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Soil and water

September 13, 2016
Dust storm in Texas, 1935 morphs into no-till soybean field, 2005
Dust storm in Texas, 1935 and no-till soybean field, 2005

In every even numbered year, North Carolina has elections for county officials. In every other one of these even numbered years, like 2016, there is a simultaneous election at the top of the ballot for President of the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent and mass media is fixated over more than a year, assuring global attention to this important election. But at the bottom of those ballots in every even numbered year, another set of elections takes place with implications for the State’s environment–yet the media attention, if any, is almost always limited to asking “what do these people do, these Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors?”  Our collective ignorance of the work of soil and water conservation districts is sadly paralleled by our ignorance of the importance of soil itself. Water makes its way into our headlines more regularly these days, though it is still largely taken for granted in the well-watered eastern United States. Soil–that thin, living layer that sustains life itself on what, without it, would be a lifeless rock in space–has got to be the most undervalued environmental attribute in our world.

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N.C. Environmental Legislation, 2015: Deregulating and obscuring the consequences

October 28, 2015
Picture of Volkswagen diesel car

2015 was another big year in changes, almost entirely deregulatory changes, in North Carolina’s environmental laws. The General Assembly’s first ratified bill of the session, S.L. 2015-1 (“Amend Environmental Laws”), was an assortment of changes to such diverse programs as coal ash cleanup, solid waste generally, and air toxics. Among the General Assembly’s last ratified bills was S.L. 2015-264 (misleadingly entitled a “technical corrections bill as recommended by the General Statutes Commission”) with a section appearing after midnight in the waning hours of the session, for the first time, with no prior committee review or public debate, that attempts to prohibit any local government regulation of oil and gas exploration, development and production. Between these two bookends, against the backdrop of Volkswagen’s admission that it faked its emission results on millions of supposedly “Clean Diesel” cars worldwide, were dozens of provisions affecting nearly all facets of N.C. environmental law. I have summarized these provisions in this framework:

  1. Changes that reduce public environmental information
  2. Changes that allow more pollution, or more development in environmentally sensitive areas.
    • Air
    • Water
    • Land
  3. Environmentally protective changes
  4. Environmental finance
  5. Matters in limbo and miscellany

If Volkswagen, listed as recently as 2013 as “best in class” on Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index, was actually willing to blatantly defraud consumers and federal regulators, what are the odds that smaller, less well capitalized companies will self-regulate properly when it comes to environmental externalities?

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Five common misconceptions about water rights in N.C.

August 26, 2015
run of river reliance NC
(Above: North Carolina has a significant number of major water withdrawers  that rely on the “run of the river”–in other words, that rely on there being enough water in a stream for their own purposes, with no storage. The misconceptions noted in this blog post make such withdrawals very insecure in times of drought).
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What is environmental law? on fuzzy boundaries

February 23, 2015

Some fields of law have fairly clear boundaries. Not so with environmental law. In order to say anything with the least bit of clarity about the field of environmental law as such, you need some sense of what does and doesn’t count as part of the field. I have a simple model of what counts, for my own purposes. In this entry, I will explain my model of the field, and also talk about some of the limitations and unresolved boundary issues with my model. It starts with a recognition that law has long been concerned with two related things, natural resources and waste.

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