning the 1971 election, it strengthened and expanded the scope of environmental regulation into the mid-1970s. The 1973 oil crisis changed the economic viability and importance of the oil sands industry. For Lougheed, the oil sands industry became a cornerstone of the PC government’s goals to diversify the Alberta economy. To save the Syncrude project after Atlantic Richfield withdrew its thirty per cent stake in the consortium in December 1974, the Alberta government bought a ten per cent position along with the federal government and Ontario. This article argues that investing in the oil sands industry created a conflict of interest for the Alberta government, as it became both the regulator and the developer of the resource. Using a range of archival sources and oral history, it shows how Alberta’s environmental policies and research programmes were sidelined by the Lougheed government in the latter half of the 1970s, culminating in the cancellation of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program in 1980. The marginalisation of environmental regulation and research has contributed to the environmental impacts of the oil sands industry on ecosystems and Indigenous communities, and limited public awareness of environmental change.