Massive coal mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana supply 40% of the U.S. coal supply, but also 14% of its carbon dioxide emissions. The issue is No. 3 on Vermont Law School's Environmental Watch List. (EcoFlight)
Vermont Law School, which has one of the top-ranked environmental law programs in the country, just released its second annual Top 10 Environmental Watch List of issues and developments that should be closely followed in 2012.
Top of the list? Republican attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency. According to an innovative online database set up by L.A.’s own Rep. Henry Waxman, there have been 170 anti-environmental votes under the Republican majority in the 112th Congress, and 91 of them attacked the EPA.
Other hot topics on the watch list include that same EPA and the White House clashing over ozone standards, the activist effort to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and landmark settlements under the Endangered Species Act.
Because it’s a law school, all of these issues are law-related. Of course, much of the struggle over protecting the environment takes place in the courts.
“What we look at are actual developments that happened in 2011, and those would be legal, policy, legislative, something specific – a decision, a case, a rule, a piece of legislation,” says Pat Parenteau, a professor of Environmental Law at Vermont Law School. “So we’re looking at something that actually happened this year that had some legal significance.”
The items must have significant environmental effects, and most of them are domestic, though this year the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster also made the list because of its widespread impact on environmental policy around the world.
The project is a collaborative work between faculty and students, who this year sorted through more than 100 issues before settling on the 10. Each issue is then addressed with an essay or explainer co-written by a student and a faculty member.
The obvious question: Does the list exist to inspire more legal work on these issues?
“Not necessarily,” replies Parenteau. “It’s really to stimulate people to think about what’s happening on the environmental front.
“Not only is there controversy over environmental issues these days, but frankly, there’s just an awful lot of disinformation and confusion about what is happening. So our goal isn’t so much to prompt anybody to do anything specific, but more: Pay attention to what’s happening, because it’s important.”