Columbia Journal of Environmental Law
Although environmental law springs from deep roots in centuries of common law, during the last forty years in particular it has grown into a well-established and important legal field in the United States with enormous practical consequences. Maturity, however, has also made it notoriously complex, and environmental law's overlapping statutory schemes and inconsistent federal and state programs have sparked recurring conflict, controversy, and criticism. This fractured and complicated network of environmental laws and programs has become increasingly difficult to modify or update to account for emerging environmental concerns. As a result, numerous experts, scholars, and advocacy groups have offered proposals to reform U.S. environmental laws, but these initiatives have failed to produce significant statutory advances or implementation. In fact, Congress has not enacted major new environmental legislation since its passage of the Clean Air Amendments of 1990, and existing federal environmental statutes have remained essentially unchanged for over twenty years.
It is no secret that the fight against desertification isn't going well. In the two decades since the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification ("UNCCD") came into force, desertification-defined as degradation in the quality of "arid, semi-arid, and dry subhumid" land areas -has worsened considerably. Recent United Nations estimates suggest that fifty-two percent of drylands currently under agricultural cultivation are moderately or severely degraded, and 12 million hectares of productive land become barren each year due to desertification and drought. And while drylands are the focus of the UNCCD, the challenge isn't limited to them: somewhere around twenty percent of land worldwide is moderately or severely degraded and most experts predict this percentage will increase in coming decades.
Moving at a Glacial Pace: What Can State Attorneys General Do About SEC Inattention to Nondisclosure of Financially Material Risks Arising from Climate Change?
In recent years, two certainties have created a mass of uncertainty for public companies. First, companies must disclose material financial information in their annual statements, known as 10-K reports, to the Securities & Exchange Commission ("SEC"). Second, climate change poses financial risks to the way many companies operate. Together, these principles have generated significant uncertainty within the regulatory and law enforcement arenas. Specifically, companies and law enforcement officials are uncertain about what risks stemming from climate change must be disclosed in 10-K reports, and how that information should be presented.
Reading Woods, an expensive condominium development north of Boston, is a quintessential example of suburban sprawl. Built in 2011, Reading Woods comprises 408 units, with unlimited parking for each. From Reading Woods, residents cannot walk to a public library, a bank, or a grocery store; they often opt to drive to the nearby strip mall instead. If they really wanted to, residents could walk to a chain restaurant, but they would have to risk crossing I-95 first. I-95 is familiar to them-a backyard of sorts-rushing past 100 feet away. Given these facts, it is perplexing that a Smart Growth Overlay District enabled the development of Reading Woods.