Environmental Journalism And The Law


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This presentation discusses how the media influences environmental law and policy.

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  • We all know the story. On June 22, 1969, an oil slick and debris in the Cuyahoga river caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio. This event would become the "poster child" of environmental degradation and some would say the impetus of the American environmental movement. This Cuyahoga River fire lasted just thirty minutes, but it did approximately fifty thousand dollars in damage -- principally to some railroad bridges spanning the river. It is unclear what caused the fire, but most people believe sparks from a passing train ignited an oil slick in the Cuyahoga River. This was not the first time that the river had caught on fire. Fires occurred on the Cuyahoga River in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and in 1952. The 1952 fire caused over 1.5 million dollars in damage. On August 1, 1969, Time magazine reported on the fire and on the condition of the Cuyahoga River. The magazine stated, Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. "Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown," Cleveland's citizens joke grimly. "He decays". . . The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: "The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes." It is also -- literally -- a fire hazard. The fire also brought attention to other environmental problems across the country, helped spur the Environmental Movement, and helped lead to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.
  • Between 1942 through 1953 the Hooker Chemical Company dumped 21,800 tons of waste into an abandoned canal in New York.  In 1976, two reporters for the Niagara Gazette, David Pollak and David Russell, tested several sump-pumps near Love Canal and found toxic chemicals in them. The matter went quiet for more than a year and was resurrected by reporter Michael Brown, who then investigated potential health effects by carrying forth an informal door-to-door survey in the early summer of 1978, finding birth defects and many anomalies. He advised the local residents to create a protest group, which was led by resident Karen Schroeder, whose daughter had a dozen birth defects. Mr. Brown, who wrote more than a hundred articles on the dump, also further tested groundwater and later found that the dump was three times the size officials knew, with possible ramifications beyond the original evacuation zone. He was also to discover that highly toxic dioxin was there. On August 7, 1978, United States President Jimmy Carter announced a federal health emergency, called for the allocation of federal funds and ordered the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency to assist the City of Niagara Falls to remedy the Love Canal site. This was the first time in American history that emergency funds were used other than for a natural disaster. ] Carter had trenches built that would transport the wastes to sewers and had home sump pumps sealed off. Love Canal shares a special place in United States environmental history as a site that in large part led to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA is much more commonly referred to as “Superfund”.
  • The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) is Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. EPCRA was the United States congressional response to serious chemical incidents that occurred in Bhopal, India and Institute, West Virginia in the two years prior to its enactment. The incident in Bhopal resulted in 2,000 immediate fatalities. While the accident in West Virginia caused no fatalities, the circumstances were similar and aroused concern. EPCRA was designed to provide all levels of government and the public with information required to plan for a chemical incident.
  • In November 1986, California voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to address growing concerns about exposures to toxic chemicals. That initiative became The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known by its original name, Proposition 65. Proposition 65 regulates substances listed by California as causing cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm in two ways. The first regulatory arm of Proposition 65 prohibits businesses from knowingly discharging listed substances into drinking water sources, or onto land where the substances can pass into drinking water sources. The second regulatory arm of Proposition 65 prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing individuals to listed substances without providing a clear and reasonable warning. Since enactment, Proposition 65 has been the reason for the addition of notices of specific contents to consumer product labels.
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol provide the only international framework for combating climate change. The UNFCCC, the first international measure to address the problem, was adopted in May 1992 and came into force in March 1994. It obliges all its signatories to establish national programs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to submit regular reports, and demands that the industrialized signatory countries, as opposed to developing countries, stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. This goal, however, is non-binding. It was already recognized in 1994 that the initial UNFCCC commitments would not be enough to halt the global increase in greenhouse gas emissions. On 11 December 1997, governments took a further step and adopted a protocol to the UNFCCC in the Japanese town of Kyoto. Building on the UNFCCC framework, the Kyoto Protocol sets legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries and envisages innovative market-based implementation mechanisms aimed at keeping the cost of curbing emissions low. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries are required to reduce the emissions of six greenhouse gases (CO2, which is the most important one, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride) on average by 5.2 % below the 1990 levels during the first "commitment period" from 2008 to 2012. There are no emission targets for developing countries. A five-year commitment period was chosen rather than a single target year to smooth out annual fluctuations in emissions due to uncontrollable factors such as weather. International negotiations on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 are to start in 2005. Thus far, 111 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, so the first threshold has been attained. However, the Annex I countries among them represent only 44.2% of the CO2 emissions3. (The EU's share is 24.2%.) There are five Annex I countries that have not ratified yet: Australia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Russia and the United States. But only ratification by Russia, which is responsible for 17.4% of the global 1990 CO2 emissions, or the US, responsible for 36.1%, will make a difference as the three remaining countries together account for only 2.1%. After the United States withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in early 2001, Russia now holds the key for the Protocol's entry into force. It has announced that it will ratify soon. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gases emissions by 8% during the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012. This target is shared between the Member States under a legally binding burden-sharing agreement, which sets individual emissions targets for each Member State. On 31 May 2002, the EU and all its Member States ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In January 2005 the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading System (EU ETS) commenced operation as the largest multi-country, multi-sector Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading System world-wide.The scheme is based on Directive 2003/87/EC, which entered into force on 25 October 2003.
  • In 2007, Oliver Wanger, a federal judge in California, ordered the huge pumping stations of the Sacramento Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas, to reduce by a third the water they delivered to two aqueducts that run south to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley and onward to the vast conurbations of southern California. His reason was the delta smelt, a translucent fish less than eight centimetres (three inches) long that lives only in the delta and is considered endangered under federal law.
  • Environmental Journalism And The Law

    1. 1. Pressing Issues: How the Media Influences Environmental Law and Policy
    2. 2. Panelists: Bill Kelly – California Current Gary Polakovic - Make Over Earth, Inc. Fiona Smith - LA & SF Daily Journal Val Zavala - KCET Moderator: Randolph C. Visser Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP April 16, 2010
    3. 3. Environmental News Events Lead to Public Policy and Legal Changes
    4. 4. Environmental Journalism <ul><li>&quot;The news media plays an instrumental role in recognizing, defining and legitimizing certain environmental issues as social problems, news media coverage influences social change.&quot; The Environment And The Press – From Adventure Writing To Advocacy , Mark Neuzil </li></ul>
    5. 5. Cuyahoga River Fire Led to Federal Clean Water Act 1969 1972
    6. 6. Love Canal Led to Superfund 1978 1980
    7. 7. Bhopal led to EPCRA 1984 1986
    8. 8. CA Governor’s Task Force on Toxics leads to Proposition 65 1985 1986
    9. 9. What Climate Change News Event led to Kyoto Protocol, EU Cap & Trade, and AB32 1987 2005 2006 2007 2008
    10. 10. Two Biggest Stories of the Decade <ul><li>Climate Change </li></ul><ul><li>California Water Wars </li></ul>
    11. 11. New Media Environmental Newsletters
    12. 12. New Media Environmental Blogs
    13. 13. Challenges – Declining Resources <ul><li>&quot;&quot;Dozens of newspapers deserve praise and encouragement. But we have 1,500 daily newspapers in the country. From my perspective, not nearly enough of them work at this as often or as hard as they should. They have let their capacities atrophy. They have bought out or let go some of their most experienced and knowledgeable people who have reservoirs of historical perspective and historical knowledge on this beat. Mostly it was to save money.“ F. Allen, former editor of The Wall Street Journal </li></ul>
    14. 14. Challenges – Issue Complexity <ul><li>&quot;Everything is in shades of grey --- There aren't good guys and bad guys. The good guys are a little bad and the bad guys aren't all bad. So that's why it's hard to report the way we used to – good vs. bad.&quot; L. Beibe, Ocala Star Banner </li></ul>
    15. 15. Challenges – Localize Global Issues <ul><li>&quot;The challenge for environmental journalists is to learn how to make the global environmental stories local. There's almost always a way to tell these stories but often reporters don't find the right way.&quot; S. Miller, KING-TV News, Seattle, Oct. 12, 2002 </li></ul>
    16. 16. Objectivity vs. Point of View Advocacy <ul><li>There exists a minor rift in the community of environmental journalists. Some, including those in the Society of Environmental Journalists, believe in objectively reporting environmental news , while others, like Michael Frome, a prominent figure in the field, believe that journalists should only enter the environmental side of the field if saving the planet is a personal passion, and that environmental journalists should not shy away from environmental advocacy , though not at the expense of clearly relating facts and opinions on all sides of an issue. This debate is not likely to be settled soon, but with changes in the field of journalism filtering up from new media being used by the general public to produce news, it seems likely that the field of environmental journalism will lend itself more and more toward reporting points of view akin to environmental advocacy. </li></ul>
    17. 17. Objectivity vs. Point of View Advocacy <ul><li>&quot;Objectivity is not a horse to bet the network on. Or the newspaper either. Most of the world's newspapers, in fact, already make no pretence of anything close to objectivity in the American sense.“ M. Kinsley, &quot; The Twilight of Objectivity – How Opinion Journalism Could Change the Face of News ,&quot; Slate (09/17/06). </li></ul>
    18. 18. Objectivity vs. Point of View Advocacy