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Regulating Biological Contamination at the Final Frontier

A robust and growing commercial space sector is moving ahead at warp speed. While the industry today primarily offers satellite and launch services, tomorrow will bring manufacturing, research and development, resource extraction, and space tourism. What do these developments mean for the earth’s biosphere, as well as for the environments of other celestial bodies finally within humanity’s reach? This is the role of planetary protection, the principle of safeguarding both terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments from humanity’s propensity for introducing pollution into any habitat.

The Oak Ridge Cleanup: Protecting the Public or the Polluter?

The Oak Ridge Reservation is one of the largest U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities in the country, with areas that are highly contaminated by chemicals, metals, and radionuclides. DOE is in the middle of a multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar cleanup there, and a recent Superfund decision for one portion of the site raises a number of significant legal issues. This Article addresses some related questions: Should radionuclides get less stringent cleanup than other equally harmful pollutants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls?

Waste and Chemical Management in a 4°C World

Many chemicals and hazardous substances are kept in places that can withstand ordinary rain, but not severe storms or floods. If these events occur and the chemicals are released, people and the environment may be endangered. This Article discusses the hazards posed to chemical and waste disposal facilities by extreme weather events that would be worsened as a result of climate change, and how U.S. laws do (or do not) deal with these hazards; and considers how the law would need to change to cope with what would happen to these facilities in a potentially 4°C world.

Achieving “Some” Upfront Certainty and Resolve in Superfund Settlements

Superfund practitioners are waiting to see whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will designate perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate, two chemicals in the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) group, as CERCLA hazardous substances. Such a designation may lead to selected remedies being modified and further work being required at Superfund sites where remedies were believed to be complete. This Article explores potential future liability by reviewing provisions of the 2021 Remedial Design/Remedial Action (RD/RA) Model Consent Decree.

Recycling Is Rubbish: Reinvent, Realign, and Restructure U.S. Material Management

The United States currently does not have capacity to recycle its waste domestically, nor can it export the amount of waste it once did. Many states are trying to solve this crisis through novel legislation, but states cannot solve this crisis on their own. This Article argues that the federal government should take the lead in developing new law and policy designed to increase national recycling rates.

The U.S. Plastics Problem: The Road to Circularity

Plastics pollution has been an issue in the United States since discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch catapulted it to the forefront of news reporting. Regulatory and academic activity around plastics has had a common feature: it focused almost exclusively on one stage in plastics’ linear model and framed the problem as a waste problem.

Patching a Persistent Problem: PFAS and RCRA’s Citizen Suit Provision

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a toxic, environmentally persistent class of chemicals that have been used widely in consumer products. Despite growing evidence of adverse health effects associated with PFAS exposure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet promulgated a legally enforceable standard for any of the individual chemicals in the PFAS group. This has resulted in largely unrestricted disposal of PFAS waste and dispersal of these persistent chemicals throughout the environment.

Managing Marine Litter

Marine litter is human-created waste that has been discharged into the marine environment, including glass, metal, plastics, and other debris. According to data compiled by the United Nations, the equivalent of a garbage truck filled with plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute—more than 8 million metric tons per year. On November 11, 2019, the Environmental Law Institute hosted an expert panel that explored recent U.S.

Should We Ban Single-Use Plastics?

Millions of tons of plastic enter the environment every year, killing wildlife, releasing toxins, clogging drains, and marring landscapes. Bans or restrictions on single-use plastics have exploded in popularity in recent years as a means of addressing these problems. Yet these bans remain controversial, with some businesses pushing back against what they consider excessive regulation and others maintaining that banning single-use plastics uses political capital that could be spent advancing more urgent and systemic agendas.