Amanda R. Langenheim
Across the United States, some type of construction project takes place on a daily basis. An entrepreneur may build a new shopping center, a municipality may expand an interstate, or a mountain ski resort may erect a new ski lift. These varied and scattered construction activities have major impacts on water quality. For instance, as stormwater flows over construction sites, it can pick up pollutants such as sediment, trash, pesticides, oil and other chemicals and transport these to a nearby sewer system or directly into a river, lake, or coastal water. As a result, polluted stormwater can harm fish and other wildlife. What is more, high volumes of stormwater runoff can cause substantial stream bank erosion, which not only destroys marine habitats but can also clog waterways and impact aquatic life on multiples levels.
The agricultural industry is the last frontier of environmental law. It currently enjoys some kind of exemption or loophole under every major environmental statute. Though these exemptions may have seemed reasonable in the past, the agricultural industry has changed significantly since the days these policies were enacted. In the dairy industry, the number of farms in the United States has dropped while the average herd size per dairy farm has risen. This means higher concentration of manure in smaller areas. There is a growing concern about dairies storing large amounts of manure in unlined lagoons. The lagoons allow for nitrates from the manure to leak into groundwater. A 200 cow dairy farm produces about the same amount of nitrogen from its manure as a community of 5,000–10,000 people. This Note analyzes a court case that deals with cow manure generated by a dairy farm that cares for 11,000 cows and the nitrate level in the surrounding groundwater is above what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes as safe.
Fifteen years ago, in Florida v. J.L., the United States Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip of gun possession, uncorroborated by police, did not create a reasonable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity to justify a stop and frisk. The Court rejected the state’s argument that the dangers of illegal gun possession justified an exception to the reasonable suspicion requirements under the Fourth Amendment. While holding the stop unconstitutional, the majority opined that an anonymous “report of a person carrying a bomb” might potentially justify such a public danger exception. Following J.L., “sharp disagreement” spread throughout lower courts, with many relying on J.L.’s dicta to uphold traffic stops based on anonymous tips of drunk or dangerous driving; finding drunk driving posed a danger to the public “not at all unlike a bomb.” Other courts gave no weight to the statements and applied the traditional indicia of reliability test, requiring law enforcement to corroborate the anonymous tipster’s allegation of dangerous driving before making a stop. These differing interpretations left the lower courts “deeply divided” and, according to two Supreme Court Justices, deserved resolution by the high court.
Vermont’s Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the country, but it may be lost because of an amendment to the state’s conservation easement statute. Since 1930, the Trail has run nearly 273 continuous miles through Vermont. In 1986, the Green Mountain Club (GMC) recognized the pressing need to protect the land through which the Trail runs. At that time, thirty miles of the Trail were for sale, thirty miles had no guaranteed public use, and two parts were completely shut down––causing hikers to walk along the road for 3.5 miles. In order to preserve the Trail for future generations, GMC began acquiring conservation easements and has since conserved approximately 25,000 acres of land.
On July 15, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) issued its opinion of Ralls Corporation v. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The case arose out of Ralls Corporation’s acquisition of four Oregon sites for windfarm construction next to a restricted area of the U.S. Navy. The court held that President Obama deprived Ralls Corporation, an American corporation whose two owners are executives from a Chinese manufacturing company, of their due process rights when he issued an order to block the transaction for national security reasons. In the history of the underlying regulatory scheme, the Exon-Florio or Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) program, this controversy was the second time the president stepped in and prohibited a foreign merger, acquisition, or takeover transaction in light of national security concerns, as well as the first time where the judiciary was called upon to resolve the administrative dispute. While this implies the significance that the D.C. Circuit signaled the court’s willingness to assume its judicial review power in the scheme, the Ralls court took cautious stance to only address the legal questions regarding the President’s action in dispute. On the other hand, it remained silent on the merits of the Committee actions.
In February 2014, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) began operating as the world’s largest solar thermal power plant. It was built on over 3,500 acres of federal public land in the Mojave Desert near Ivanpah Dry Lake, California. The plant uses more than 300,000 mirrors to direct solar radiation to the collection towers, which can heat the surrounding atmosphere to temperatures between 800º and 1000º F. After years of research and environmental planning, and despite benefits like creating jobs and providing renewable energy, scientists have discovered that fast-tracking clean energy development comes with an unexpected cost: the death of thousands of birds.
This Note concerns the lack of federal humane welfare protection for poultry. Currently there is no federal statute or regulation that mandates how to treat poultry while they are being raised, transported, or slaughtered. The result is that poultry are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations where anywhere from 1500 to 125,000 birds live in a single building and the ammonia levels get so high that some birds are found with feather loss and burns. During transportation, birds can incur injuries such as broken bones, and they often die from exposure to the cold or heat. During the slaughtering process, the line speed at the plants can be so fast that poultry are often improperly hung, suffer broken wings or bones, and may even be boiled alive.
In 1894, New York State voters adopted a proposal to keep state land in the Adirondack Park “forever wild.” This status was largely unthreatened until 1959, when Interstate 87—which runs along the eastern side of the Adirondacks, from Albany and north to the Canadian border—was approved and constructed. In reaction, the state legislature passed the Adirondack Park Agency Act. The Act created the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), which consists of an eleven member board and enabled the creation of two master plans: the State Land Master Plan and the Private Land Plan, which was essentially regional zoning for the whole park.
Every year, there are about 14,000 oil spills within the United States alone. There are approximately “25 spills per day into navigable waters and an estimated 75 spills on land.” Yet few Americans could name more than one or two notably large oil spills and for the most part are oblivious to the rest. The actual number of oil spill incidents is astounding, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of these spills are allowed to go unnoticed by the nation is especially alarming. The shroud of secrecy unfolded by oil corporations, and the lack of access by the public to accurate information, ensures that people will remain complacent in their attitudes regarding oil activities, and as such, will not advocate for changes in our energy production and transport.
In the spring of 2014, the State of Vermont was reawakened to the issue of child abuse and child deaths. Although certainly not the first reported cases of child abuse resulting in death, the cases of Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw are all too familiar to many Vermonters. Dezirae Sheldon, only two years old, was found dead from serious cranial injury. Similarly, Peighton Geraw, just over one year of age, was brought to a hospital in Burlington, Vermont, and pronounced dead from a severe head injury. What both children had in common was their open case files with the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF). Dezirae had been previously removed from her mother’s care and only been returned home a short time before her death, and a DCF employee visited Peighton’s home on the same day of his death. These incidents incited a public outcry to begin investigations of DCF procedures and policies regarding the care of children in Vermont.