EBMUD Wastewater Treatment Plant

IMG_0122.JPGVisiting the EBMUD Wastewater Treatment Plant near Emeryville was a a fascinating experience.  (Thank you EBMUD for helping train the next generation of environmental lawyers!)  The facility services about 750,000 residents in the Berkeley Oakland area and sits right in the middle of the interchange of I-580, I-80, and the approach to the Oakland Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. The tour took us through the entire facility, including the on-site distillation plant that produces oxygen to help speed up decomposition of the sewage, the intake of the wastewater into the treatment plant, the 8 settling tanks, and the biosolid digesters that decompose the remaining sludge. 

Among the interesting features of the facility – it is a net-zero energy user of PG&E power, oftentimes feeding electricity back into the grid!  That is the result of the plant’s collection of methane gas produced by the sewage sludge digesters.  The methane is fed into several diesel turbines and a gas turbine that can generate enough power to run the entire plant. So, not only does the facilitate reduce the GHG emission contribution to climate change (as measured on a carbon equivalent basis) but it actually eliminates (mostly) the need for electric power generated elsewhere (by the PG&E) to run the plant! 

We also saw the intake pump house of the plant, a place where large objects are screened out to protect the pumps from damage.  What kind of large objects?:  pieces of lumber, cable, and lots of debris caught on those items. Plant workers even discovered an entire motorcycle caught in the screen once! They speculate that somebody must have opened up a manhole and dropped it into the sewer instead of bringing to the landfill.  [The screens, by the way, are essentially grates with a 5-6 inch gap spaces, so an object would have to be pretty large to get stuck.] The intake system is also where a lot of other debris ends up getting removed.  Among the top items (maybe the top item) to be removed from wastewater – “flushable” wipes.  This has been reported in various media.  “Flushable” wipes can be flushed into the sewer, but they do not decompose and simply get collected in the screening systems of wastewater treatment plants.  What’s worse is that they not only increase the amount of debris that treatment plants have to remove before the wastewater can be treated, but because of the nature of the wipes (essentially cloth rags), they catch on or collect other debris, creating larger debris, such as the legendary “fatbergs” that have been reported about in recent years.  

IMG_0155 (2)There was a particularly interesting machine that visibly helped settle the solids from the wastewater stream.  The end result of the treatment process was a black biosolid that could be handled and had the consistency of clay or dough — in wastewater engineering parlance, a “cake.”  The most disturbing  aspect of our tour were probably the common usage of food and cooking terminology, invoking images that made some of us queasy:  “wet weather primary sludge thickeners” (don’t remember this one at Thanksgiving when making turkey gravy), the biosolids cake, and even a “juicer” used for the high-COD wastes (chemical oxygen demand, wastes that have a high content of organic materials, from example wastes from slaughter houses or wineries) brought in by truck and designed to separate the waste liquid from the solid materials . . . yum.  Yet, in spite of these metaphors and the images they evoked, we still managed to have lunch afterwards.

A final bit of trivia about the plant. It provides recycled water!  I did not get a chance to ask how pure the water is, but in its current form it is  usable for irrigation, toilet flushes, and industrial cooling.  Sufficient purification can actually make recycled water suitable for human consumption and for specialized industrial processes, such as semiconductor manufacturing.  Unfortunately, significant psychological barriers remain to getting people to drink such water (“toilet to tap”).  I learned about the same issue in Singapore, when I took students to Singapore’s NEWater recycled water facility last year.  The other challenge of greater recycled water utilization is the supply infrastructure – since recycled water needs to be kept separate from traditional potable water, a separate system would need to be constructed (though that would be unnecessary if recycled water were pure enough to be mixed with other potable water).


One other tidbit – if this information about wastewater treatment has (bad food pun coming) whetted your appetite for more information about sewage issues, I found episode 1 of the new Netflix documentary series “Inside Bill’s Brain” to be interesting.  It is all about his project of addressing childhood mortality linked to contaminated water, which is in turn directly linked to the challenge of managing the sanitation needs of human populations.  (Of course, the sanitation-public health connection is not new to people who work on environmental and/or human development issues in other parts of the world. But it was nice to see how somebody with lots of money was able to leverage that wealth to change the economic calculus of the marketplace and to help overcome the barriers to finding new solution for these issues.)  Kudos to Bill on that.


Santa Clara University’s New Initiative on “Environmental Justice and the Common Good”


[edit 10-9-2019] I should have added this picture of the five of us who are leading this initiative previously.


Sea Otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I took my students for a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.  (Thank you Monterey Bay Aquarium for supporting the education of the next generation of environmental lawyers!)  The Aquarium has amazing exhibits, remarkably well-curated, educational for visitors, and just an overall great effort in engaging the public ages 1 to 99 on marine and other environmental issues.

In past visits with students to the Aquarium, we used the occasion to read and learn about marine fisheries management issues, such as a tuna and shark conservation (which can be seen in the Aquarium’s giant tank simulating the open ocean).  This year, we decided to focus on the Southern Sea Otter, a cute and cuddly mammal of the weasel family that will make any person without a heart of stone go “oooh” and “awww.”


Apart from making a great exhibit and drawing people into marine mammal protection issues, sea otters are also listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Several centuries, prior to the advent of Europeans on the West Coast, several hundred thousand of them could be found there.  Now, they number only in the low thousands.  Over-hunting drastically reduced their numbers, the same trend that affected the numbers of other marine mammals such as seals and whales. The problem was the prototypical Tragedy of the Commons issue – unsustainable levels of seal and whale hunting arising out of the fur trade because they were found in the environmental commons and thus not subject to protections against over-exploitation.  Because the stocks of seals and whales were rapidly depleted as a result, the major countries involved in these industries concluded the 1911 Fur Seal Treaty, which regulated the hunting of seals in the North Pacific (and included protections for sea otters) as well as the 1931 Geneva Convention on Regulation of Whaling.  (The 1931 Convention was a precursor to the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, which continues to govern whaling today.)  Even though hunting of whales, seals, and sea otters is generally prohibited nowadays, habitat loss and other environmental influences mean that sea otters will never again be seen in the numbers of several centuries ago.

One marine mammal species that is also protected under the MMPA is the polar bear.  Polar bears will be particularly affected by habitat loss attributable to global climate change.   Since they have evolutionarily adapted to hunting seals on the polar sea ice , the disappearance of sea ice due during the summer months will mean that they will not be able to hunt for food that way and result in their inevitable extinction as a species.  Thus goes one more sad consequence of global warming.


The day was beautiful though.  There is one further field trip in store for my students. On Saturday, October 5, we are off to visit the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Wastewater Treatment Plant near Emeryville.  If the Aquarium was the quintessential “green” side of environmental law, the wastewater treatment plant will be the proverbial “brown” side .  Hopefully, the smells will not traumatize my students too much.

Our New Casebook: “Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy,” Wolters Kluwer (2019)

I am really pleased to share the news that our law casebook “Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy,” co-authored with Anastasia Telesetsky (University of Idaho Law School), Lin Harmon-Walker (George Washington University Law School), and Robert Percival (University of Maryland Law School), is now officially available from Wolters Kluwer (ISBN: 9780735577299).


Here’s the blurb from our book’s back-cover:

“Over the past several decades, globalization has become central to the field of environmental law.  The most pressing contemporary environmental challenges are now transboundary and global in scope, with international environmental treaties and institutions dominating among the most visible solutions.  Even more important, however, has been the rapid spread and evolution of environmental law norms and policies in national systems across the world.  For example, these trends have led to the adoption of environmental impact assessment as a legal requirement by almost all countries, the rise of public interest litigation and green courts as key environmental governance mechanisms, and adoption of laws and regulatory mechanisms to address climate change and other environmental problems across the world.

Written by leading scholars and experts with extensive practice and teaching experience in the field, Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy offers a student-friendly approach to the study of a rapidly evolving and important area of law.  Its multi-jurisdictional selection of judicial opinions and legal materials introduces students to the worldwide reach of environmental law.  Through its substance, the book familiarizes students not only with governing and emerging legal principles but also demonstrates how legal norms are applied to specific issues and contexts, illustrating how law-on-the-books becomes law-in-action.”

Palm Oil Plantations and the Environment in Southeast Asia

Last month, I took a road trip from Penang, Malaysia to the capital Kuala Lumpur to attend the annual IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium (August 6-9, 2019).  Apart from seeing some scenic tourist spots, such as Melakka which is one of the original places where the Dutch and the British had their colonial headquarters prior to Malaysia’s independence, the trip was relatively uneventful. We did stop at various places to check out the sights or special foods.   And the main north-south freeway route was a modern and easy drive, not much unlike a freeway drive in the US.

What I did find remarkable, however, was the visible vegetation, which was pretty much the same through most of the four hours – miles and miles of palm plantations, sometimes as far as the eye could see beyond the freeway.  Environmental concern about palm oil plantations have steadily grown over the years.  These plantations destroy enormous swaths of native forest and replace naturally occurring biologically diverse ecosystems with a monoculture in order to supply the worlds hunger for palm oil.  Over the past few decades, palm oil demand and production has risen rapidly because some of its qualities make it a great additive or base for many foods and products.  Take a look at the ingredient labels of your favorite foods, and you may discover it listed.

In Indonesia, especially, palm oil plantation have presented especially serious problems because the methods by which forest lands have been cleared in order to make way for palm oil plantations has given rise to many serious forest fires, including igniting some of the peat in the soil, that have been incredibly difficult to extinguish.  Interestingly, the result of some of these fires have been serious transboundary air pollution problems that have affected also Singapore.

I have been following the transboundary air pollution issue with special interest because it’s given rise to a Singaporean statute, The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act of 2014 (THPA).  The title and issue should immediately give away why this is so remarkable . . . Singapore is a small island nation of just a little over 5 million people living on 280 square miles.  In other words, air pollution originating in nearby Indonesia, especially from the forest fires and peat fires associated with land clearing for palm oil planations,  will necessarily affect air quality in Singapore.


Southeast Asian Haze 2013 (Wikimedia Commons). Red spots indicate fires.

In order to protect air quality in Singapore, the THPA explicitly purports to regulate sources of pollution OUTSIDE of Singapore.  Under the statute, an offense of the statute would result if an entity causes air pollution affecting Singapore, which could be punished with a fine of up to 100,000 Singaporean dollars per day!  From a legal perspective, statutes that have an explicit extraterritorial reach are quite unusual, though not unheard of.  The US has sought to reach conduct outside of the US in the antitrust context, for example; but it has generally not done so on environmental issues (though US citizens remain subject to the reach of US law even outside of the US).  Anyway, from what I understand, the THPA has given rise to tricky issues in regards to conflict/tension with Indonesia, where much of the fire-related air pollution affecting Singapore originates, and enforcement has not been straight-forward.  In other words, the story on this statute is still playing itself out.

Since I mentioned my road trip to Melakka, I feel obligated to share images of the sites and food places we visited!  It includes an image of “Mamee,” the instant noodle monster . . . he (it? she?) looks surprisingly like Cookie Monster from Sesame Street . . .  mmmh.  We also found lots of durian (my kryptonite), a great Peranakan restaurant serving Laksa (a Malaysian specialty), and a tandoori/naan outdoor restaurant serving Pakistani/Northern Indian cuisine (just the tastiest tandoori I have ever had!).





Modified 9/18 – 2019-2020 Searches for Open Environmental Law Professor Positions

This year, there seem to be, again, a number of searches for law faculty positions that focus on or include environmental/energy/natural resource law as a desired specialty or interest area.  Mostly, these are searches that have been publicized through notices on various listservs that I subscribe to. (It seems that over the past few years, there has been more hiring for this field than in years prior.)  For those with such career goals, here are some of the institutions:

  1. Penn State Law in University Park (University Park, PA):  ” Penn State Law will be making two interdisciplinary hires. The first is a joint hire with the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment for a position in energy and/or environmental law.”  ” Penn State Law will be attending the AALS faculty recruitment conference, and entry level candidates are strongly encouraged to participate in the AALS Faculty Appointments Register. Lateral candidates should submit a current CV, four letters of reference, teaching evaluations, and a draft work-in-progress to Appointments@pennstatelaw.psu.edu. Specific inquiries should be addressed to the chair of the Appointments Committee, Professor Sam Thompson, at sct13@psu.edu.”
  2. Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (Indianapolis, IN): “seeks a visiting faculty member to hold the Robert H. McKinney Family Chair in Environmental Law for the Spring 2020 semester with the possibility of continuing through Fall 2020. The law school invites applicants with the type of academic profile suitable for a titled position.” “Interested candidates should submit a CV and cover letter to Vice Dean Mike Pitts at mjpitts@iupui.edu. Applications
    will be reviewed on a rolling basis with September 15 as the deadline for all applications.”
  3. University of Florida Levin College of Law (Gainesville, FL): “In reviewing applications, the Appointments Committee will consider long-term teaching needs in large enrollment classes, environmental law, health law, tax, and law and technology.”  “For further information, applicants may contact Professors Daniel Sokol and Michael Wolf at P.O. Box 117620, Gainesville, FL 32611 or email appointments@law.ufl.edu.”
  4. Florida International University College of Law (Miami, FL):  ” two tenured or tenure-track Assistant, Associate, or full Professor of Law positions to begin in the 2020-21 academic year. Our primary curricular interests are Cyber Law (focusing on cybercrime/forensics, interconnected cities, infrastructure security, and general
    cybersecurity training and education), Environmental Law, Wills & Trusts, and Torts. The Cyber Law position may be a joint appointment with another FIU School or College.” “For any questions related to the position, please contact Appointments Committee co-chairs Jan Osei-Tutu (joseitut@fiu.edu) or Scott Norberg (norberg@fiu.edu). To receive full consideration, applications and required materials should be received by September 30.”
  5. The University of Baltimore School of Law (Baltimore, MD):  ” We will consider applicants with a wide range of teaching interests, including, but not limited to, all First Year Subjects, as well as Family Law, Commercial Law, and Environmental Law.”  “Contact (e-mail preferred): Professor David Jaros, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, University of Baltimore School of Law, 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-5779, djaros@ubalt.edu.”
  6. University of California at Davis School of Law (Davis, CA): “invites applications for a Water Justice Clinical Lecturer, who will act as the director of the Aoki Water Justice Clinic, by October 20, 2019 and/or until the position is filled.” “All candidates must apply through the UC Recruit system at the following link: https://recruit.ucdavis.edu/JPF03045. For full consideration, applicants should apply by October 20, 2019, although we recommend that you submit your materials as soon as possible.”
  7. The University of Tulsa College of Law (Tulsa, OK):  “The areas of interest may include, but are not necessarily limited to, civil procedure, property, business law, transactional law, Indian law, energy and natural resource law, contracts, and other first year and required courses.” “Please submit letters of interest and résumés to Prof. Robert Spoo, Chair, Appointments Committee, University of Tulsa College of Law, 3120 E. 4th Place, Tulsa, OK 74104, or by email to robert-spoo@utulsa.edu.”
  8. The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law: “seeks entry-level or junior lateral candidates for at least one tenure-track position. Our primary areas of need are Dispute Resolution, Business Law, and Race and Law. Secondary areas of need include Antitrust, Banking/Insurance, Civil Procedure/Complex Litigation, Commercial Law, Evidence, Immigration, Intellectual Property/Law and Technology, Natural Resources/Energy Law, Poverty/Social Welfare Law, Property/Real Estate, and Wills & Trusts.” “Candidates should send a cover letter and C.V. to Daniel Tokaji, Associate Dean for Faculty, tokaji.1@osu.edu, stating that they are applying for this position.”
  9. Added – The University of Denver Sturm College of Law:  “we anticipate particular interests in administrative law, alternative dispute resolution, environmental and natural resources law (including energy law), evidence, international law, professional responsibility, property, tax, and veterans advocacy.”  ” Interested persons should send a cover letter, resume (including at least three references), teaching statement, and research agenda to Professor José Roberto (Beto) Juárez Jr., Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee (bjuarez@law.du.edu).”
  10. Added – Texas Tech University School of Law:  ” open faculty position (Requisition 1877BR). Anticipated curricular needs include Water Law, Property, and Environmental Law. “successful candidate will also serve as the Director for the Law School’s Center for Water Law and Policy. If tenured, the successful candidate may also be considered to fill the position of the George W. McCleskey Professor of Water Law.” “In addition to serving as the Center’s Director, responsibilities would include teaching Water Law and related courses such as Property and Environmental Law. ” “Please submit your cover letter, resume, and contact information for three professional references electronically to the attention of Professor Brian D. Shannon, Chair, Personnel Committee, at the Texas.”
  11. Added – University of Houston Law Center:  “The University of Houston Law Center invites applications for a non-tenure track Instructional Associate Professor of Law position; with Environmental Law emphasis for the academic year 2020-2021.” “This non-tenure track appointment may have a one-year probationary contract period with no presumption of renewal. However, based upon continued positive evaluations of the appointee, or sufficiently high experience and expertise when entering into the position, the position may provide or lead to a presumptively renewable multiyear contract. The initial salary range for this position is expected to be $90,000 to $100,000 for a nine-month academic year, but the precise salary will be negotiated based on the candidate’s experience and on compensation paid or offered to professors in comparable positions at comparable law schools.” ” The successful candidate will have the opportunity to teach environmental law courses, but experience or willingness to teach elsewhere in the Law Center curriculum, including 1L courses, will be a helpful credential depending on the course preferences.” “To receive fullest consideration, your online application must be received by September 10, 2019. Candidates can direct inquiries to Professor Robert Ragazzo, RRagazzo@central.uh.edu Please reference and review the University of Houston’s NTT Faculty Policy, available at this link: http://www.uh.edu/provost/faculty/current/non-tenure-track. “

And for those really serious about and already committed to entering the legal academy as environmental law professors, Pace Law School (White Plains, NY) hosts an annual workshop for aspiring environmental law professors. This year’s workshop is coming up on September 13, 2019.  Here’s the registration link:  https://law.pace.edu/future-environmental-law-professors​​


Globalization of Environmental Law Seminar with Interdisciplinary Audience at Stockholm Environment Institute (at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand), July 30, 2019


I had a very thoughtful set of commentators and interdisciplinary audience at my “Globalization of Environmental Law” talk at the Stockholm Environment Institute  at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand) several weeks ago (July 30, 2019).

(Here is the original poster for the talk, https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6556397583848300544/).

The talk was hosted by my former student Sara Phillips, a Vermont Law School and McGill University graduate.  Sara is a former energy and natural resource lawyer who practiced in a variety of international locales, including in Mongolia, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the GRID Program, Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University, as well as a Doctoral Fellow in the Stockholm Environment Institute.  Commentators were Dr. Naporn Popattanachai, Assistant Dean for Administration and Director of the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, and May Thazin Aung, Research Associate, Stockholm Environment Institute.  (Incidentally, May is a Vermont Law School graduate of the MSEL program.)

Among the interesting issues that came up in the discussions was the huge shadow that China is casting over so many environmental issues in Southeast Asia through its Belt and Road Initiative as well as the tensions between Southeast Asian nations and China on water issues related to the Mekong River (and the Mekong River Commission) because of China’s position as an upstream nation and the many dams it has built on the Mekong.