Environmental Law Important for Everyone

Environmental Law Important for Everyone

The responsibility of the environment is not set onto one person. It takes cities, states, and countries to ensure the environment is taken care of. 

A place of home is important when looking at a community. In Population: 485, the comradery of the small town gives a sense of place. Living in a place that isn’t healthy or is having environmental hardship can be difficult, which is why it is of utmost importance to make sure the place of home is safe. The enforcement of these laws are imperative to ensure that corporations or people of a community are keeping the environment clean and safe for all animals. In the case studies, the environment is in need of help and the activist groups that are across the nation can help bring the issues to the light of public eye. 

The environmental destruction of forests, habitats, and water are pressing issues throughout the world. These case studies illustrate the issues of the environment. In response to these issues laws have been put in place to help alleviate the destruction. As someone who lives in the Fox Valley, the United States and planet Earth, the environmental case studies, although not all based in Wisconsin, are still my home. The activism in environmental issues are astronomical to how the public is informed about the issues. Deforestation along with the destructions of species habitats, and water pollution laws are the insurance policy for a healthy and happy environment. 

The issues of the environment, through the lens of different case studies and the laws that are now in place to help alleviate the destruction. The policies in place are to ensure the safety of the home of many. Every person and living creature lives in an environment. Environmental issues begin with having an environment to destroy. Wilderness destruction has been an ongoing issue throughout the world. Landscapes and habitats are being used by humans and are pushing out the species that cannot survive anywhere else. 

The importance of protecting ecosystems is imperative, although we undermine it by deforestation, land degradation, and pollution. The loss of natural assets are creating problems such as loss in animals for hunting and fishing (Alger 29). Deforestation in countries has been an environmental issue because both rich and poor are using the environment for rural development and increasing individual assets, leaving what is left, subpar to support what is still there. Forests are a natural place the produces fresh oxygen while getting rid of carbon dioxide. The growing populations demand for food, shelter and other resources is causing the tree loss to be about the size of the country Panama per year. This tree cover and forest that is being lost has great significance to the wildlife living in destruction. According to Rodrigo Garcia- Morales, “Deforestation simply means clearing of green cover and make that land available for residential, industrial, or commercial purpose” (1). The case study that focuses on how deforestation impacts a diversity of a species is the bats of Mexico. 

Although this is not a case study on humans, it shows the destructiveness of deforestation, rather than the human version of why deforestation is necessary. This group was looking at the functional diversity of the bats, which is the roles that are carried out by species within different ecosystems. “This study aimed to determine the effect of forest loss on species richness, abundance and functional diversity of Neotropical bats” (García-Morales 2). 

A major change in the environment can affect the roles which can change biodiversity and ecosystem services. This case study identifies six pieces of land in Hidalgo, Mexico that are experiencing loss of forest cover. In these different areas the observers captured the bats and calculated functional diversity evenness. They also looked at the amount of different kinds of bats and percent of forest cover. There were a total of 906 bats in this study and they were among 12 different species. In this study the researchers found that the species richness, abundance, and functional richness per night were related to forest cover. Seasonality was taken into consideration, neither forest cover nor sason had a significant effect on functional evenness throughout the different testing sites. 

Through this study the final conclusion is that, “[t]he decrease in species, abundance and functional richness of bats with forest loss may have implications for the ecological processes they carry out such as seed dispersal, pollination, and insect predation”(García-Morales 13). This case study is relevant to the degradation of the environment because not only is it taking away the tree coverage, it is taking away the habitat of many species, not just bats. In the U.S. we have legislation against endangered species and the safety of the environments of endangered species. Since the arrival of humans in history, the total number of species on earth has declined dramatically. 

Another case study that is in the United States was in the 1980s during the controversy over the northern spotted owl. Its extinction came to light “because of widespread loss of suitable habitat across the spotted owl’s range and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to conserve the spotted owl. Many populations of spotted owls continue to decline, even with extensive maintenance and restoration of suitable habitat in recent years despite scientific evidence of its endangered status” (U.S. Fish Wildlife Service 7). 

By the early 1980s, FWS refused to list the northern spotted owl out of concern for the impact that listing might have on the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. An environmentalist activist group called Green World that was out of Massachusetts petitioned to list the owl as an endangered species. This was a start to the epidemic of 30 major environmental groups filing a similar petition. They denied the listing petitions even though there was scientific evidence that listing the owl would be beneficial. There are many different parts to environmental law, the Endangered Species Act is not excluded in this category. The section of this Act that is important throughout the law is section three because it defines the terms in the laws. According to Bonnie Burgess, the author of Fate or the Wild, Congress’ definition of conserve is, “[t]o use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this chapter are no longer necessary” (5). 

Another relevant definition is the critical habitat, this is the specific areas within a geographical area that a species specifically lives in at the time. This is key to conservation of the species and is the way to know what kind of special management is required for protection. It is the specific region in which this animal is found. The main definition that is the crucial is that of endangered species, a simple definition is, any species which is in danger of extinction. The classification prior to an endangered species is a threatened species, these animals are likely to become endangered in the future. (Burgess 6). 

These key terms are important to understanding any laws that involve the environment and animals. To take from an environment, or species is defined as, 'harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct” (Burgess 6). A large part of knowing what people are fighting for is having knowledge on all parts of the issue. Activists use these terms to ensure that they are using the right words when going up against the federal court system. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the federal district court in Seattle, they acted on behalf of 25 environmental organizations. Their reasoning for the lawsuit was that the reason for them not putting the spotted owl was economic, not scientific which is a violation of a section of the Endangered Species Act. The court did end up listing the owl and only took biological factors: Biological evidence says that the northern spotted owl is in trouble. We will not and, by law, cannot, ignore that evidence. . . But [we] strongly believe there is room in the world to protect both owls and loggers. Our intent now . . . is to find ways to protect the owl with the least possible disruption to the timber economy of the Northwest.

Although this was a step in the right direction, there were not any intentions on keeping the habitat safe. Environmental activist wanted to make sure that the environment was safe and so was the animals living there. One of the main reasons for the lack of habitat protection is that the courts said that the Wildlife Service identified millions acres of habitat and there would be a significant impact on private and non- federal lands (Stanford Environmental Law Society 27). 

Animals and different species have lived in their habitat long before humans. The laws are constantly changing to protect these animals and their homes. Deforestation and the destruction of habitat laws have not been around long enough to completely stop the destruction of the environment.Prior to the twentieth century, the federal government played a role in wildlife management, there were laws in place though that helped endangered species and their habitats. In 1891 Congress created the Office of the U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries to conserve fisheries along the coasts and navigable waterways, areas of traditional federal jurisdiction only (Stanford Environmental Law Society 14). 

Congress also indirectly secured wildlife habitat by passing the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. This act allowed the president to put aside forest reserves out of public domain, the only issue with the federal efforts is that the are not based on ethics, rather on economic standings and how they can benefit. Protecting the environments for the species and their habitats is an ongoing process. Although these acts seem like it is the government trying to make a difference, in reality it is just a defense mechanism against getting ridiculed any more. As a part of these efforts, the bison in Great Plains during the 1870s raised concerns and Congress passed a bill to prevent the extinction and preserve a part of the heritage. The bill in 1874 outlawed the hunting of buffalo in federal territories. President Grant vetoed the bill later that year (Stanford Environmental Law Society 15). This was hard hitting to the population of bison. The last effort from Congress in 1894 to protect the herds of bison stopped hunting within Yellowstone National Park. In the 19th century the federal government was still minimalistic in its efforts. The state was responsible for the wildlife management, the main reason for the laws in the states were because they were supporting the recreational hunting. 

Again, the environment is the home of a species and if it is under destruction, it deserves to be protected. The most vital part of the 1969 Act of Endangered Species Conservation Act is that it banned the sale of products and the animals that were on the list. This is important because it decreased the trade in the endangered species and their products. An example from the Stanford Environmental Law Society is that before this ban was placed, in between 1968 and 1970, there were 18,456 leopard skins, 31,105 jaguar skins, and 249,680 ocelot skins to be used as fur coats. In continuation of that study, the 1969 Act stopped the legal trade of these animals pelts. The Act also extended the Lacey Act by stopping the legal trade and transportation of any of the animals or their products that are on the list. Lastly, the 1969 Act changed the definition of “fish or wildlife” to now include amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates and they want to create an international convention to protect endangered species from extinction (Stanford Environmental Law Society 28). All of the different legislature that is being in place for these species and their habitats are crucial to make sure that the homes are safe. 

On December 28, 1973, President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. When he signed it in the activist president said, This legislation provides the federal government with the needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage—threatened wildlife. Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessedThe government hasn’t been totally absent, making steps towards the right direction of protecting the environment. Water is one of the basic human needs. Keeping the water clean and healthy is important to a communities overall health. One case study that is in the heart of the Fox Valley is the Fox River. The Fox River below the De Pere Dam was listed as one of the 43 Great Lakes Area of Concern by the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States. The issues found were contaminated sediment, poor water quality and lost or altered habitat. According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website of Wisconsin, “A 'beneficial use' is any way that a water body can improve the quality of life for humans or for fish and wildlife. If the beneficial use is unavailable due to environmental problems then that use is impaired.” There are 14 possible beneficial use impairments defined by U.S. and Canadian governments. In 1980s, 11 of the 14 were listed in the Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of concern, only two of the 11 were suspected rather than confirmed. 

To name a few of the main issues of the Fox River listed on the DNR website, there were restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, which also suspected to change the fish and wildlife flavor, degradation of fish and wildlife populations. The bird and other animal reproductive problems and deformities, undesirable algae. The restrictions on drinking water, or taste and odor problems were the ones that stand out most, along with the loss of fish and wildlife habitats which is another entire issue that was discussed above. The key to fixing a problem is to have a plan. The Fox Valley is a place of home for wildlife and humans, keeping it clean is imperative for the health of the community. 

All of the issues above have been the cause for the Fox River Cleanup Project and another case under the Clean Water Act which help alleviate the issue of unsafe water. The safety of a home is vital to the prosperity of the community. “The Fox River Cleanup Project is designed to reduce risk to human health and the environment due to the presence of PCBs in Fox River sediment, It's a multi-year cleanup effort that includes dredging, capping and covering over a 13-mile stretch of the Lower Fox River” (“Project Update”). This is the best example of activism at its peak, they noticed there was a problem in the Fox Valley and they took initiative to make the Fox River a safer place. Throughout the nine years of the Fox River Cleanup Project, 2009 through 2017, the estimated volume of sediment dredged is more than 4.88 million cubic yards. The processed sediment is just about 2.7 million tons. The tonnage hauled to the landfill through the 117,800 truckloads is more than 2.78 million tons. Lastly, the most important statistic is that the amount of water treated and put back into the river is nearly 8 billion gallons (“Project Update.”). The statistics do not lie, the cleanup project has been very successful and the numbers only continue to grow as the project moves forward. The Clean Water Act was originally called The Federal Water Pollution Control Act. According to Clayton’s article Minimizing Risk Under the Clean Water Act, the act, “establishes a stringent regulatory and permitting regime governing the discharge of pollutants into rivers, streams, wetlands, and other ‘navigable waters’” (69). Accidental releases of hazardous things happen, with this act there is a spill prevention, reporting, planning, and response requirements. There is a penalty, civil and criminal if there is a spill or the pollution is released without permission. 

The people under the most watch is the energy industry, but the loophole for them is the compliance programs and audits. Risk management programs are important in order to make sure that they can minimize the destruction in a case that there is a leak/ break down in a system. The enforcement of The Clean Water Act is very important in making sure that people are keeping local waters clean. Depending on the violation, the EPA can charge administrative, civil or criminal penalties. Although, if a company, association, or any person is involved in a serious civil case or any criminal case, the EPA will send the case to the U.S. Department of Justice. The EPA gives prosecutor's the evidence and analyses needed to help determine the legal action and accusations (Clayton 70). The EPA does not mess around when it comes to the penalties of the Clean Water Act. There are penalties that are per day, per violation, even jail times, administrative penalties are $16,000 per violation or per day and up to a total of $187,500, while civil penalties are $37,500 per day for each violation, or $2,100 per barrel of oil discharged. Another kind of civil penalty is negligence or misconduct which is a $150,000 minimum or $5,300 per barrel. Lastly, the criminal offenses are the most serious. The negligent violations are separated, the first conviction is $25,000 per day and then $50,000 per day for the next violations. Negligence are misdemeanors that can carry up to a one year prison sentence. Knowing violations are $50,000 per day for the first violations and $100,000 per day after that, they are also felonies that carry prison sentences for up to three years (Clayton 75). These fines are not only deterrents to pollution, they are also the protectors of the environment. 

The clean water act violations may cause companies to be suspended or debarred depending on the severity of the charges. Hurting the water environment comes at a price. “The most prominent recent example of debarment in the energy industry occurred after Deepwater Horizon Incident, when BP and certain affiliate companies were prohibited from entering into new contracts with federal government, including new deep-water leases in the Gulf of Mexico, for nearly four years” (Belter). The Clean Water act is important to ensure the safety of water and the wildlife around it. The laws keeping the environment for the fish, animals, and humans clean are trying to ensure the health of the home to many species. 

Conclusion

Cities, states, and countries are constantly working to make sure the environment is taken care of. The environment is a home for all different species and humans. The laws that are in place to help deforestation, destruction of habitats, and water pollution are crucial to make sure that the environment is safe and healthy. The activism is a key to bring these issues to light, pressing the environmental issues is the only way to make the pubic listen. The environmental destruction of forests, habitats and water are pressing issues throughout the world. These case studies illustrate the issues of the environment. In response to these issues, laws have been put in place to help alleviate the destruction. 

Works Cited

  1. Alger, Keith. “Human Response to Environmental Decline at the Forest Frontier.” Vol. 2, no.2,2006, pp. 29-30. ProQuest, http://ejournal.nbii.org.
  2. Belter, Chris. “Deepwater Horizon.” Deepwater Horizon: aPreliminary Bibliography ofPublished Research and Expert Commentary, 2011.
  3. Burgess, Bonnie B. Fate of the Wild. University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  4. Clayton, Carol. 'Minimizing Risk Under The Clean Water Act.' Energy Law Journal,vol. 36, no. 1, 2015, pp. 69-94, 
  5. ProQuest.García-Morales, Rodrigo. “Deforestation Impacts on Bat Functional Diversity in TropicalLandscapes.” PLoS ONE, 7 Dec. 2016, pp. 1–16. Europepmc.org, doi: 10.1371.0166765.“
  6. Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern.” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, dnr.wi.gov/topic/greatlakes/greenbay.html.
  7. “Project Update.” Fox River Cleanup, foxrivercleanup.com/project-update/.
  8. Stanford Environmental Law Society. The Endangered Species Act. Stanford University Press, 2001.U.S. 
  9. Fish Wildlife Service. Final Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. Strix Occidentalis Caurina. 2008.
  10. “Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern.” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, dnr.wi.gov/topic/greatlakes/greenbay.html.