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Volume 39, Issue 4 — April 2009


Brownfields Development: From Individual Sites to Smart Growth

by Joel B. Eisen

Editor's Summary

In recent years, the links between brownfields redevelopment and smart growth have strengthened. EPA cites brownfield rehabilitation as an essential component of smart growth, as site rehabilitation recreates properties as economic and community assets. However, not all brownfields redevelopment is consistent with smart growth principles, because sites are often developed on a parcel-by-parcel basis outside of a broader sustainability plan. For these programs to achieve sustainability, states should increase the use of areawide brownfields initiatives, develop measures to assess progress toward sustainability, promote "green building" practices in site reuse, and develop "second generation" policies to improve performance of state voluntary cleanup programs.

Poverty: Greening the Tax and Transfer System to Create More Opportunities

by Jonathan Barry Forman

Editor's Summary

Poor families and individuals bear a disproportionately larger share of the burdens of pollution than the wealthy. In the United States, the poor are more likely to live near hazardous wastes and toxic products, making them more likely to suffer disability, illness, or even death caused by contaminated water, air, or soil. Revision of the U.S. tax and transfer system could both reduce poverty and promote sustainability, thus leading to healthier communities around the country. To achieve these revisions, government should reform the current welfare framework and replace it with a system of refundable tax credits. These credits could then be used to distribute rebates of environmentally sensible polluter taxes, thereby reducing tax burdens on low- and middle-income families.

Progress Toward Sustainability: A Report Card and a Recommended Agenda

by John C. Dernbach et al.

Editor's Summary

This issue of Environmental Law Reporter News & Analysis is devoted to excerpts from Agenda for a Sustainable America, edited by John C. Dernbach and published in 2009 by ELI Press. Copies can be ordered by calling 1-800621-2736 or visiting http://www.eli.org.

Religion and Ethics Focused on Sustainability

by Dieter T. Hessel

Editor's Summary

The concept of sustainability resonates with many world religious traditions. Religious environmental activists emphasize a responsibility to conserve resources, protect biodiversity, and respect all beings, both human and nonhuman. To further these values, faith communities in the United States should teach eco-justice ethics informed by insights from natural sciences and rooted in sacred religious texts, continue to emphasize energy saving initiatives that are expected of all who claim to care for creation, advocate for environmentally responsible public policies, and nurture members through the difficulties of the eco-justice journey.

Sustainable and Unsustainable Developments in the U.S. Energy System

by Mark D. Levine and Nathaniel T. Aden

Editor's Summary

The U.S. energy system achieved mixed success in its quest toward sustainability from 2000-2006. On one hand, carbon emissions as a fraction of GDP declined, end-use efficiency increased, and energy-related air quality improved. On the other hand, high levels of fossil fuel combustion continued, and U.S. energy use and emissions relative to other industrialized nations remained high. To continue successes while combating deficiencies, the federal government should increase energy efficiency through applied standards and improved technology, support research and development of energy-efficient commercial buildings, implement a tax or cap-and-trade system, support biofuel research, and set emissions targets for industry.

Financing Sustainable Development

by Smita Nakhooda, Frances Seymour, and Sabina Ahmed

Editor's Summary

Although the United States led sustainability reforms in international financial institutions in the 1980s and 1990s, these environmental and social considerations were not given sufficient attention during the last presidential administration. The United States is still in a position to continue positive change on these issues, however, and can do so by encouraging multilateral development banks and export credit agencies to integrate social and environmental considerations into their lending decisions.

National Governance: Still Stumbling Toward Sustainability

by John C. Dernbach

Editor's Summary

The time has come for the U.S. government to improve national governance for sustainable development. To further this effort, the federal government must work to integrate sustainability into its national strategic processes by requiring agencies to achieve sustainable development; develop a set of indicators to measure activities, impacts, and trends quantitatively; and engage both the public and private sectors to help address sustainability threats. Furthermore, Congress should establish an Office of Sustainability Assessment, staffed by professionals from a range of disciplines, to advise it on sustainable development matters.

Freshwater: Sustaining Use by Protecting Ecosystems

by Robert W. Adler

Editor's Summary

The safety and abundance of the freshwater supply in the United States is threatened by water development infrastructure. Chemical pollution, physical modifications to aquatic ecosystems, and other factors continue to contribute to the degradation of U.S. rivers and water bodies. A number of policy changes will be necessary to secure these resources. For instance, smarter investments in these resources should be made, polluted runoff should be controlled, comprehensive aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection should be undertaken, and federal jurisdiction over aquatic ecosystems should be imposed.