Governance and Rule of Law
With the change in the administration there is renewed interest in whistleblower protections by federal employees. Federal employees who are troubled by what is occurring within their agency should take a moment to better understand their rights and consult with lawyers who are knowledgeable about these complex laws before taking action that could result in adverse employment actions. What turns out to be protected or not protected may surprise you. The starting point to understand federal employee whistleblower rights and some things to watch out for are outlined below.
Rising levels of global consumption are having significant impacts on biodiversity worldwide. The world is facing its sixth extinction, a massive loss of biodiversity, with extinctions occurring at 100-1,000 times pre-human levels. International trade increases these threats. A Nature article documenting the impacts of trade in thousands of commodity chains concluded that 30% of threats to threatened and endangered species globally were due to international trade. It found that while wealthy countries drive most consumption, the greatest threats to species are found further down the supply chain, in the developing countries that produce the commodities sought after by the richer nations.
Although it’s been several months since the United Kingdom’s populist vote to leave the European Union, it seems as though the U.K. is trapped in a bit of Euro-divorce limbo. Some have even gone as far as to call it “Schrödinger’s Brexit,” invoking quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment to explain the government’s policy folly. Like the fate of Schrödinger’s cat, Britain’s future is unclear: Article 50 in the Treaty of Lisbon, which delineates the rules for exiting the European Union, has not yet been triggered. In other words, despite the outcome of the popular referendum, Britain has not yet officially declared whether it is leaving the EU.
Angus Macbeth died in his sleep on January 22. With his passing, the environmental bar lost a founding father, an extraordinary advocate who helped establish the Natural Resources Defense Council, built and led the environmental practice in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and grounded the environmental practice group at Sidley Austin LLP.
Along with many others, I lost a friend and mentor—a man who shaped our collective approach to the law not through lectures or pronouncements, but by brilliant example, always finding the best analytical path, the right words to sum up the central theme, the most convincing advocacy.
The public debate around President Trump’s environmental nominees follows an old script, playing jobs against the environment. But the script’s not just old, it’s obsolete. Being anti-environment hasn’t been a winning political strategy since at least President Reagan’s first term, in which he famously appointed three people who were hostile to the environmental programs they were named to lead: James Watt as Secretary of Interior, the late Ann Gorsuch as EPA Administrator, and Rita Lavelle as head of the Superfund program. In the name of deregulation, the “gang of three” cut staff, budgets, and agency enforcement actions. Whatever success they enjoyed was short-lived, however, as a strong backlash drove all three from office in 1983.
Can our machines become self-motivated environmental learners?
The environmental movement has always been challenged by machines—the internal combustion engine, steam-powered turbines, production devices of every type and size—mechanisms consuming resources and generating waste during the long chain of events required to produce products (which often ended up themselves as waste). Old machines had rudimentary feedback systems like governors, gyroscopes, and other servomechanisms. These systems rarely provided any control of environmental parameters, but they did have an important characteristic: they operated independent of human operators—a precursor of things to come.
For the past seven months, an effort has been underway to change the way we regulate biotechnology—an effort that involves the White House (driven by the Office of Science & Technology Policy and including CEQ, OMB, and the U.S. Trade Representative); three of the most important regulatory bodies in our government: EPA, FDA, and USDA; and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). No regulatory modernization initiative in recent history has come close to this effort in terms of the level of government engagement and potential scope of impact.
On November 10, 2016—just two days after Election Day—there was another surprising turn of events: a federal district court judge in Oregon handed a long-shot victory to a group of young activists suing the federal government over its history of action and inaction regarding fossil fuels and climate change. Denying the defendants’ motions to dismiss in a thorough and groundbreaking opinion, Judge Ann Aiken found there was a sufficient legal basis for the plaintiffs to pursue their constitutional and common-law claims for the case to proceed to the next litigation stage. Now, in the waning days of the Obama Administration, the case is entering uncharted territory. On top of the unprecedented nature of the case itself, the uncertainty regarding the presidential transition extends to the course this case may take and to its importance going forward.
President-elect Donald Trump's environmental agenda to date has generally been focused on undoing certain specific Obama administration regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan (CPP) or the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, and relaxing restrictions on domestic fossil fuel exploration and production.
Human threats to pangolins in Zimbabwe have been kept in check for hundreds of years by traditional practices, but the recent globalization of illicit trade in these scaly, anteater-like mammals has threatened to exterminate them. Held in high regard by traditional chiefs, village headmen, and the tribal communities in general, the pangolin has historically benefitted from human protection in Africa. Zimbabwean folklore advised that the hunting of the pangolin (haka) be strictly controlled, and the deliberate taming of the pangolin was a serious offense.