Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Making Clean Water Act legal fees two-way

The Clean Water Act, like many federal statutes, currently contains a nominally neutral attorneys’-fee award provision which is commonly read to call for an award of attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs who prevail, but not to defendants who prevail. H.R. 1179, introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) with 59 co-sponsors, would move to full two-way loser-pays by prescribing that fees ordinarily be paid. One possible impact would be to help clear infrastructure legal logjams [Charmaine Little, Legal Newsline, thanks for quote]

Environment roundup

  • Here come big, beautiful eminent domain cases over condemnation of land for the US-Mexico wall [Gideon Kanner, Ilya Somin]
  • Judge greenlights “public trust” climate change suit, an exercise in court- and lawyer-empowerment [Samuel Boxerman, WLF]
  • Next Friday, Mar. 17, Cato will host panel on pending SCOTUS case of Murr v. Wisconsin (property rights, regulatory takings) with Roger Pilon (Cato), J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown Law), and Ilya Somin (George Mason Law), with opening remarks by Todd Gaziano (Pacific Legal) and moderated by Ilya Shapiro (Cato) [register or watch online]
  • Swallowing dubious health claims, Maryland advisory panel urges schools to turn off wi-fi. Plenty wrong with that [ACSH]
  • By 31-69 margin, Los Angeles voters crush anti-development Measure S, “NIMBYism on steroids” [City Observatory, earlier]
  • Tackling WOTUS is just the start: “The Clean Water Act Needs A Reset” [Reed Hopper, Investors, Jonathan Wood, related]

Environment roundup

  • How regulators dismiss economists’ advice: the case of CAFE fuel economy regs [David Henderson]
  • Other auto manufacturers appear to have an emissions cheating problem, raise your hand if you’re surprised [Coyote]
  • “You can end up getting a platinum LEED certification and still have the highest energy consumption density in the city of Chicago, as it turns out.” [same, sequel]
  • “The Disconnect Between Liberal Aspirations And Liberal Housing Policy Is Killing Coastal U.S. Cities” [Shane D. Phillips] “California Housing Crunch Prompts Push to Allow Building” [Chris Kirkham, WSJ]
  • Tyler Cowen takes a look at the stream protection rule;
  • Well, natch: staff of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was in touch with Rockefeller Family Fund campaigners before he launched climate advocacy subpoenas [New York Post]

On exiting, Nanny dims the lights

“With midnight regulation, Obama Energy Department just outlawed your three-way bulb,” reports Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner. The new rule, announced Thursday on the departing administration’s last full day, effectively revokes an exception that had allowed for sales of conventional incandescent bulbs in several specialty categories, including three-ways and decorative forms such as globes. Earlier here.

Environment roundup

  • “Rockefeller Foundations Enlist Journalism in ‘Moral’ Crusade Against ExxonMobil” [Ken Silverstein] Massachusetts was using courts to investigate heretics back before the oil industry was even whale oil [Reuters on subpoena ruling] Washington Post shouldn’t have run Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on climate politics without noting his brutal efforts to subpoena/silence opponents on that topic;
  • “Should you go to jail if you can’t recognize every endangered species?” [Jonathan Wood]
  • Sandy Ikeda reviews Robert H. Nelson, Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government [Market Urbanism]
  • D.C. Circuit shouldn’t let EPA get away again with ignoring cost of power plant regs [Andrew Grossman on Cato amicus brief]
  • Under what circumstances should libertarians be willing to live with eminent domain in the construction of energy pipelines? [Ilya Somin and earlier] Economic benefits of fracking are $3.5 trillion, according to new study [Erik Gilje, Robert Ready, and Nikolai Roussanov, NBER via Tyler Cowen]
  • “Dramatically simpler than the old code…[drops] mandates for large amounts of parking.” Buffalo rethinks zoning [Aaron Renn, City Journal] Arnold Kling on California’s housing shortage; John Cochrane on an encouraging Jason Furman op-ed; “Zoning: America’s Local Version Of Crony Capitalism” [Scott Beyer]

Environment roundup

Oregon occupiers acquitted: one juror’s statement

An Oregon jury has reached a verdict acquitting the occupiers of the Malheur wildlife refuge (earlier) of conspiracy charges. In seeking to explain this outcome, it may help to know about a detailed letter from a juror in the case, published in The Oregonian. Obviously, one juror’s view is not definitive in such a case.

I am indebted to reader J.B. for the following rough paraphrase of some themes and highlights of the juror’s letter:

* We didn’t intend to affirm or endorse the defendants’ views.

* We were certainly convinced that the defendants’ actions caused a lot of real-world disruption and damage.

* We don’t want to encourage other people to do stuff like that and regret the possibility that the acquittal might do that.

* The government had a complicated theory that, according to the law as the judge explained it to us, made the defendants’ subjective intentions more significant than the actual effects of their actions.

* We didn’t think the evidence about the defendants’ subjective intentions was strong enough to meet the legal standard for conviction under the government’s complicated theory as the judge explained the law to us.

* We’re frankly kind of puzzled as to why the government didn’t charge less complicated crimes like criminal trespass that might have been easier to get a conviction for.

All of which is not short enough to fit on a bumper sticker. The report by the Oregonian’s Maxine Bernstein, again, is here.

Write an ambiguous rule — then pounce

Government agencies can get an unfair edge in disputes with the regulated public if they can write ambiguity into their rules, develop interpretations that open up further ambiguities to suit their needs, and then when a dispute arises gain deference from courts on these doubtful interpretations-piled-upon-interpretations. In Foster v. Vilsack, the issue was whether a “prairie pothole” depression on a South Dakota farm should be deemed a federally protected wetland, denying the Fosters productive use of the land; the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopted what seemed a strained interpretation enabling it to so designate the land, and the Eighth Circuit deferred to it.

The decision actually afforded the agency “second-level” Auer deference, deferring to an interpretation of a vaguely written agency circular that interprets a vague regulation that in turn interprets a vague statute–all to get to a definition of “local area” that is nothing close to a natural and reasonable interpretation of that term.

Cato has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the farm family’s request for certiorari, urging the Supreme Court to revisit the Auer doctrine in administrative law at least to prevent its irrational extension:

Second-level Auer deference also undermines the rule of lenity — a traditional rule of interpretation stating that ambiguity in criminal statutes must be resolved in favor of the defendant — even more than first-level Auer deference already does. It effectively allows agencies to create new crimes (again without notice to the public) by doing as little as reinterpreting a footnote in a memo. Cato urges the Supreme Court take the case so that it may rein in the expansion of Auer deference and make it clear to administrative agencies that they cannot avoid judicial review by refusing to promulgate clear, unambiguous regulations.

[Trevor Burrus and David McDonald; more on Auer deference]

Louisiana coastal suits: pork-barreling on the bayou

The Baton Rouge Advocate’s headline sums it up: “Gov. [John Bel] Edwards quietly picks top donors to handle coastal suit that could result in big payday.” The suit, against oil and gas companies over the impact of energy operations on coastal erosion, could result in gigantic contingency fees if successful. More: Chamber-backed Louisiana Record (“Lobbyists for attorneys picked by Edwards for coastal litigation team hold fundraiser for governor”), The Hayride (governor twists arms of local governments to join suit), Daily Iberian (no go, says editorial), New Orleans Times-Picayune, more Advocate, Insurance Journal background. More: WWL (representing parish governments could be the real jackpot).