Environmental Politics and Law

Video Lectures

Displaying all 24 video lectures.
Lecture 1
Introduction to the Course
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Introduction to the Course
Professor John Wargo introduces the central question of the course, "Can law shape a sustainable future for ten billion people?" The purpose of the course is to examine the most important U.S. laws adopted over the past forty years, and to evaluate their effectiveness. Lectures will present histories of nuclear experimentation, industrial and organic agriculture, air quality, plastics, wilderness, green building certification, and land use regulation. By the end of the course students will be exposed to diverse statutory and regulatory strategies to prevent pollution, reduce wastes, protect human health, conserve energy, and to protect wild lands.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, prologue
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, chapter 1
Lecture 2
Principles and Strategies in Environmental Law
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Principles and Strategies in Environmental Law
The United States' fragmented, piecemeal approach to environmental law is presented through the cases that led to the creation of major environmental statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The variety of federal agencies and levels of government that participate in creating and implementing regulation contribute to the fragmentation of American environmental law. Environmental law seeks to balance the costs of environmental degradation with the economic benefits that companies reap. However, the uncertainty of environmental costs leads to a slow and ineffective regulation process.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, prologue
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, chapter 1
Lecture 3
Nuclear Experiments
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Nuclear Experiments
To illustrate the linkages among national security, secrecy, and environmental quality, Professor Wargo describes the Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear tests in the 1950s. The Atomic Energy Commission collected data on the spread of radionuclides from the nuclear tests, and discovered that the radionuclides were circulating around the world. This process of discovery raised issues regarding ways to manage risks to the population while both continuing the nuclear tests and keeping them secret for national security reasons.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 1-3
Lecture 4
Nuclear Secrecy and Ecology
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Nuclear Secrecy and Ecology
The United States government employed a variety of approaches to protect citizens from danger, including public education, nuclear weapons testing, and gathering data about the effects of nuclear testing. The U.S. government's testing of nuclear weapons at the Bikini Atoll is used as an example of government approaches. Nuclear testing led to ecological devastation, leading the U.S. government to move Bikinians to another island. The case highlights the far-reaching environmental, economic, and health consequences of nuclear weapons testing.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapter 4
Lecture 5
Preparing for Nuclear War: NEPA
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Preparing for Nuclear War: NEPA
During this session, Professor Wargo stresses the importance of considering the persistence of pollutants in the environment. He continues the discussion of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) risk management strategies in the wake of nuclear experiments from 1945-1963, and also introduces risk reduction strategies attempted after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. These strategies underestimated the persistence of radionuclides in the environment. All of these approaches took place in secret, and these proceedings were only declassified in the 1990s. Governmental secrecy in these cases prevents the public from becoming fully literate about environmental risks and from being able to challenge or test the government's narrative.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapter 4
Lecture 6
Marine Food-Chains: Mercury
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Marine Food-Chains: Mercury
The military's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a training site is discussed to highlight the challenges involved in identifying and restoring hazardous sites. Political opposition is faced while attempting to get a site recognized as hazardous, deciding how to compensate those affected, and determining an appropriate level of environmental restoration. The recurring theme of government secrecy and its effect on efforts to protect the environment is also covered during this lecture, as the US military is reluctant to allow researchers to examine testing grounds. The reclamation of these sites involves many environmental statutes, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 5-8
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, pp. 233-240, 282-304, and 327-332
Lecture 7
Site Restoration Law
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Site Restoration Law
This lecture covers site restoration law by looking at the U.S. Navy's use of the island of Vieques as weapons testing ground. Vieques residents are filing a civil suit against the U.S. government, which raises issues of burden of proof, scientific certainty with respect to exposure amounts and health impacts, and how the government protects citizens from environmental hazards. Professor Wargo traces the evolution of site restoration law, from the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 setting the stage for sustainable land use, to Superfund amendments in the late 1980s that mandated more stringent protection of citizens from toxics.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 5-8
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, pp. 233-40, 282-304, and 327-32
Lecture 8
Chemically Dependent Agriculture
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Chemically Dependent Agriculture
The change from smaller, more diverse farms to larger single-crop farms in the U.S. has led to greater reliance on pesticides for pest management. Other changes as the U.S. food system becomes more commercialized include: increased use of additives, higher food prices, more water and energy consumption for agriculture, and more pesticide residues entering food through processing. Pesticides have also been used to combat insect-borne diseases, like malaria. The lecture provides an overview of relevant food, agriculture, and pesticide law, and covers the changes in pesticide use as scientific knowledge of a given chemical (i.e. DDT) improves.

Reading assignment:
Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Lecture 9
Risk and Law: Pesticide Paradigm
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Risk and Law: Pesticide Paradigm
The lecture charts the evolution of pesticide regulation in the United States. The evolution of the management and regulation of pesticides reflects changes in scientific understanding of pesticides as well as changes in human values. As technology allowed for testing of pesticides at smaller and smaller concentrations, restrictions on pesticide use grew. The government's growing understanding of cumulative risk also has led to changes in pesticide testing and regulation.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 10 and 12
Lecture 10
Safe Drinking Water: Science and Law
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Safe Drinking Water: Science and Law
The lecture reviews water law in the United States, and highlights challenges inherent in regulating water quality. Aging water infrastructure, pesticide and herbicide application, and surface water runoff all pose challenges in maintaining a clean drinking water supply. The lecture covers pesticide management through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The management of pesticides and herbicides in drinking water has been heavily influenced by the economic concerns of pesticide and herbicide users as well as the municipal water agencies charged with testing water regularly for regulated chemicals. The lecture concludes with the regulation history of atrazine, a commonly used herbicide that research has shown to be hormonally active.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 10 and 12
Lecture 11
Safety Claims and Free Speech: Preemption and Defamation
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Safety Claims and Free Speech: Preemption and Defamation
This lecture presents three cases: Bates v. Dow, a lawsuit brought by peanut growers against the producers of a pesticide that degraded their soil; the Alar case, in which environmental organizations and the media successfully pressured EPA to ban a carcinogenic pesticide used on apples; and the Texas Cattlemen's Association's lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey for her coverage of Mad Cow Disease. Using these three cases, Professor Wargo discusses the legal concepts of preemption and defamation. He gives an overview of their origin and use in regulating agriculture and protecting human health and the environment. Through the Texas Cattlemen's Association case, he shows the effect of state "veggie libel" laws on free speech.
Lecture 12
Air Quality Law: Margins of Safety
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Air Quality Law: Margins of Safety
The lecture describes the Clean Air Act and the way the federal government measures air quality as well as improvements in air quality. Professor Wargo reviews challenges in regulating air quality, reasons for lack of adequate enforcement, and approaches to setting ambient air quality standards. The lecture focuses predominantly on vehicle emissions, and the difficulty that regulators face when trying to decrease particulate matter expelled by cars. The public health impacts of poor air quality, particularly in urban areas, are discussed as well.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 13-15
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, pp. 75-102
Lecture 13
Vehicle Emissions and Public Transit
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Vehicle Emissions and Public Transit
The lecture discusses developments in air quality monitoring and regulation in the United States, with an emphasis on regulating vehicle emissions. Monitoring takes place at fixed points with results being averaged over three years, and this data informs air quality standard setting. Studies have found that this form of monitoring underreports the amount of pollution that children and other susceptible populations (i.e. bus and truck drivers) are exposed to. Professor Wargo details ways in which individuals are exposed to heightened air pollution on a daily basis and the policy responses at the federal, state, and local levels.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapters 13-15
Weinberg, Understanding Environmental Law, pp. 75-102
Lecture 14
The Quiet Revolution in Plastics
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The Quiet Revolution in Plastics
Plastics are omnipresent but minimally understood and regulated in the United States. The lecture focuses on the dangers that chemicals in plastics pose to human health, particularly via leaching into food and water. Plastics are regulated by the Toxic Substance Control Act, which gives the Environmental Protection Agency the responsibility of testing to ensure that plastics do not adversely affect human health. When plastics can leach into food, the Food and Drug Administration can demand testing. Professor Wargo shows how oversights have led to limited labeling of hazardous plastics, which results in consumers having limited means of protecting themselves from harm.

Reading assignment:
Wargo, Green Intelligence, chapter 17
Lecture 15
The Tobacco Paradigm
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The Tobacco Paradigm
The lecture explores the development of scientific proof of the harm that tobacco poses to human health and the legal tools used to regulate its use. The government has used warnings, control over advertising, and age restrictions to regulate tobacco. The tobacco industry has been able to complicate efforts to impose stricter regulations on tobacco consumption due to its power in the media due to ad sales and government due to the importance of cigarette sales taxes to state governments.

Reading assignment:
Kessler, A Question of Intent
Lecture 16
Evolution of Tobacco Law
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Evolution of Tobacco Law
This lecture continues the previous class's discussion of tobacco law. In this class, Professor Wargo highlights the unique issues of freedom of choice and freedom of speech that tobacco regulation create, as tobacco regulation restricts individual choice and corporate freedom of speech via advertising restrictions. Tobacco law also illustrates the difficulties of managing environmental hazards in the face of an industry with the resources to fund its own research and to fight regulation at every step of the process. The passing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009 is held up as a success story in tobacco regulation, as it places stricter standards on tobacco corporations.

Reading assignment:
Kessler, A Question of Intent
Lecture 17
Land Use and Conservation Law: The Adirondack History
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Land Use and Conservation Law: The Adirondack History
By reviewing the conservation history of the Adirondack Park, this lecture examines strategies to manage land use and natural resources in protected areas. The Adirondacks has been protected since the 1880s and became a national park in the 1970s. The government manages the park for a variety of uses, including recreational, ecological, and natural resource-related uses. The multiple uses of the park create conflict amongst stakeholders and require regulations that prevent certain types of development. The lecture reviews regulations and zoning ordinances that protect public lands.
Lecture 18
Property Rights and Public Lands Management
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Property Rights and Public Lands Management
The lecture centers on public lands management and the effect of property rights on sustainable resource management. Property rights create a complex set of relationships that complicate effective environmental management. Popular conceptions of wilderness also make it difficult to manage public lands sustainably, since people view wilderness as a place of freedom, without regulation. Managing property rights and people's concept of right to wilderness are the central issues facing natural resource managers and public lands managers. As a result, it is important to consider external forces, such as climate change, that influence one's ability to exercise property rights.
Lecture 19
Land Use Law and Property Rights
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Land Use Law and Property Rights
The lecture addresses the issue of takings and when the government has the right to seize private property for the public good. The government is required to compensate property owners in some circumstances. Through legal cases, Professor Wargo gives some examples of when compensation is required and why takings are an important management tool for environmental managers.
Lecture 20
Managing Coastal Resources in an Era of Climate Change
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Managing Coastal Resources in an Era of Climate Change
The lecture reviews the legal and economic strategies that can be used to manage coastal development. Over half of the United States population lives in coastal areas and will be affected by sea level rise and more intense storms. The lecture looks at the conflict between property rights and efforts to protect coastal ecosystems through the use of eminent domain to create national seashores. Barrier islands such as Fire Island National Seashore and Cape Cod National Seashore are used as case studies; a variety of strategies have been employed to manage these constantly moving islands. The lecture also discusses the role insurance plays in coastal settlement patterns; changes in insurers' policies in high-risk coastal areas could change the way people settle in coastal regions.
Lecture 21
Certification: Design and Green Architecture
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Certification: Design and Green Architecture
The lecture critiques the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) certification system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The criteria for being highly rated under LEED emphasize energy efficiency and minimizing waste, but do not prioritize environmental health and limiting use of dangerous plastics and chemicals. USGBC is a non-profit organization, not a government agency, and has employees of for-profit organizations on its board of directors. The lecture discusses the implications of having a non-profit organization run this system and be responsible for evaluating environmental quality in architecture and construction.
Lecture 22
Past and Future of Nuclear Power
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Past and Future of Nuclear Power
The lecture begins a discussion of present and future energy demands and the ways in which we invest in different forms of energy by focusing on nuclear energy use globally. The risks associated with nuclear energy are described, including risk of human error leading to a mass evacuation event, and the challenges faced in finding an adequate nuclear waste storage facility for the United States. Such a facility would be need to be able to store nuclear waste for a million years or more, due to the long half-lives of nuclear waste. The lecture describes the disaster that took place at Chernobyl nuclear plant, and the wide-ranging effects of that disaster on the natural and built environments as well as human health.
Lecture 23
Renewable Energy Policies
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Renewable Energy Policies
The lecture discusses the various factors affecting the expansion of the U.S. renewable energy portfolio, as well as the importance of energy efficiency and changes to current consumption. As a case study, Professor Wargo discusses the nine-year effort to create Cape Wind, a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. The project has faced opposition for a number of reasons, including noise and disruption of use of private property. The lecture ties the development of more renewable energy options to issues of property rights and discusses ways to overcome challenges in siting, in noise pollution, and in the impacts on wildlife (i.e. avian mortality as a result of wind farms).
Lecture 24
Reflection and Lessons
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Reflection and Lessons
The final lecture reviews topics discussed in previous lectures by imagining an ideal society. Professor Wargo talks about success stories in land management in the Adirondacks and pesticide regulation, and notes ongoing challenges in food safety, drinking water quality, personal consumption, population control, and the creation of parks and protected areas. He lectures about the fractured nature of environmental management at different levels of government, and the way governmental and corporate secrecy have affected environmental regulation. He ends the lecture with advice for students.