It snowed this week in Baltimore hard enough to result in the cancellation of Monday’s classes. When I arrived in Boston on Tuesday it looked like New England had received considerably more snow than Maryland, but they are more just to dealing with it up north. On Thursday Maryland’s Environmental Law Program hosted our sixth annual Environmental Law Film Festival. For the past six years students in my Environmental Law class have participated in optional class projects to make short documentary films. Each year the students form small groups to make 6-10 minute films about environmental issues of their choosing. During the fall semester 2008, the students produced more films than ever before - a total of eight films.
Several of the student films highlighted important local environmental issues. "Gunpowder Riverkeeper" by Talley Kovacs and Brooke O'Hanley explored the concerns of local fly fisherman about the environmental consequences of opening a large rock quarry in the watershed of a popular local trout stream. The film won the "Golden Tree" for "Best Cinematography" for its lush video footage of the Gunpowder River basin. "Arsenic and Old Dirt," which won "Golden Tree" awards for "Best Picture" and "Most Educational" film, examined how local authorities are responding to the discovery of arsenic contamination at Swann Park in Baltimore. The film, which was produced by Katy Jackman, Rene Parks, and Rebecca Seitz, featured interviews with residents living near the park, which has been closed to the public while extensive remediation of the contamination is conducted. In "The News," which won the "Golden Tree" for "Best Acting," Joey Chen and Rama Taib posed as network news anchors reporting on environmental issues. The film also featured Carter Beach, assisted by John Archibald, interviewing Shari T. Wilson, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), who discussed MDE's priorities.
"Sustainable Harvest," by Natalie Bowman, Lisetta Silvestri, Kim Stefanski, and Lynn McChrystal, visited the Baltimore Farmer's Market. The student filmmakers interviewed farmers about the environmental benefits of producing and consuming locally grown organic produce. The film won "Golden Trees" for "Best Interviews" and "Best Sound." The film "Marvesta Shrimp," produced by Eva Carbot, Aminah Famili, Jesse Iliff, Emily Lipps, Megan Mueller, and Limor Weizmann, focused on efforts by Eastern Shore entrepreneurs to develop more environmentally benign shrimp farming practices. "Urban Legends of the Inner Harbor" asked experts whether it is true that if you fall in Baltimore's Inner Harbor you had better seek immediate medical attention. Andrew Keir, Eric Hergenroeder, Chris Montague-Breakwell, Danielle Einik & Patrick Smith, produced the film.
Some films addressed national environmental concerns. "There Doesn't Have to be Blood" by Jordan Vardon discussed efforts to increase U.S. energy independence by developing renewable energy alternatives to oil. Jordan reports that he has placed his film, which won the "Golden Tree" for "Best Narration," on You Tube where it has acquired "a cult following among friends." The film "GreenCo" by Kim Myers and Scott Yager took a satirical look at efforts by companies to "greenwash" their products through advertising touting their environmental conciousness. The film won "Golden Trees" for "Best Use of Humor" and "Best Use of Animation and Special Effects." It featured a spoof on the GEICO "caveman" ad campaign and a hilarious animated exchange between a Prius and a Hummer debating their respective virtues.
The "Golden Trees" were awarded based on the results of voting by judges who this year included Professors Taunya Banks, Kathleen Dachille, and Kathy Vaughns, as well as Laura Mrozek, Rita Turner, and Megan McDonald. At the awards ceremony each student received a copy of a DVD with copies of all the student films.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court decided two cases with important implications for regulatory policy. On Tuesday the Court ruled 5-4 in Summers v. Earth Island Institute that environmental groups lacked standing to challenge a U.S. Forest Service regulation dispensing with public notice of planned timber “salvage” sales on parcels of public land of less than 250 acres. The decision reinvigorates Justice Scalia’s campaign to keep environmental plaintiffs out of court. This crusade that had been severely damaged in 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA when Justice Kennedy joined the four Summers dissenters to uphold the standing of states to sue EPA for failing to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In his majority opinion Justice Scalia never mentions Massachusetts v EPA. In his two-paragraph concurrence, Justice Kennedy makes no effort to explain his vote in Massachusetts v. EPA, stressing only that once the Summers plaintiffs had settled a portion of their lawsuit involving the only specific parcel offered for sale they no longer could demonstrate sufficient injury in fact to establish standing. While the decision will make it harder for environmental groups to challenge decisions on public land management, the Obama administration could always decide to rescind the regulation and resume public notice and appeal procedures.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to reject the Bush administration’s efforts to preempt state tort liability for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This represents a severe blow to the former Bush administration’s efforts to preempt state products liability lawsuits. Preemption would have created a perverse incentive for companies to lobby the FDA even harder to have risky drugs approved because they no longer would have to be concerned about potential tort liability if the drugs proved not to be as safe as the companies had represented them to be.