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Environmental Watch List Focuses On Climate Change Issues

Vermont Law School

The Vermont Law School has released its annual Environmental Watch List. This year, the authors focused on legal and policy actions dealing with climate change.

The Vermont Law School is the top-ranked environmental law school in the country. The annual watch list is intended to highlight 10 issues based on significance to the environment and whether key developments are anticipated within the next year.  The list for 2014 focused solely on issues related to climate change.

Professor of Law and Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic Senior Counsel Patrick Parenteau wrote on the number two topic “Natural Gas: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?” because, he says, it is so controversial and high-profile.  “Our Department of Energy has basically said that we're going to be getting sixty percent of our gas fuel energy from fracking in the next five years. We’re also talking about exporting gas abroad by building liquefied natural gas terminals on the East Coast. Once that happens, the rate at which the fracking will occur is going to increase exponentially. EPA has estimated it will take eight-hundred-thousand new gas wells to access the known reserves, including the biggest one now, which is the Marcellus, so the gas issue is growing in importance for climate and for other environmental concerns.”

The regulation of carbon emissions for existing power plants under the Clean Air Act’s Section 111 is of concern to Kevin Jones, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow for Energy Technology and Policy at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Jones writes in his segment that “...the ‘Holy Grail’ to reducing carbon emissions rests with existing coal-fired power plants.” But he adds that an actual plan is uncertain.  “There’s a lot of controversy around these rules and EPA has a lot of flexibility in how they could implement the rules. There’s been some back-and-forth. NRDC has put out a plan that would result in giving EPA some flexibility in how they’re meeting the rules, but also would result in some significant reductions. And even with the utility industry there’s different views. A lot of the utilities in the Northeast have been supportive of emissions limitations in terms of carbon because the Northeast power plants are significantly cleaner than a lot of them in the Midwest and other parts of the country.”

An unexpected item on the Environmental Watch List assesses “The Farm Bill as Comprehensive Climate Change Policy.”   Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and Professor of Law Laurie Ristino believes that most people do not understand that the Farm Bill sets the key environmental policy for private lands.  “It really is our single most important tool when it comes to private lands or working lands - conservation and environmental protection. It both contributes to climate change, but it can also mitigate. And the way it can mitigate is because we have millions of acres in crops as well as in animal production. By using better conservation techniques we can either reduce the amount of emissions or, depending on how crops are produced, we can increase the amount of carbon that is stored in soils. In fact soil health is just so critical to not only producing food, but  being able to store carbon in organic matter in the soils.”

Other issues addressed in the Vermont Law School’s Watch List include: President Obama’s Decision on the Keystone Pipeline; Severe Weather Events and the National Flood Insurance Program; China’s Regulation of CO2 Emissions; and U.S. Supreme Court review of EPA regulation of stationary sources of greenhouse gases.