Vermont Press Releases

Vermont Law Watch List 2014 focuses on climate change

News Release — Vermont Law School
December 11, 2013

SOUTH ROYALTON — Vermont Law School, the nation’s top-ranked environment law school, has announced its Top 10 Environmental Watch List for 2014. This year, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels having breached a disturbing threshold, it has chosen to focus the entire Watch List on legal and policy actions that hope to address, or prepare us to adapt, to more intense weather-related disasters.

While hardly a new issue, climate change is taking center stage as the defining challenge of our time. In 2013, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time since scientists began tracking atmospheric carbon levels, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Lao monitoring station in Hawaii. That level of atmospheric CO2 was last present 3 million years ago, when temperatures on earth were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, and sea levels about 20 meters (or 66 feet higher) than they are today, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. In a recent report from the National Academy of Science (Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises), scientists wonder whether climate change impacts will be gradual enough to allow “natural systems and societal infrastructure to adjust in a timely fashion.”

“The 2014 Top 10 Environmental Watch List is a reminder of the pivotal power of the law to shape our environment,” says Melissa Scanlan, Director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School. “Laws, policies, and regulations, can serve to impede or advance progress in addressing climate disruption, and we are using the Watch List to inform the public about the implications of these critical issues.”

“The impact of climate change can be seen in almost every aspect of human endeavor,” said Marc Mihaly, President and Dean of Vermont Law School. “We have the power today, through the law, to halt and even reverse the deterioration of our world and I am enormously proud of our students and faculty for their embrace of this challenge.”

Vermont Law School compiles the Top 10 Environmental Watch List each year to enhance public understanding, debate, and participation in judicial, regulatory, legislative, and other actions that significantly affect people and the natural world. The Top 10 issues are chosen based on their significance to the environment and public well-being, and whether a key development is expected in the coming year.

Vermont Law School’s Top Ten Environmental Watch List for 2014 is as follows:

1. Obama’s Decision on the Keystone Pipeline
(Doug Ruley and Will Kirk)
President Obama’s awaited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has become a proxy for the larger debate on climate change. Will Obama allow the pipeline to go forward?

2. Natural Gas: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?
(Patrick Parenteau and David Scott)
The recent fracking boom may do more harm than good for the climate if the U.S. EPA doesn’t do a better job of regulating methane releases. Even if it does, will cheap natural gas displace cleaner energy options like wind and solar?

3. Severe Weather Events and the National Flood Insurance Program
(Stuart Souther and Jake Beckstrom)
Will federal flood insurance reforms fully embrace the new reality of climate change driving frequent and intense storms?

4. Regulation of Carbon Emissions for Existing Power Plants Under the Clean Air Act § 111
(Kevin Jones and Mychal Ozaeta)
Will the U.S. EPA finally propose regulations that significantly reduce carbon emissions from existing coal fired power plants?

5. China Regulates CO2 Emissions
(William Schulte, Adam Moser, and Phoebe Youhanna)
Will China’s public pledge to mitigate environmental issues and adopt meaningful greenhouse gas controls take hold, or will political obstacles and rapid growth get in the way?

6. Stationary Sources of Greenhouse Gases
(Christopher Ahlers and Ashley Welsch)
Will the Supreme Court, which recently let stand the D.C. Circuit’s decision that greenhouse gases present a danger to the environment through climate change, allow the EPA to control greenhouse gases from stationary sources?

7. Growing Climate Change: The Farm Bill as Climate Change Policy
(Laurie Ristino and Allison Gabala)
Will the new Farm Bill’s policies cause agriculture to contribute to or mitigate against climate change? As the largest investment in working lands, the pending Farm Bill may be our best bet to address agriculture’s contribution to climate change. Proposed changes would ironically reduce conservation programs, which mitigate climate change, and provide more insurance for farmers affected by climate change events, shoring up profits for commodity producers.

8. Brazil Repeals Forest Code and Deforestation Accelerates
(Rebecca Purdom and Kelly Nokes)
Will the Brazilian courts uphold constitution protections for future generations as a basis to strike down new forest laws that allow destruction of the world’s climate-protecting forests?

9. Will Montana Coal go to China?
(Jack Tuholske and Ben Gustafson)
Will a plan to ship coal—the leading source of CO2 pollution—from Montana to China be halted following environmental review by two federal agencies, amid early signs that China might be stepping away from coal as preferred energy source?

10. Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy
(Hillary Hoffmann and Andrew Minikowski)
The Pacific Coast Action Plan could be an effective blueprint for locally driven climate and energy policy. Will it be implemented in 2014?

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  • Jim Barrett

    The statement made in this report referring to 3 million years ago and the high co2 begs one question: who caused the high co2 levels then, was it the huge population, was it the people driving cars with poor gas milage, was it the factories spewing out co2 or what caused it? Please explain what happened 3 million years ago to cause co2 to be so high! Not one mention of the changes which are occurring in the solar system and have since the beginning of time.