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2011 Must-watch Enviro List Mirrors N.A. Concerns

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The U.S.’s highest-ranked environmental law school has released its Environmental Watch List for 2011, and issues critical to Native Americans feature in nearly every item.

The list, part of an annual report published by the Vermont Law School’s environmental division, was released on Jan. 3 and covers “judicial, regulatory, legislative and other actions that significantly affect humans and the natural world,” the school said in a press release.

Although the Native American community is not mentioned specifically, the list and report address several related issues.

• Climate change is number one on the list. Professor Gus Speth analyzes what may have caused climate change legislation to stall in Congress in 2010 and looks ahead to the session in 2011 to see what may move it forward. Indigenous communities around the world are at the forefront of dealing with climate change, living as they do near to where the effects are already strong.

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• Second on the list is fallout from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Native groups affected by the spill are at this moment grappling with decisions on how much to accept in damages, and when. They are also concerned with both eating and selling the seafood that until last year was a mainstay of their diet and livelihood.

• Listed at number three are greenhouse gas emissions, which are helping to melt the polar ice cap, putting polar bears on the endangered species list. Moreover, melting permafrost is responsible for numerous problems facing Inuit residents in Arctic Canada. In the VLS’s report, professor and climate change expert Pat Parenteau studies the efficacy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempts to restrict such pollutants.

• Related to items one and three, number five on the list addresses California’s anti-global warming law, which survived a ballot-box challenge. Professor John Echeverria, another climate change expert, looks at the possibilities and ramifications of this state legislation.

• Wind- and solar-energy projects also make the list, at number seven, with assistant professor and energy-efficiency expert Don Kreis weighing in on plans for the various wind and solar endeavors in the pipeline. At least one such project, a 709-megawatt solar power plant project in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, has been halted by federal injunction after the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation claimed its leaders were inadequately consulted.

“We can continue our short-sighted addiction to fossil fuels or we can adopt innovative, healthier, more sustainable practices,” said VLS president and dean Geoffrey Shields in the report’s introduction. “The Environmental Watch List will help improve public understanding of how to use the law to take action on the critical issues of our time.”