Vermont Law School is a private, American Bar Association‑accredited law school located in South Royalton, Vermont. The Law School has one of the United States' leading programs in environmental law, and it is currently ranked #1 in Environmental Law by U.S. News and World Report; in recent years, the school has been ranked #1 in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2007, and #2 in 2008 . The Law School offers several degrees, including Juris Doctor , Master of Laws in Environmental Law, Master of Environmental Law and Policy ), and dual degrees with a diverse range of institutions, including the University of Cambridge, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. According to Vermont Law School's 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 54.5% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation. Wikipedia.
News Article | April 28, 2017
This story was originally published by the New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Most analyses of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have focused on what he hasn’t accomplished. But when it comes to the environment, he’s been active indeed. He has signed at least eight anti-environmental executive actions. His Environmental Protection Agency has ordered delays and reviews of anti-pollution rules. And he has appointed a Supreme Court justice with an anti-environmental bent. These actions aren’t just symbolic. With a few strokes of his pen, Trump has made decisions that could have environmentalists in court for the entirety of his presidency — and which may impact the environment for decades to come. Here are a few ways that Trump, in just 100 days, has already cemented a long-term environmental legacy. In his first week in office, Trump signed executive actions to revive the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, both of which had been in limbo. President Barack Obama had rejected construction of Keystone XL, saying the pipeline would transport relatively dirty Canadian tar sands oil that would undermine U.S. leadership in global climate talks. Trump’s orders changed that. “His decision led to the nearly immediate completion of Dakota Access,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. (Oil is now flowing through the pipeline.) With Keystone, it’s a bit more complicated. Environmental groups have filed a legal challenge to Trump’s decision, and are hopeful they can further delay the project. But Parenteau says it’s very unlikely that their challenge will succeed. “Keystone is a done deal,” he said. “Those are major, huge infrastructure investments that mean these oil and gas resources are going to be burned,” Parenteau said. “These pipelines are going to add emissions for probably 40 years.” Trump himself has cited Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation as his biggest accomplishment thus far. Pat Gallagher, the director of the Sierra Club’s environmental law program, agrees. When I asked him to name a Trump decision with the longest-lasting impact on the environment, he said, “Neil Gorsuch. Duh.” Gallagher and other environmentalists argue that Gorsuch has a history of ruling against environmental groups, often by concluding that they don’t have legal standing to bring their suits. Put another way, Gorsuch has historically favored dismissing lawsuits brought by environmental groups because it’s hard for them to prove they’ve suffered actual injury. “You’re talking about a 30-, 40-year legacy of decisions like this,” Gallagher said. “That dwarfs the impact of any executive order.” Trump signed an executive order lifting Obama’s temporary ban on new coal leasing on public lands. While other orders merely begin the process of rolling back environmental regulations, this one was immediate: Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted the Obama-era ban as soon as Trump signed the order. Right now, federal land accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production, according to The Hill. That translates into 13 percent of America’s energy-related carbon emissions. With Trump’s decision, 600 million tons of coal buried under federal lands are now open for mining. That’s not to say the coal industry is rushing to do so. “Practically, lifting the ban is not going to unleash a whole flood of coal burning, because the market’s already saturated,” Gallagher said. Indeed, the market has been saturated of late — that’s why so many coal companies are going bankrupt. But as Trump continues to deregulate coal power plants, it’s possible that demand could rise, at least temporarily. A lot of Trump’s orders have to do with killing regulations. But they don’t do so immediately; rather, they kickstart a long, fraught process of undoing, or rewriting, those regulations. That doesn’t mean, however, that those actions don’t have immediate impacts on the environment, said Melina Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director. Take Trump’s decision to reexamine Obama’s fuel efficiency standards for cars. While those standards won’t be reconsidered for some time, Pierce says the mere fact that they’re likely to be weakened will impact how automakers make their cars right now. Cars are one of the largest contributors to air pollution and carbon dioxide in the U.S. “Trump’s actions to review miles-per-gallon standards and tailpipe standards to cars; that sends a market signal to automakers about what their fleet should look like,” Pierce said. “With the uncertainty of that review, I think it would have a chilling effect on automakers’ decisions about how efficient to make their cars.” Some of the lasting impacts of Trump’s environmental agenda are cultural; they have less to do with actions he’s taken than the tone he has set. Blan Holman, a managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that by proposing to cut the EPA by 31 percent — including the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance — Trump sends a signal to polluters that federal regulators might go easy on them. “A lot of people have pulled back on purchasing equipment or undergoing cleanups because they think that the standards are going to be weakened,” Holman said. “There is an overall change in political weather just by virtue of that big momentum … People are starting to think, well perhaps the people who are running the place aren’t going to be giving out gold stars for protecting the most wetlands.” In just 100 days, Trump has waged environmental battles that will have lawyers in court for years. He pledged to review pollution regulations for cars and light trucks; promised to undo the greenhouse gas–cutting Clean Power Plan; and vowed to kill the Obama administration’s Waters of the United State (WOTUS) rule, which expands the definition of protected waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists have threatened to take Trump to court over all of these actions, and have set the stage for what E&E News called “prolonged, fierce battles in environmental law.” Parenteau thinks the longest case will be over the WOTUS rule, because there are multiple layers of challenges. Trump will face legal action not only to repealing Obama’s rule, but to whatever he replaces it with. Both will likely reach the Supreme Court. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this, nor have lawyers who have been working on these types of cases for a while,” Parenteau said.
News Article | April 26, 2017
Pres. Donald Trump’s administration has announced plans to dismantle an array of federal efforts to fight global warming, including a program to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, a rule limiting methane gas leaks and a mandate that aggressively boosts auto emissions standards. But Trump officials face a major roadblock in their efforts, legal scholars say. It is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2009 formal “endangerment finding,” which states carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases emitted from smokestacks and other man-made sources “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” This agency rule, supported by two Supreme Court decisions, legally compels the government to do exactly what its new leaders want to avoid: regulate greenhouse gases. Although EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt publicly doubts a connection between human-produced carbon emissions and global warming, any attempt to undo this rule “would be walking into a legal buzz saw,” says Michael Gerrard, faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. Endangerment is “the linchpin for everything—all of the carbon regulation under the Clean Air Act,” says Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. The rule’s fundamental power is exactly why Pruitt has to remove it, says Myron Ebell, who oversaw the Trump transition team at the EPA. “You can’t just take out the flowers—you have to take out the roots—starting with the endangerment finding,” says Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “You can undo the Obama climate agenda on the surface by reopening the Clean Power Plant rule, the methane rule, rescinding the [auto emissions] standards and so on. But the underlying foundation remains.” The conservative Web site Breitbart, read widely among Trump’s supporters and still tied to its former publisher, White House adviser Steve Bannon, has attacked Pruitt as a political careerist for reportedly resisting pressure to revoke the finding. The rule rests on a 2007 Supreme Court decision in the case Massachusetts v. EPA, which determined the agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. When the finding itself was later challenged, the Court upheld it. The endangerment finding prevents Pruitt from ignoring climate change or eliminating greenhouse gas regulations outright. The EPA can attempt to water down these standards and regulations, perhaps substantially. But Pruitt “would have to come up with a scientific basis for saying that greenhouse gas emissions do not in fact pose a threat to public health and welfare,” Gerrard says. “That would be a very difficult finding, considering every court that has addressed the issue of the science of climate change has found there to be a solid factual, scientific basis for it.” To begin to remove the endangerment rule, the EPA would have to go through a formal rule-making process. That means inviting public comments, reviewing available evidence and scientifically justifying every point. Formulating and then defending such a document in court would be a big challenge, given it cuts against the legal and scientific consensus linking carbon to climate change. Even Ebell concedes this is a formidable obstacle. “That’s why a lot of people on our side say it’s not worth the trouble,” he says. “The people who disagree with me are not nuts—they are making substantial arguments for why we should not do it.” The endangerment finding has its roots in the waning days of the Clinton administration, when then–EPA General Counsel Jonathan Cannon drafted a legal memo stating the agency had the authority to regulate carbon emissions. At the time this was a novel and counterintuitive idea. CO is a ubiquitous, naturally occurring gas, essential to photosynthesis and other basic processes of life on Earth. It’s not poisonous like smog and other dangerous pollutants targeted by the Clean Air Act. “CO is a different sort of pollutant than many that the EPA regulates,” says Cannon, now a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. “Its effects are felt over time through the climate system, not as immediate effects on one’s lungs or physical systems.” But the Clean Air Act “has a very broad definition of what a pollutant can be and what harm a pollutant causes,” says George Kimbrell, legal director of the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety, two related groups among a coalition of environmental organizations that formally petitioned the EPA to regulate carbon in 1999. The law defines “air pollutant” as "any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive...substance or matter, which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air.” According to Kimbrell, “The breadth of that language suggested greenhouse gas emissions would qualify under the statute.” The language prompted a lawsuit from states and small environmental groups, during the George W. Bush administration, to sue the EPA to force it to regulate carbon. The result was the Supreme Court’s 5–4 2007 Massachusetts decision. Following that ruling, the endangerment finding then spelled out the legal rationale and the scientific basis for regulation. What can the Trump administration do to get out of this regulatory box? It could push Congress to amend the Clean Air Act to explicitly exclude carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the list of air pollutants. But even if it passed the Republican-dominated House, Parenteau notes, such a bill could be effectively opposed by Democrats in the Senate, who have enough votes to hold up or change legislation. . The EPA could also target climate rules not based on the endangerment finding, such as procedures for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gases, according to Gerrard. The most likely outcome, legal scholars say, is a series of incremental battles in which the administration and Congress try to weaken individual climate rules and enforcement—while those efforts are repeatedly challenged in court by states and environmental groups hoping to run out the clock on the Trump administration. “One reason the endangerment finding is important,” Cannon says, “is that, should administrations change, it provides the basis for further climate initiatives.”
News Article | May 28, 2017
Almost a decade ago, Turkey Point was aiming to become one of the country's largest nuclear plants. Florida Power and Light had argued that such expansion was needed to maintain diverse energy sources and to supply Florida's booming population for years to come, while touting nuclear as a clean form of energy. But now, just three reactors are in operation – one natural gas and two nuclear reactors, built in the 1970s. And plans to build two more nuclear reactors—first announced in 2009—are essentially on hold for at least four years, according to filings with the state's Public Service Commission. "Right now our only focus is on getting all the approvals we need," company spokesman Peter Robbins told AFP. "We are not buying construction materials." Earlier this year, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, builder of the AP1000 reactor—the model scheduled for use at plants in South Carolina and Georgia as well as Turkey Point—rattled the industry. Both projects are now years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. "We are very closely monitoring the two new nuclear projects going on," Robbins said. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy estimates that construction on Turkey Point has been delayed until 2028 at the earliest, with costs expected to balloon to over $20 billion. FPL has refused to publicly revise its projections at Turkey Point, for now. "We don't think there is value in coming up with a new cost or schedule until those reactors are closer to completion," Robbins said. The project has been controversial from the start, and casts the spotlight on wider concerns about nuclear power. Critics have pointed to the rising seas from climate change, risks of storm surge, radioactive waste and threats to drinking water and wildlife at the site, nestled near Everglades National Park, as reasons to stop nuclear expansion. Complaints have also centered on the difficulty of evacuating the densely populated area around the plant in case of emergency. Miami-Dade County is home to 2.6 million people. "Investing tens of billions of dollars on a power plant that will be underwater one day, along with the highly radioactive waste it will produce, makes no sense," said fishing captain Dan Kipnis, one of the activists who is fighting to stop the project. Legal challenges to the plant's planned expansion began in 2010, and continued this month with a hearing before the Atomic Safety Board. Over the course of the two-day hearing, environmental scientists and lawyers wrangled over whether the porous limestone in Florida could really contain wastewater injected underground, without allowing toxic chemicals to seep upward into drinking water. Currently, Turkey's Point's two nuclear reactors use a series of cooling canals to treat wastewater. These canals were confirmed last year to be leaking into a nearby national park, after a radioactive isotope, tritium, was found at up to 215 times the normal levels in the waters of Biscayne Bay. The three-judge safety board panel is expected to rule by year's end on whether an operating license should be granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Throughout Florida, FPL is expanding its solar installations, and is shuttering coal plants. Its energy mix is 70 percent natural gas, 17 percent nuclear, with the rest divided between solar, oil and coal. Meanwhile, the ever-dropping cost of natural gas is making nuclear less attractive every day, analysts say. "Most people think Turkey Point will never get built," said Mark Cooper, senior research fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, referring to FPL's proposed two new nuclear reactors. "It turns out it was not the environmentalists, it was not the lawsuits," Cooper told AFP. "They could not deliver a safe, economically viable product. They couldn't do it in the '80s and they can't do it today," said Cooper. "Nuclear power is a technology whose time never came."
News Article | February 15, 2017
Environmentalists were outraged earlier this month after the Republican-led Congress used an obscure law to erase a new regulation aimed at reducing the environmental damage caused by coal mining. The votes to undo the so-called stream protection rule, released last month on President Barack Obama’s last day in office, were “a disgraceful opening salvo from this Congress, as they begin to try and do the bidding of big polluters,” Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco, California–based Sierra Club, said in a statement. But the demise of the rule, which took regulators years to craft, drew a less impassioned reaction from a scientist on the front lines of the fight over coal mining. The regulation, which had been weakened during the rulemaking process, “was not a game changer,” says aquatic ecologist Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland in College Park, who has played a high-profile role in documenting coal mining’s toll on streams in the Appalachian Mountains. In particular, she says, if the rule had survived, it would not have barred one of the most destructive mining practices in Appalachia: blasting away mountaintops to uncover coal seams and piling the debris in adjacent stream valleys. And because the rule’s demise won’t do much to ease the economic headwinds buffeting the United States’s coalfields, it is unlikely to unleash a mining boom. The rule was killed as part of an ongoing purge of science-based regulations approved late in the Obama administration. The reversals are allowed by the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used 1990s law that gives Congress 60 working days to reject new rules. In practice, that means lawmakers can review scores of regulations issued after June 2016. But Republicans are expected to repeal just about a half-dozen rules. Already, both houses of Congress have passed a measure eliminating the stream rule, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign. Legislation canceling several other environmental and climate rules could soon follow. Opponents of these rules argue that repealing them will help create jobs and save industry money. Coal mining groups, for example, claimed the stream rule would have eliminated up to 77,000 jobs in coming years, although the Obama administration and some observers said that figure is wildly exaggerated. The rule was meant to overhaul regulations that mostly dated from 1983, before the spread of two major coal mining techniques in the United States: mountaintop removal and longwall mining, an underground method that lets tunnels collapse after the coal is removed, sometimes altering the surface landscape through subsidence. Research by Palmer and others has found that mining coal and dumping the overburden, particularly from mountaintop mines, alters the chemistry in nearby streams, making them inhospitable to some aquatic life. The scientists also found little evidence that affected streams or mined landscapes are restored to their original condition, as mining companies often promised. Those findings helped prompt the Obama administration to launch a major rewrite in 2009. The final product included some tougher provisions, says Peter Morgan, a Denver-based lawyer for the Sierra Club. The new rule required companies to do more extensive stream monitoring before, during, and after mining, and it detailed environmental impacts that were prohibited under a federal law that bars “material damage” to streams and groundwater outside a mine area. But during a lengthy public comment period on the rule, miners successfully argued against totally banning the practice of burying Appalachian streams in debris. And the final rule left much of the implementation to state agencies in places where the coal industry is powerful, Morgan says. “I think the general consensus was the rule was pretty watered down by the time it reached the final form.” Still, Morgan says it could have helped opponents of some mining projects. In southwest Pennsylvania, for example, environmentalists are battling Consol Energy and its subsidiary CNX Coal Resources over plans to expand the Bailey mine, one of country’s largest underground coal mines. The proposal calls for extending longwall tunnels beneath streams running through a state park. Opponents argue that postmining subsidence will harm the streams. A provision in the Obama rule designating subsidence as a kind of “material damage” might have strengthened the opponents’ case, says Patrick Grenter of the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is challenging the mine expansion. (Even without the rule, a state judge temporarily halted part of the expansion while the case is underway.) Now that the rule will reset to its 1983 version, environmental groups are likely to fight mines using the federal Clean Water Act, says Craig Johnston, an environmental law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Under the act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers usually must issue a permit for blocking a stream with mine waste, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has to sign off. The repeal “puts the pressure back on the Corps, basically,” Johnston says. Meanwhile, the U.S. coal industry continues to face economic difficulties largely caused by low-cost natural gas. Coal jobs fell by 18,000 between 2012 and 2015, to 69,500, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And production has fallen by 38% since 2008, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). This month, EIA predicted a slight uptick in production by 2018, but it expects production to keep sliding in Appalachia because operations there are more costly than, for example, in the open-pit mines of the West. As Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, puts it, “we’re pretty much done with coal mining in Appalachia.”
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Energy Policy | Year: 2013
This study assesses the factors responsible for the success and failure of renewable energy access programs in Bangladesh, China, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. Based on 441 research interviews over the course of four years, site visits to 90 renewable energy facilities, and focus groups with almost 800 community members in 10 countries, this study develops a series of overarching qualitative factors that correlate with programs that met their targets, sometimes ahead of schedule, and produced measurable benefits exceeding costs. The inverse of these factors is associated with programs that did not meet their targets, were behind schedule, and/or produced measurable costs exceeding benefits. It concludes by offering 10 lessons for energy analysts and development practitioners concerning appropriate technology, income generation, financing, political leadership, capacity building, programmatic flexibility, marketing and awareness, stakeholder engagement, community ownership, and technical standardization. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Energy for Sustainable Development | Year: 2012
This review specifically investigates the concepts of energy poverty and energy ladders. It provides the most current available data on energy poverty, electrification, and dependency on biomass fuels for cooking. It elaborates on the relationship between energy access and millennium development goals, especially the connection between modern energy services and development, public health, gender empowerment, and the degradation of the natural environment. It notes that energy poverty has serious and growing public health concerns related to indoor air pollution, physical injury during fuelwood collection, and lack of refrigeration and medical care in areas that lack electricity. It argues that energy poverty affects both the gender roles within society and the educational opportunities available to children and adults. It documents that the environmental impacts of energy poverty encompass deforestation and changes in land use, as well as the emission of greenhouse gases. The final section of the review underscores the structural elements of the global energy system that entrench and sustain energy poverty. © 2012 International Energy Initiative. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Energy for Sustainable Development | Year: 2013
In Myanmar (Burma), only 13% of the country's population has access to electricity, and almost 95% depends on solid fuels such as wood and rice husks for cooking and heating. This review discusses four sets of energy poverty and access challenges in Myanmar related to poverty and subsistence needs, conflicting priorities, lack of resources, and policy fragmentation. Planners in Myanmar, however, can utilize a variety of mechanisms to overcome these challenges. They can offer financing and micro-financing for woodlots, nurseries, and renewable energy equipment. They can create community mobilization funds to promote women's empowerment and offer skills training. They can implement education and awareness campaigns for households and private sector entrepreneurs, and decentralize energy access programs to communities themselves. The government can promote public private partnerships for larger, grid-connected wind farms, large-scale hydroelectric dams, geothermal power plants, biomass power plants, waste-to-energy facilities, and liquid biofuel manufacturing facilities. Planners can harmonize regulatory authority for energy access to a single agency, establish national technology standards to ensure technical quality, and construct maintenance and training centers to ensure communities care for energy equipment. © 2013 International Energy Initiative.
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment | Year: 2012
This review article describes four broad categories of emerging global energy security threats. After defining energy security, it discusses threats related to the availability of energy resources and fuels, the affordability of the services they provide, the efficiency of their use, and the effective management of their negative environmental and social impacts, notably climate change. It concludes by noting how the energy security of many industrialized and developing countries has eroded over the past few decades and proposes potential areas of future research. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Ecological Economics | Year: 2013
Energy security has in recent years grown as a salient policy and political issue. To better understand energy security and sustainability concerns, this study's main objective is to present an energy security index which measures national performance on energy security over time. Based on three years of research involving interviews, surveys, and an international workshop, this study conceptualizes energy security as consisting of the interconnected factors of availability, affordability, efficiency, sustainability, and governance. It then matches these factors with 20 metrics comprising an energy security index, measuring international performance across 18 countries from 1990 to 2010. It offers three case studies of Japan (top performer), Laos (middle performer), and Myanmar (w]orst performer) to provide context to the index's results. It then presents four conclusions. First, a majority of countries analyzed have regressed in terms of their energy security. Second, despite the near total deterioration of energy security, a great disparity exists between countries, with some clear leaders such as Japan. Third, tradeoffs exist within different components of energy security. Fourth, creating energy security is as much a matter of domestic policy from within as it is from foreign policy without. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Sovacool B.K.,Vermont Law School
Climatic Change | Year: 2012
This essay assesses the "Integrating Climate Change Risks into Resilient Island Planning in the Maldives" Program, or ICCR, a four-year $9.3 million adaptation project supported by the Least Developed Countries Fund, Maldivian Government and the United Nations Development Program. The essay elaborates on the types of challenges that arise as a low-income country tries to utilize international development assistance to adapt to climate change. Based primarily on a series of semi-structured research interviews with Maldivian experts, discussed benefits to the ICCR include improving physical resilience by deploying "soft" infrastructure, institutional resilience by training policymakers, and community resilience by strengthening assets. Challenges include ensuring that adaptation efforts are sufficient to reduce vulnerability, lack of coordination, and the values and attitudes of business and community leaders. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.