Disaster Law

Hitching a Ride on the Omnibus

In a holiday gift from Congress, environmental gains arrive in an overstuffed spending bill.

The massive omnibus bill that just passed Congress contains a bevy of environment friendly provisions.  Despite some last-minute tweeted complaints from Trump about the bill, those provisions are likely to make their way into law. Given that the Senate and the White House are in Republican hands,  it’s a wonder when such provisions sneak through …

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The Global Convergence of Disaster Law and Climate Law

Two very distinct areas of international law are finding more and more in common.

International climate negotiations may seem to have little to do with the work of such international relief organizations as the Red Cross. On the national level, EPA and FEMA are two very different agencies that historically have had little connection.  The same has been true at the international level.  But disaster and climate authorities are …

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Guest Contributor Naomi Wheeler: States and Cities Should Prioritize Equity While Building Grid Resilience

Power grid masts

Learning from Grid Resilience Threats and Opportunities in California and New York

Electrical grids across the country face a complex series of overlapping threats to grid resilience in 2020. Wildfires and hurricanes have become the new normal as climate change intensifies the magnitude of extreme weather events. These destructive events create widespread systemic shocks for electrical grids already facing several underlying vulnerabilities. In a recent research report, …

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We’re Going to Need a Much Bigger FEMA

FEMA is built to handle one disaster at a time. That’s not going to work in the future.

“When troubles come, they comes not as single spies but as battalions.” That wisdom goes back to Shakespeare. Yet our disaster response system is keyed to handling single disasters, not clusters of major disasters.  That needs to change. This week is a good illustration.  We have fires in California that may set records.  We have …

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Planet Earth as Desert Island: “Lord of the Flies” or “Gilligan’s Island”?

Or in more technical terms, the Tragedy of the Commons? Or its inverse?

Lord of the Flies is a memorable novel about a group of English schoolboys who are marooned on a desert island.  They quickly descend into savagery and violence. The book can be seen as a parable of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s view that human life in a state of nature is short, nasty, and brutish. But …

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Constitutional Rights in a Pandemic

When does public health override individual rights?

Lockdowns and social distancing impinge on activities that are protected by the Constitution. That’s been true in many states of church services and in some states of abortion. When the cases have come before they courts, they have often turned to a 1905 Supreme Court case decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which upheld a state law …

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No, It’s Not Over

The threat of COVID-19 continues to loom over us.

We’re all sick of being locked down, and the economic downturn has been brutal.  There’s a palpable sense that it’s time to put the coronavirus behind us and move on.  Unfortunately, the coronavirus does not agree. People now seem used to the idea of hundreds of new coronavirus deaths a day. Yet, even 500 deaths …

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Too Many Americans Think the Worst is Over

Alas, that light at the end of the tunnel is still very far away from us.

World War I lasted four years, with millions of deaths. At the start, however, many people thought the war would be quick and easy.  “Home by Christmas,” was what they said about their troops.  A frightening number of Americans now have similar illusions about the coronavirus pandemic. According to a CNN poll a released Tuesday, …

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Free to Be Negligent?

Proposed Tort Liability Protection for Businesses

Sen. Mitch McConnell is demanding that any future coronavirus relief law provide a litigation shield for businesses, and other conservative/business interests have made similar proposals. So far, the supporters of these proposals have engaged in some dramatic handwaving but haven’t begun to make a reasoned argument in support of a litigation shield. In this post, …

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Do Epidemic-Based Business Closures by Government Trigger an Unconstitutional “Taking”?

Longstanding U.S. Supreme Court Precedents Indicate the Answer is an Unequivocal “No”

Lately, an increasing number of public and private voices have been raised in opposition to business closures ordered by state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.  In many such cases, that opposition has taken the form of lawsuits filed by business owners, claiming a violation of their constitutional rights.  Gun shops across …

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