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New England News

Vermont Law School Releases Annual Environmental Watch List

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Vermont Law School
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The Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Center has issued its seventh annual Top 10 Environmental Watch List.  The list offers short summaries of key legal points surrounding the most important environmental issues of 2016.

The Vermont Journal of Environmental Law’s Environmental Watch List is co-authored by the student editors and professors at the Vermont Law School.  This year the list includes points called The Dakota Access PipelineExxon Knew; and Does the Constitution Guarantee a Livable Planet for our Kids?

Professor of Environmental Law Patrick Parenteau co-authored the list’s Has the Clean Power Plan Been Trumped? He explains that the hope in publishing the watch list is to inform people on what the major environmental legal developments have been in the last year and then what can be expected in the future.  “It's our hope that we can at least identify that each one of the items, or the issues that we identify, do have a legal component either because of a major court decision, a major development with new rules, challenges to existing environmental laws coming from the industry or the states. Questions, profound questions, like who owns the public lands of the western United States and should those lands be turned over to the states? So each one of the ten items that we discuss definitely has a legal component to it but of course the law is just one aspect of a much larger social, economic and even cultural issue that's going on in the country right now.”

Associate Professor of Law and Vice Dean David Mears is a former Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.  He was particularly interested and co-wrote the summary on Lead, Water and Injustice in Flint and Beyond.   “From my time when I was at the Department of Environmental Conservation and looking both at what happened in Vermont with (powerful oxen like) acid and local drinking water issues both in public systems and in private wells I knew there was an issue across the country. We have some real gaps in our drinking water programs. The other thing that I've observed is that the quality of drinking water often really depends upon your income level and your access to authority and power. And Flint is just a perfect case study of a case in which a community that lacks access to power, that suffers in terms of its economic disadvantages, suffered.”

Parenteau notes that this year the list includes a bonus blog assessing how the new administration may impact environmental laws and regulations.  “We're entering a new era of national leadership, or lack of leadership, on major environmental issues. The eight years of the Obama administration built a very, very strong framework of laws to move the world to a cleaner safer future. Well now that's all at risk because we know the incumbent president and the Republican controlled Congress are very hostile to most everything that Obama has done including his environmental agenda. So are we really going to be rolling back environmental protection? That's why we put the blog in there about this new and as yet uncertain future with Trump as president.”

Vermont Natural Resources Council Executive Director Brian Shupe found two common themes as he scanned the 10 items on the list.   “One is how much uncertainty there is with regard to the incoming Trump Administration: how they're going to address climate change. All of the indications are that they're going to back off some of the work that the Obama Administration did. So that's really a great concern to us at Vermont Natural Resources Council. The other item is how much attention the federal government's going to give to protecting our drinking water and protecting our kind-of health from toxic chemicals and toxic pollution. So what comes to mind to me is there's going to be a much greater role for the states.”

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