water pollution

The Supreme Court’s Earliest Pollution Cases

Long before Congress, a notoriously conservative Court started taking pollution seriously.

Well over a century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that it had that power to remedy interstate water pollution. That was in 1901. Six years later, the Court decided its first air pollution case.  Notably, these cases came during the conservative Lochner era when the Court was hardly known for its liberalism.  Quite the contrary. …

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Happy 50th Anniversary, Federal Clean Water Act

One of America’s Foundational Environmental Laws Has Proven Transformational, But Requires Updating a Half-Century Later

The Clean Water Act (CWA), one of the nation’s most important environmental laws, is 50 years old today.  It’s proven to be one of the most successful of America’s bedrock federal environmental statutes.  But the CWA is far from perfect, needs some important updating, and will probably never fully achieve the aspirational goals Congress proclaimed …

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Making Fossil Fuels Pay for Their Damage

A carbon tax doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Maybe a clean-up tax would fare better.

Production and combustion of fossil fuels imposes enormous costs on society, which the industry doesn’t pay for.  I want to talk about some options for using the tax system to change that.  One option, a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, gets the most attention but seems politically impossible.  The closest we’ve ever come to a …

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Will the Supreme Court Gut the Clean Water Act?

We’re about to find out in an upcoming case.

What wetlands and waterbodies does the Clean Water Act protect? Congress failed to provide a clear answer when it passed the statute, and the issue has been a bone of contention ever since.  The Biden Administration is in the process of issuing a new regulation on the subject. Normally, you’d expect the Supreme Court to …

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The Quagmire of Clean Water Act Jurisdiction

The scope of federal jurisdiction over water bodies and wetlands remains as murky as ever.

The Biden Administration announced on Monday that it would not meet a February target date to issue a revised definition of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It still plans to issue a revised definition later in the year. That sounds like a very technical issue. But it actually determines the extent to which …

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Everyday Christmas: The Gift of the Commons

Clean air. Clean water. We receive these public goods every day without payment

One of the Christmas classics is the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, Stewart’s character, is despondent about his life but then learns how much he has unknowingly helped others and how grateful they are. It’s heartwarming, if also a bit corny. There’s a flip side to that story: the need to remember …

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Another Casualty of US Withdrawal from the WHO: The Environment

Unbeknownst to many, the WHO does important work on pollution problems.

Withdrawing from international cooperation in the midst of global pandemic is an idea that’s just as bad as it sounds.  President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WOrld Health Organization (WHO) withdrawal will also be harmful in other ways. Notably, a major component of the WHO’s work involves the health impacts of pollution and dangerous …

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Here Today, Gone to Maui

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Environment-Friendly Ruling in Major Clean Water Act Case

This week the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Court’s most important environmental law case of the current Term: County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund.  In a somewhat surprising ruling, the justices rejected both sides’ argument over the scope of government authority to regulate water pollution discharges under the federal Clean Water …

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Putting the Squeeze on Coal

It’s not enough to eliminate coal-fired plants. We have to cut back on coal production and sale.

Coal use by American utilities has declined sharply and will continue to decline. But we shouldn’t focus solely on U.S. emissions. But the industry also exports coal, and there’s been a big surge in coal exports in the past two years, much of it involving India. So it’s not enough to curtail coal use in …

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Trump’s Budget Cuts: Even Worse Than You Thought

As you dive into the details, things keep looking worse.

Trump is proposing huge cuts to EPA and other agencies. That’s bad enough. We’re beginning to learn more details, and the message is grim.  While these cuts may not emerge from Congress at the end of the day, they do express the Administration’s goals. In particular, they demonstrate that the Administration is deeply hostile to environmental science and …

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