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Author Archive

Fulfilling the Human Right to Food and a Healthy Environment: Is it Time for an Agroecological and Aquaecological Revolution?

Anastasia Telesetsky 

The start of the Green Revolution was a time of optimism. Fueled by chemical fertilizers, new hybrid seeds, and a sense of moral righteousness, the Green Revolution increased field productivity through the magic of science and innovation. Yet this short-term miracle of technology has failed to deliver a long-term solution to malnutrition and food shortages. Concerned with feeding the largely disenfranchised and hungry populations of the Global South, the makers of the Green Revolution failed to contemplate that though their interventions would provide semi-reliable harvests for some of the poorest individuals in the world, they would also transform human agriculture into an industry largely defined by chemical dependency and ultimately diminishing yields Today, 40% of the 437 million farms in developing states that feed approximately two-thirds of the human population are dependent on Green Revolution technologies. In practice, the Green Revolution simultaneously succeeded and failed. It succeeded for the earliest generations or poor communities who benefited from the extra crop yields, but it is failing the current generation that is left with a legacy of contaminated soils and waters.

The continued need to achieve the high yields associated with the Green Revolution becomes increasingly important when contemplating current rising global demographic trends. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicts that a 70% increase in food may be needed to feed the increasing population. In response to increasing population projections, States have chosen to invest in known conventional food security strategies rather than explore less-tested strategies that might achieve both food security and environmental security. For example, the market for nitrogen fertilizer, a key input for the Green Revolution, is predicted to reach an all-time global production high of 200.5 million tons in 2018—24% more than the global usage in 2008. Much of this usage is concentrated in states with large populations, such as China, where the rate of fertilizer application has increased four-fold over about three decades. Applying large amounts of agricultural fertilizer to achieve industrial-level crop yields has profound implications for the environment, including substantial contributions to both global greenhouse gas emissions and contaminated water tables.

This Article asks whether states in pursuit of cheap outputs of food to feed burgeoning populations should continue to pursue status quo domestic food security strategies that are likely to threaten long-term environmental security. More production promotes immediate food security, but governments also have human rights obligations, including the duty to respect, promote, and fulfill both the “right to food” and the “right to a clean and healthy environment.” Existing industrial food production strategies pose legitimate threats to achieving long-term food security objectives. Part I of this Article reviews the impact of industrial food production on environmental resources. Part II explores the intersection between the human right to food and the human right to a clean and healthy environment. Part III proposes additional legal interventions in support of strategies for ensuring the full realization of both the right to food and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

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Institutionalizing a Fully Realized Right to Food: Progress, Limitations, and Lessons Learned from Emerging Alternative Policy Models

Nadia Lambek and Priscilla Claeys 

Twenty years ago, in 1996, world leaders, activists, and food producers met in Rome for the World Food Summit. One of the many outcomes of this meeting was a clear direction to the United Nations human rights bodies that States and stakeholders were interested in how the right to food could be operationalized at the national level. Over the past two decades, the right to food has gone through a period of intense normative elaboration, from a little theorized right to a largely fully elaborated human rights framework with corresponding State obligations and interpretations applying the right to food to a variety of contexts. Today there is a greater understanding of the concrete implications of the right to food as a legal doctrine for a range of state, international, and private actors, as well as a greater understanding of the importance of adopting a holistic approach to food insecurity.

The right to food has now entered a new era, with advocates focused on its promotion, adoption, and implementation, particularly at the national level. As a result of these efforts, the visibility of the right to food has increased remarkably over the last decade, particularly through the work of a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations, and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the right to food. States are increasingly adopting the right to food framework—or more accurately some elements of the framework—as a policy guide or as a legal norm through a variety of laws, constitutional amendments, policies, and programs. The right to food as a guiding framework is also increasingly discussed in international fora, notably at the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

This Article focuses on the right to food in the context of national implementation—and not as an analytical tool for assessing the ails of the food system or as a uniting principle between different constituents. It argues that, despite the advancements noted above, little progress has been made overall at legal, policy, and institutional levels in effectively creating an environment in which the right to food can be fully realized in national contexts. Indeed, the adopted legal and policy frameworks have largely focused on the obligations of states to fulfill the right to food, leaving unaddressed the obligations to respect and protect the right to food. This has resulted in a failure to fully endorse the right to food in such a way that it would lead to the structural change needed to improve the realization of the right and to decrease food insecurity for individuals and communities.

Many factors can be credited with limiting the success of the right to food as a legal tool. These include a lack of political will among States and a reluctance to recognize economic and social rights; increased corporate capture of food governance fora and of the food supply chain more broadly; a lack of political constituency for the right to food, with implementation efforts largely stemming from a handful of NGOs and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) right to food team; and weak implementation mechanisms, which often fail to reflect the core State obligations imposed by the right to food.

While these obstacles and limitations are well documented in the literature, we argue in this Article that some of the most relevant and interesting developments allowing us to reflect on the challenges facing the right to food have taken place not within the right to food field, but outside and in parallel. Indeed, the last decade has seen a rise in new and alternative models for transforming the food system, such as alternative food networks, local food policy councils, and food sovereignty. These are often implemented in response to the challenges and the limited progress achieved with the right to food. These alternatives—often defended by local and transnational peasant organizations and food movements more generally—have succeeded not only in creating new narratives about the structural changes needed in our food system, but also in establishing new rights, institutions, and governing practices. Our objective in this Article is to document these developments and the lessons we believe they bear for right to food advocates and practitioners. These alternatives provide an important lens through which to view the perceived limits of the right to food as a legal tool. Further, taking them seriously invites us to expand our understanding of the right to food in at least two ways: (1) towards a more inclusive participation of citizens in the governance of food and agriculture; and (2) towards a transition to more localized food systems.

In Part I of this paper, we provide a brief overview of the right to food’s legal framework. In Part II, we review some of the key developments in implementing the right to food over the last two decades—both with respect to national implementation of legislation, as well as through policies. We show that progress has been made when it comes to fulfilling the right to food, but that much needs to be done to respect and protect the right. We also highlight a number of accountability challenges that need to be addressed. In Part III, we assess alternative models, grounded in the alternative paradigm of food sovereignty, that have emerged from the bottom up at the local, national, and regional levels over the past two decades. We discuss food sovereignty laws and policies, as well as alternative food networks and food policy councils. We then move to the international level, where we explore efforts at institutionalizing space for civil society in food system governance at the global level—specifically at the CFS. We also discuss the current elaboration of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas at the United Nations Human Rights Council as an articulation of new human rights norms to reflect the experience and claims of peasants and other people working in rural areas. Drawing from the alternative models, we conclude with a discussion of how the right to food could better address the twin crises of accountability and participation.

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Banning Metal Mining in Guatemala

Raquel Aldana & Randall S. Abate 

Metal mining is not big business in Guatemala. It generates less than one percent of the country’s gross national product and employs less than one percent of the official workforce in the country. The metal mining industry has also been in decline since 2012, and a significant subpart of the industry will disappear completely in a matter of decades when all of the gold, silver, and other metals have been extracted.

For such a small industry, metal mining represents a giant problem for Guatemala. Metal mining has generated chaos in the country and provoked ire among many within and beyond its borders. Metal mining in Guatemala is controversial for significant reasons. First, at an alarmingly quick pace, metal mining is destroying much of the country’s beautiful environmental resources. Second, this destruction is occurring largely without the consent of the affected communities—both indigenous and non-indigenous. For these communities, the few benefits—mostly in the form of jobs with higher wages for some of the local residents—pale in comparison to the short-term and long-term harms. In the short term, residents in metal mining communities are disturbed by noise; sickened by contamination; impoverished by reduced water supply and food production; divided by conflict even among friends and family; and criminalized and physically harmed during protests. In the long term, water depletion and contamination linger, mountains and landscapes disappear, and the jobs and monies that mines brought dissipate. The affected communities—and the entire country as a result—are left with an even bleaker future than prior to exploitation, literally and figuratively.

These environmental and human rights harms alone justify a rejection of the industry in Guatemala. The disdain for metal mining, however, lies exactly in the reasons for its presence in the country. Why is an industry that represents such an insignificant economic investment and with such destructive characteristics allowed to operate in the country? The answer is cynical but tragically true. Metal mining makes a great deal of investment sense to the foreign investors and shareholders and to the economic elite and self-interested politicians who profit from it. In turn, as a struggling democracy with weak laws and institutions, but strongly favorable investment laws and practices, Guatemala is the ideal host for the continuation of corporate practices that are senseless and destructive. 

This same assessment of metal mining in Guatemala applies across the region and globally, particularly in developing nations with similar democratic and social struggles. It also applies to several other types of industries that extract natural resources or cheap labor for global consumption. Unlike Guatemala, however, some of these nations are stepping back and instituting important reforms to limit or ban certain types of mining. There are important lessons in these reforms for Guatemala.

This Article proposes recommendations for managing Guatemala’s metal mining problem. It proceeds from the premise that metal mining is a bad investment for Guatemala, at least in the short term. Metal mining is never a sustainable practice for any country because metal is an exhaustible and non-renewable natural resource and its extraction is inherently toxic and destructive. There is a legitimate argument that metal mining may be necessary for development and that it could be done in ways that significantly reduce the harms to the environment and communities. This Article does not address whether or how Guatemala might choose to engage in metal mining in the future. Rather, it asserts that Guatemala is ill prepared to implement a metal mining regime that makes sense for the country at this time. Guatemala is now grappling—in good ways—with significant and visible democratic problems. For the first time in the near decade of the United Nations Commission against Impunity’s (CICIG) operation in Guatemala, its investigations are finally exposing the shameful and cynical acts of corrupt politicians. Not a single Guatemalan is surprised by the dirty secrets the CICIG’s wiretaps and secret recordings revealed. Several high-level officials resigned following the revelations, including the Vice President and the President who now face criminal charges for their acts of corruption. This alone represents remarkable progress for Guatemala. 

These potentially monumental transitions in Guatemala, however, do not guarantee real and sustained reforms in the country. Today, nearly 20 years after the signing of an ambitious peace agenda, Guatemala is nowhere near a strong enough democracy as it needs to be to manage metal mining in order to minimize harms and maximize benefits for its citizens. Much needs to happen first, including electoral reform, eradication of deep inequality, greater transparency in public spending, and tax and social spending reforms. This Article addresses the primary concerns that pertain to mining: reforming the 1997 Mining Law; the need to regulate water and the consultative process; and the need to improve transparency in tax collection, public spending, and social investment, particularly as it relates to the mining industry. These reforms must occur in tandem with the broader and systemic reforms already mentioned if metal mining is to be successful. Until then, Guatemala should consider banning metal mining in the country. This course would not be unchartered territory in the region. Other nations, with Costa Rica as one of the best examples, have paved the way. 

Banning metal mining in Guatemala, even if temporarily, will likely face fierce opposition from investors and potentially from Guatemala’s important trading partners. Guatemalans would be right to be concerned about two possible negative consequences from the decision to ban or limit metal mining: (1) companies already holding exploration and exploitation licenses could sue in international tribunals or foreign courts for millions alleging expropriation; and (2) Guatemala could damage its relationship with Canada, the United States, and other potential trading partners and international economic institutions. This Article addresses strategies and defenses for banning mining in Guatemala in response to expropriation claims in international tribunals. Also, it proposes standards and norms that arbitrators should apply to resolve these claims. As to the second concern, the potential impacts on trade and investment might be exaggerated and overstated. Guatemala nonetheless should explore alternatives for sustainable development that would be better for the country in the long term. Costa Rica’s ecotourism industry serves as a model for Guatemala in this regard. 

Part I of this Article explains the nature and scope of the metal mining industry in Guatemala. It also examines the environmental, health, property, and social impacts of metal mining and discusses the unbalanced costs and harms of the industry under Guatemala’s status quo. Part II documents the challenges and gaps in the existing domestic and international legal frameworks that attempt to regulate metal mining activities in Guatemala. Part III proposes an incremental model for Guatemala to address its metal mining problem. First, this Article recommends that Guatemala exercise its sovereign right to adopt a law banning all future metal mining concessions. Second, Guatemala should rely on existing domestic laws to close the mines in order to mitigate the substantial damages resulting from these activities. Under either approach, Guatemala is likely to face investor liability in the millions, and perhaps lose future investment in the country. This Article offers Guatemala suggestions for defending and mitigating these costs by relying on comparative studies of similar actions taken by Costa Rica and El Salvador.

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Emerging from the Mire: Using Public Shaming After an Oil Spill to Yield Informed Decisions and Alter Behavior

Rachel Stewart 

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 of the largest 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 drawn by oil corporations, and the public’s lack of access 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.

When the public does become aware of an oil spill, powerful energy corporations remain free to tout their philanthropy as they clean up the spill and spread misinformation about the extent of the damage. With the current approach, the ultimate impact of a spill and potentially its very existence remain unknown to the general population. Although under the Oil Pollution Act oil companies must pay fines and face other sanctions after a spill, as part of their retribution, they should also be required to provide full disclosure to the public about the spill, using information gathered from independent researchers, not their own hires. As courts continue the trend of treating corporations like individuals, enhanced and unique punishments for largely avoidable environmental catastrophes become imperative. 

Borrowing a proven method of remediation from criminal law, this deterrent should take the form of public shaming, through a requirement to accurately publicize oil spills. This will have a direct and meaningful impact on corporations that heretofore would have relied on secrecy and misdirection to mitigate their responsibility. The ultimate goals of public shaming are deterrence, public awareness, and accurate publicity of oil spill disasters. Public shaming provisions would have the effect of making oil companies and their practices more transparent, as well as permitting the public to make more informed decisions, and courts to levy fines and sanctions that accurately reflect a spill’s real damages. The result of public shaming and the tandem education of the populace may ultimately tip society toward less damaging forms of energy, such as solar, electric, and wind. So long as oil companies keep the public in the dark, the status quo will continue. To better address oil pollution in our country, Congress should include public shaming and independent monitoring during a spill in the Oil Pollution Act. 

This Note proceeds in two parts. The first section discusses three oil spill incidents. The first, the Exxon Valdez, set the stage for modern oil pollution control and legislation. The Deepwater Horizon spill chronicles the outcomes of a modern large-scale oceanic spill. The third spill, a largely unknown pipeline spill in Tioga, North Dakota, illustrates the practice of corporate secrecy and the need for public awareness after a spill. 

This Note’s second section explores a method of punishment for oil polluters that both sanctions the violators and engages the public, thereby encouraging people to use their voices and consumer power in response to a spill. This section argues that the Oil Pollution Act must require public shaming of oil companies to bring greater public attention to spills. The shaming will take unique forms, and the information used to shame the companies responsible for the incidents will originate from third-party observers, rather than from within the companies themselves. This Note urges Congress to incorporate public shaming into the Oil Pollution Act in order to increase public awareness of oil spills and the environmental dangers they cause.

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Human Rights in a Climate Changed World: The Impact of COP21, Nationally Determined Contributions, and National Courts

Tracy Bach 

Climate change has become an active intersection of environmental and human rights law. At the global level, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created to respond to climate change’s impacts on humans, first by setting greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation norms to prevent or limit atmospheric warming. More recently, the UNFCCC’s added focus on adaptation recognizes the changes already in play and their disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. But, while the UNFCCC reflects concern for human rights, neither the original framework convention nor its Kyoto Protocol contains explicit references to specific human rights or human rights laws. 

Likewise, early human rights law did not express a right to a healthy environment. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its two covenants adopted in 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), lacked references to specific environmental rights. The first connection between the right to life and the need for a healthy environment appears in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, which proclaims the natural environment is “essential to . . . the right to life itself.” Since then, many countries have codified the right to a clean and healthy environment in their national constitutions or have become parties to regional conventions that include this right. John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, has observed “a rapid ‘greening’ of human rights law” as human rights bodies have interpreted the rights to life and health as requiring states to protect the environment. Yet, despite this progress, there still is no global human rights agreement that explicitly includes a right to a healthy environment. 

Climate change catalyzed the human rights community to bridge this gap. Human rights groups mounted a campaign advocating for explicit human rights protections in the international climate change agreement adopted in Paris on December 12, 2015. Beginning with the UNFCCC’s sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16), held in Cancun, Mexico in 2010, the Convention’s Parties expressly acknowledged climate change’s impacts on human rights. Beginning in 2011, negotiations opened for a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020 and they have included human rights language in multiple working drafts. The final Paris Agreement includes express reference to human rights in its preamble. Even though references in operational provisions of the draft agreement were deleted, the Paris Agreement represents the first multilateral environmental agreement to recognize explicitly the intersection of human rights and climate change.

The Paris Agreement also embodies a sea change in international climate change governance. By focusing on “bottom up” nationally determined actions and not on “top down” global mitigation targets, it invites all countries to act on climate change domestically within a treaty architecture that carefully calibrates national sovereignty with international objectives. This evolution in the nature of the UNFCCC Parties’ obligations to one another began at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and gained momentum at COP16 the next year. It culminated at COP17 with the creation of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) and its mandate to “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” by the end of 2015 at COP21. Thus, at the same time that the relationship of human rights to climate change was under negotiation, so too was the fundamental framework of legally binding UNFCCC commitments. 

In December at COP21, the 196 Parties adopted an outcome that creates a structured process for pledging and reviewing nationally determined but internationally promised actions. These actions go beyond mitigation to address adaptation, finance, capacity building, and technology development and transfer—essential components for developing countries to contribute to international climate change mitigation and adaptation according to their “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” The Paris Agreement requires each Party to individually determine and pledge what it deems to be a “fair” contribution, which is then publicly registered on an UNFCCC website. It also requires the Parties to collectively review these pledges, and measure the group effort against the objective of keeping global warming to at least “well below 2°C.” Finally, in a virtuous cycle, it requires Parties to revise pledges every five years in light of collective progress on the global goal and to increase the fairness and ambition of these national pledges each time.

Many have lauded this new approach for its ability to bring all developed and developing country parties into a common and transparent framework of balanced commitments. At the same time, experts recognize that holding sovereign nations accountable for their treaty obligations is hard. The UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol have used consultative review of Parties’ progress on their commitments to ensure compliance. This approach aims to identify barriers to implementation, share best practices for overcoming them, and lead sovereign decisions to adopt them. But this compliance mechanism did not keep Canada from withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol during the first commitment period when faced with not achieving its 6% reduction commitment. Likewise, it did not stop Japan, New Zealand, and Russia from choosing not to join a second commitment period. The question now becomes whether the Paris Agreement’s nationally-focused approach can change this dynamic and lead countries to make the hard political and economic domestic changes more than the Kyoto Protocol did.

This Article argues that it can because the very nature of these nationally determined pledges offers new avenues for holding UNFCCC Parties accountable for their international contributions. Where facilitative compliance mechanisms between sovereign treaty members fall short, enforcement actions under domestic laws for the implementation of national pledges developed through international negotiations have potential to fill this accountability gap. How? By focusing on national strategies when formulating their international contributions, Parties necessarily build on national policies and laws. These domestic levers provide political and legal pressure points for advocates seeking to hold their countries responsible for honoring international commitments. For example, civil society organization leaders, like Bill McKibben, underscore the role of national citizen engagement and political activity in nationally determined contributions (NDC) implementation post-COP21.

Recent national climate change suits in UNFCCC member countries build on this political will and show how existing domestic laws can be used to hold Parties accountable for their internationally pledged national contributions. For example, the NGO Urgenda drew on the Netherlands’ tradition of making human rights justiciable in court when it successfully argued that the government’s international climate change pledges were below its capacity and thus failing to protect its citizens’ rights to life and health under national tort law. The June 2015 trial court decision ordering the government to increase its pledges was the first to use domestic law to hold a UNFCCC Party accountable for its international commitments. This case resonated loudly in the climate change advocacy community in the three months leading up to COP21’s negotiations. It is regularly cited as one example of what Marcos Orellana described as using human rights law as a “new tool[] to address contemporary realities.” Since then, administrative and judicial actions have been filed in six other UNFCCC party countries. There has not been such a spike in cases since the early climate change litigation boomlet in the United States and Australia in the early 2000s. Each of these recent cases seeks different remedies, under different kinds of national laws, with some based on human rights law and some based on domestic climate change legislation. But they all share a common litigation strategy: use international climate change norms to hold individual countries accountable through their domestic courts.

This kind of national litigation will only grow as the dust settles on the Paris Agreement.24 First, the new “bottom up” orientation of international climate change law places authority in nation states for determining the content of these pledges and hence opens the door for making enforcement claims based on the domestic laws and policies used to create them. Second, the absence of a world climate change tribunal or other specific enforcement mechanism in the new Agreement makes domestic courts an attractive venue for addressing non- or low-performance of national obligations. Third, the transparent submission of NDCs will provide ample, available information for bringing suit. Fourth, NDC analysis by third parties like the NGO Climate Action Tracker and the UNFCCC Secretariat, along with the IPCC’s reports on mitigation pathways needed to stay within a predicted carbon budget, provide expert evidence on global norms that national courts may draw on. While threshold procedural issues may impede litigation on the merits, these suits individually—and more so en masse—place the spotlight on national efforts to achieve their NDCs.

To reach these conclusions, this Article first chronicles the growing acknowledgment of climate change’s impacts on human rights and how this movement affected the COP21 negotiations. It next puts this human rights advocacy campaign into the broader context of the new Agreement architecture at the heart of the negotiations. The Article then describes the six national cases brought to date, and analyzes how they use international climate change norms when making domestic law claims. Finally, it concludes with several observations about how the Paris Agreement’s NDCs may ultimately lead to greater treaty compliance via nationally determined enforcement. This method can complement the facilitative international compliance mechanisms inscribed in the new Agreement while closing the accountability gap. In doing so, it also puts into practice the aspirational human rights language in the Paris Agreement’s preamble.

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Managing Unconventional Oil and Gas Development As If Communities Mattered

Mark Squillace 

Over the past decade, unconventional oil and gas plays have revolutionized the domestic oil and gas industry. Oil and gas are, of course, finite natural resources. They can be developed only so long as they can feasibly and economically be extracted from the ground. Not so long ago, many experts predicted that the world had reached or would soon reach peak oil—the point where humans had used more than half of the recoverable hydrocarbon resources. Further development would presumably occur under the cloud of mining an ever diminishing resource that was more difficult and expensive to access. While a few naysayers remain, talk of peak oil seems to have largely gone away. This change in perspective about oil and gas resources has come about almost entirely because of the evolution of horizontal drilling and the recognition that such drilling when combined with fracking of low permeability rocks, especially shale rock, can yield commercial quantities of oil and gas at a reasonable cost. Suddenly, the development of hydrocarbon resources that had seemed so implausible only a few years earlier became accessible, and before long these “unconventional” oil and gas resources proved to be lucrative new sources of oil and gas.

But with the new technologies and the resulting rush to develop unconventional resources have come a new series of environmental challenges that have yet to be resolved. With horizontal drilling comes highpressure hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. And developing these fracked wells presents a range of environmental problems that, in many cases, go well beyond the problems associated with conventional oil and gas development. Although fracking itself has been around for more than half a century, fracking a horizontal well that might be two or three miles long in a lateral direction requires the use of significant quantities of fracking fluids at extremely high pressures—far more water introduced at far higher pressures than are used to frack a conventional well. These big frack jobs typically require multiple pump trucks to create the pressure, and hundreds of water tanker trucks to deliver the fracking fluids. A substantial portion of that fracking water will return to the surface as “flowback,”4 accompanied by many new contaminants including volatile organic compounds. This flowback must be carefully managed to minimize the risk to humans and wildlife from water and air pollution.

Notwithstanding the many new problems often attending horizontal drilling, there is a silver lining because unconventional development actually offers many potential advantages in terms of minimizing environmental impacts. These advantages and the means for realizing them are described in conjunction with an assessment of the environmental problems in Part III of this Article.

Beyond well development itself, much infrastructure is needed to support unconventional oil and gas development, including, for example, compressor stations for natural gas, storage tanks to hold the recovered resources, and gathering lines and pipelines for transporting them to market. All of these facilities pose their own environmental challenges, especially for protecting air quality and the health of people who live, learn, and work near oil and gas development. 

To be sure, many of these problems exist with conventional oil and gas development. But the breakneck pace of unconventional development in some parts of the country, and the special problems that such development poses, have so exacerbated the environmental risks and so inflamed some communities that they are increasingly drawn to efforts to enact outright bans of oil and gas development, or its chief surrogate—fracking.

This Article is offered to engage policymakers, community leaders, and the oil and gas industry on ways to retool unconventional oil and gas development to better protect communities and oil and gas workers, even while promoting the efficient development of oil and gas. It begins with a description of unconventional oil and gas development and the technologies that have evolved to support it. This is followed by a lengthy discussion of the environmental problems associated with that development. Even as the environmental costs are considered, however, the Article acknowledges the substantial opportunities that unconventional development offers for more sensible and cost-effective production of oil and gas resources. In addressing these costs and in laying out the opportunities, the focus is on better planning, and the need for regulators to become more proactive in their approach to regulating oil and gas development.

Four particular categories of impacts are addressed: (1) surface impacts; (2) impacts on water resources; (3) air quality impacts; and (4) community impacts. In the course of laying out these impacts, this Article proposes various strategies for responding to them with a particular focus on the necessity of good planning. The Article concludes with additional recommendations for designing an effective and adaptive regulatory program for unconventional oil and gas resource development.

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Habitat as Human Rights: Indigenous Huaorani in the Amazon Rainforest, Oil, and Ome Yasuni

Judith Kimerling 

I want to thank Vermont Law School, Vermont Law Review, and the organizers of this Symposium, “Habitat for Human Rights,” for bringing us together to discuss this important topic. It is commonly assumed that environmental protection and human rights go hand in hand. And on the ground, they normally do. But environmental law and human rights law do not always work together, or further their stated aims. In the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, the effectiveness of environmental law and human rights law is undermined by the failure to recognize and address historical legal structures and policies that seek to dominate Indigenous peoples and continue to shape the law. I’d like to begin by highlighting three general scenarios where environmental and human rights laws intersect, and then talk about the indigenous Huaorani communities I work with, who have organized themselves to defend their habitat as human rights in the area now known as Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve, in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador.


A first scenario where human rights and the environment intersect is when the human rights of environmental defenders are violated. This can include rights violations that take place outside of the law, such as arbitrary detention and excessive use of force against protesters. It can also include use of the law to violate human rights, such as when governments criminalize dissent and repress freedom of expression by using criminal defamation or overly-broad counterterrorism laws to prosecute protestors and influential critics.

A second scenario where environmental and human rights law intersect is when environmental degradation is a source of human rights violations. The question of what types, and extent, of environmental degradation rise to the level of human rights violations is complicated when approached from an environmental law perspective. This is because international law is based on agreement among States, while environmental law is dynamic—it can change and evolve. In addition, not only do the details of many environmental norms differ from place to place, but also, at a more general level, some States maintain that so-called developing nations should not require the same level of environmental protection as wealthier nations.

For example, we hear a lot of talk about international standards for oil extraction operations. But there is no clear body of international environmental rules. At the national level, standards vary. And here, in the United States, even national standards are limited and important environmental norms can differ from state to state. 

As a result, it is difficult to define precise environmental standards that have international consensus, and that is one reason why customary international environmental law is so limited. But human rights law could help address this challenge in some circumstances by providing a shared performance-based standard: basically, that environmental degradation is not acceptable when it violates human rights. And as we heard in this morning’s Keynote Address, human rights law has been able to maintain universality despite some differences.

In 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or the Commission) published a report with a groundbreaking analysis linking environmental contamination and human rights. The report examined human rights in Ecuador, and included a chapter on the situation of people affected by oil extraction in the Amazon region that focused on the ability of local residents “to realize their rights to life and physical security in an environment that has been subjected to severe environmental pollution.” 

The Commission began its analysis of relevant Inter-American human rights law by recognizing that “[t]he realization of the right to life, and to physical security and integrity [as protected by the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Men and the American Convention on Human Rights] is necessarily related to and in some ways dependent upon one’s physical environment.” “Accordingly,” the Commission reasoned, “where environmental contamination and degradation pose a persistent threat to human life and health, the foregoing rights are implicated.” 

The Commission further noted that Inter-American human rights law recognizes “the interrelationship between the rights to life and health;” that “[t]he right to have one’s life respected is not limited to protection against arbitrary killing;”10 and that “[r]espect for the inherent dignity of the person is the principle which underlies the fundamental protections of the right to life and to preservation of physical well-being.” It concluded that “[c]onditions of severe environmental pollution, which may cause serious physical illness, impairment and suffering on the part of the local populace, are inconsistent with the right to be respected as a human being.”

The Commission also found that, in this context,

protection of the right to life and physical integrity may be best advanced through measures to support and enhance the ability of individuals to safeguard and vindicate those rights. The quest to guard against environmental conditions which threaten human health requires that individuals have access to: information, participation in relevant decision-making processes, and judicial recourse.

The Commission did not define “severe” pollution or “serious” illness, or explain how much increased risk of disease and suffering is too much. But the Commission did find that, in the case of Ecuador’s Amazon region, “‘[d]econtamination is needed to correct mistakes’” that should not have happened, that both the State and the oil companies are responsible for correcting those mistakes, and that the State has a duty to ensure that they are corrected.

The Commission also recognized—in a separate chapter examining “human rights issues of special relevance” to Indigenous peoples—that additional human rights violations occur when Indigenous peoples maintain special ties with their traditional territories and are displaced, or when those lands are degraded.16 This is because “the control and use of territory are essential” to the physical and cultural survival of Indigenous peoples, and to their “individual and collective well-being.”

So when we think about the nexus between human rights and environment, and what that means for Indigenous peoples, the environment is not only a source of life-sustaining services, such as food, water, air, and so on, which are essential for life and the full enjoyment of human rights— or, as the organizers of this Symposium aptly put it, a “habitat for human rights.” I love this title (of the Symposium) because it reinserts human beings and their communities into the landscape, and reminds us that human rights are linked to environmental quality, and that we need to think not only about violations of human rights and litigation after those violations occur, but also about preventing violations and safeguarding human rights.

I would like to take this concept further by passing on something I have learned about human rights from the Huaorani. For Indigenous peoples who live on the land, habitat is human rights. It provides the resources that sustain life—and much more. It is also a space, a territory and living environment through which, and in which, Indigenous peoples can realize their cultural, social, economic, and political rights. In other words, it is a space where Indigenous peoples can exercise genuine self-determination or, as the Huaorani say, “live as Huaorani, in freedom.” And without it, they cannot survive.

A third scenario where environmental and human rights laws intersect is when environmental initiatives affect Indigenous peoples and their traditional lands, territories, and resources. We hear a lot about how environmentally harmful “development” violates the rights of Indigenous peoples. And for good reason: it is a serious and widespread problem.

But a growing number of Indigenous communities are also concerned about environmental initiatives that empower outsiders to make decisions about their territories, lands, and resources, and fail to respect their rights. For example, in some places, people have been displaced from traditional lands for the cause of wildlife conservation. In other areas, conservation bureaucracies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) impoverish Indigenous communities and violate or threaten their cultural, subsistence, and other rights when they seek to manage protected areas that were superimposed on Indigenous lands without consent. They are seen as just another colonizer.

So there is a need to include respect for human rights in environmental initiatives. This means more than adding a traditional knowledge annex to a conservation project plan, or using Indigenous plaintiffs in a lawsuit. It means truly understanding, and respecting, the priorities of the affected communities and how they want to work with outsiders. And it means avoiding the pitfalls of taking an overly dominant role and excluding local community members from decisionmaking. This can be especially difficult when litigation is involved, or when the interests of local communities are perceived as being in conflict with conservation interests. But it is necessary.

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Keynote Address

Marcos Orellana 

Thank you Stephanie for that kind welcome. It is a real honor and pleasure for me to be here today with all of you, breathing the fresh air of a cool morning in Vermont. I thought I should start this keynote presentation by suggesting that for a minute we look at ourselves from the perspective of how future generations will see us. I will submit to you there is a disconnect between how we see ourselves and how we will be seen (and judged) by future generations.

If we take a moment to look back and think about the practice of slavery and humans as property, or perhaps look at the dark ages and secret trials. We think about these as barbaric practices, but they did not happen that long of a time ago. When we see ourselves today, I think most of us will have an image of “well, we’re certainly somewhat sophisticated,” and as Dean Mihaly put it: “educated.” Many of us wear a tie to appear respectful. But how will we be seen in the future? What are the kinds of issues that we are accepting and practicing and causing in the world today?

We are witnesses to unprecedented levels of inequality, destitution, and environmental deterioration. Much has been said about climate change and the apocalyptic future it will bring about; for many that dire future is already present. Much has been written about the global public health crisis caused by exposure to chemicals and hazardous wastes, and about the fact that we as humanity are causing, as it is called, the sixth wave of biodiversity loss involving an unprecedented loss of species. For many of these species there is no tomorrow, there is no later, there is no coming back. So we as humanity are responsible for that extinction. How will that fact be seen by future generations? Do we still look that respectable? Is there a disconnect there? 

The magnitude of the forces at play today is unprecedented, and so for that same reason, our response to those forces needs to be unprecedented. That is where human rights and the environment come into play: as new tools to address contemporary realities.

This morning I expect to lay out the general elements and boundaries of the human rights and environment field, so that the panels can delve deeper into specific issues. And so by way of roadmap, I will start laying out the evolution of human rights and the environment since its inception. That background will help determine what is the current state of play. Second, I will talk about lessons we have learned. Have we learned anything in the last four or five decades? Finally, I will address some of the challenging debates over the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment and conclude.

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Rethinking Red Lights: An Economic Approach to Appalachian Prostitution Laws

Kandi Spindler 

Society is beginning to seriously consider legal prostitution by turning to European models as guidance for policy issues.[1] Yet forsaking the financial incentives prostitution creates laws that are blind to the reality of sex worker. The gap between the reality of prostitution and the law becomes more troubling in rural areas, especially Appalachia, where a failure to account for local conditions exists because legislators are too far removed to know what those conditions are.[2]

America’s War on Terroir: How Tax and Trade Bureau Notice 147 Would Diminish the Value in Wine Labeling

David Sloan 

On February 9, 2015, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), under the Department of the Treasury, proposed a major amendment to regulations governing the use of American viticultural area (AVA) names as appellations of origin on wine labels.[1] AVAs serve as “delimited grape-growing region[s] having distinguishing features[,] . . . a name[,] and a delineated boundary.”[2] They are used on wine labels to describe unique features relating to wine origin and production.[3]

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