Julia Muench Rumburg
As citizens of the United States of America, our Constitution guarantees us certain rights. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments provide that no government, Federal or State, shall deprive any person of life without due process of law. The requirements of life are straightforward: humans require water, air, food, sleep, and shelter. If we are denied access to these requirements for a period of time, we die; if we are denied access to reliable, clean sources of these requirements for an extended period of time, we become sick and ultimately die.
In 2015, approximately 1.3 million refugees crossed into Europe in hopes of seeking asylum. They arrived by sea and also crossed devastated lands. The majority of the refugees in 2015 hailed from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq—war-torn countries whose violence has spurred an exodus to the proverbial Promised Land. But is Europe indeed a continent that will equitably cater to each of these refugees? It has certainly tried. But it has certainly failed, as well.
As bitter winds rip across the Arctic tundra during the depths of winter, a small bird in the jungles of South America, no larger than a tennis ball, is preparing to make one of the most remarkable journeys on planet earth. Within just two short months, this Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) will travel over four thousand miles from the Amazonian jungles to the alder thickets along the Arctic Circle in Canada. Along the way, it will evade predators, overcome starvation and inconceivable exhaustion—all just to give birth to the next generation of these distant nomads. Increasingly, however, these obstacles are not the greatest threat to the individual Thrush’s survival. When this Gray-cheeked Thrush crosses into Texas, it must navigate its way through a maze of the largest wind farms in the world. These wind turbines are formidable opponents to a small songbird, and they kill between 140,000 and 328,000 migratory birds annually. In doing so, these renewable energy industries are coming into direct conflict with one of the nation’s oldest wildlife protection statutes.
Before the Europeans arrived in North America, Native nations covered virtually all of the contiguous United States. Since the point of first contact, Native Americans have been forced to deal with Euro-American colonial powers. The tribal-federal relationship during the latter half of the 19th Century was particularly gruesome in that the federal government forcibly removed tribes from their land and placed them on reservations. Once the government removed the Native Americans to the reservations, the policy was to transfer the remaining lands to non-Native American ownership. The effect of the removal was huge, leaving many historic, prehistoric, and sacred sites unprotected from looters and environmental threats. Many Native Americans worship particular sacred sites, believing these specific sites hold important connections to the spirit world, significant events, or their ancestors. Presently, one such threat to these cultural resources is the Dakota Access Pipeline (“DAPL”).
The United States needs better stormwater management practices. Non-point source pollution – diffuse discharge of polluted runoff into waterways – is the “largest single source” of water pollution. Climate change, poor drainage systems, and overdevelopment without stormwater control threaten downstream communities. Inadequate funding contributes to the lack of stormwater policies and leads to flooding and reductions in water quality. EPA estimates that nationwide wastewater treatment facilities need $388 billion over the next twenty years to adapt for climate change. Stormwater utilities and local governments find financing stormwater management difficult because collecting money to pay for public benefits usually constitutes a tax. Legislatures, not local stormwater utilities, have the power to levy taxes. Because courts consider water pollution and flood control a public benefit, creating a nuanced fee structure to pay for stormwater management is crucial to withstanding a legal challenge of the fee. The solution is to charge for stormwater management by implementing a parcel-based billing system with bill-credit options. This is the most equitable way local governments can charge fees for the stormwater service because the fee is particularized and semi-voluntary.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s monumental ruling in Terry v. Ohio permanently shifted Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in a significant way. Instead of analyzing whether an officer’s warrantless seizure of a person was obtained with or without probable cause, Terry expanded an officer’s discretion by allowing officers to conduct warrantless stops and searches of a person based off reasonable suspicion.
Imagine you are twenty-one years old, in college, and without a steady job. You go to Rite Aid and find a lipstick you really love. It’s only a lipstick. It could not get you into that much trouble if you stuffed it into your pocket and walked out, right? After attempting to steal the lipstick, you are charged with theft pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 2575. This is a minor offense. In the grand scheme, this seems like a small deal, so why not plead guilty rather than go through the process of a trial? Accompanying that guilty plea are collateral consequences. These are the same collateral consequences that accompany all other misdemeanor crimes and some felonies. These consequences could have life-long repercussions.
That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following Rights: ….That they are entitled to life, liberty, & property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
The crisis in Flint, Michigan last year was a wake-up call for many in the world of environmental enforcement. So many things went wrong. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality bent the rules to save some money. The EPA waited far too long to get involved because under the Safe Drinking Water Act, states are “primary enforcers.” Finally, even the citizens who were affected by the unsafe water had little recourse because their ability to initiate and win in a citizen suit is so limited by agency discretion. All of these factors contributed to the devastation that happened over a period of several months during which the people of Flint, the majority of whom are African-American, drank water that contained severely high amounts of lead and other dangerous substances. Several people died as a result, and many more suffered brain damage and other illnesses from drinking water that their government claimed was safe.
During its 2012-2013 term, the Supreme Court heard and decided three cases about takings; in each case the Court held in favor of the landowner. Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, 133 S. Ct. 2586 (2013), was the most influential of them all. This opinion left scholars concerned about its implications on future takings cases. Indeed, Vermont Law School professors, Sean Nolan and John Echeverria both predicted that the Koontz decision would undermine efforts by local governments to regulate land use in a way that benefits communities’ environment and economies the most.