Vermont Law School, home of the top-ranked environmental-law program in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, recently released its second annual Top 10 Environmental Watch List, spotlighting the nation's most critical environmental-law and policy issues of 2011 and how they may play out in 2012.
The issues, chosen based on their significance to the environment and public well-being and whether a key development is expected in the coming year, are:
1. With Republicans attacking the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), 2012 could be a turning point for environmental regulation. House Republicans and Republican presidential candidates have launched unprecedented attacks on the EPA, saying environmental regulations are hurting the economy.
2. EPA and White House clash over ozone standards. President Obama’s rejection of a controversial new air-pollution rule pleased industry, but angered environmental and public-health advocates heading into the presidential election season.
3. Powder River Basin’s abundance of coal at the epicenter of energy development. The federal leasing of the Powder River Basin’s massive coal deposits opens the door to big profits, plentiful electricity, and environmental degradation in a place both remote and central to the world’s energy future.
4. Activists claim victory, temporarily, on disputed Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department has postponed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial proposal to carry tar-sands oil across the U.S. heartland. While opponents of the project view this as a major victory, the fate of the pipeline remains unclear.
5. EPA and Transportation Department step up sector-by-sector regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions. 2012 will be a key time for U.S. climate-change policy, as the Obama administration appears ready to tackle one industry sector at a time. Toughened fuel-economy standards for vehicles are critical to reducing oil consumption, greenhouse gases, and consumer expenses, but much more work remains to be done across a range of industries.
6. Federal appeals court settles roadless rule … for now. A federal appeals-court ruling limits new road building in wild areas, but the debate will not be resolved until Congress acts.
7. Fukushima fallout affects global energy security, cost, safety, and grid reliability. The world’s response to the Fukushima disaster puts the future of a low-carbon energy future in doubt, but nuclear power remains on the table, despite safety and cost concerns.
8. U.S. Supreme Court rejects bid to regulate greenhouse gases under federal common law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that states cannot use federal common law to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions leaves open the questions of whether they can sue under state law and whether climate-change victims can seek damages through the courts. The issues are likely to be litigated soon.
9. Landmark settlement under the Endangered Species Act. A federal court approved a major settlement that likely means many more imperiled species and their habitats will be protected.
10. Combating climate change through enforcement: EPA v. TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). In a multibillion-dollar legal settlement with one of the nation’s largest coal-fired utilities, the EPA took a major step toward cleaning up the nation’s air, saving lives, and reducing health-care costs.
For more on the issues, click here.