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Wisconsin DOJ shrinks environmental protection unit

The Wisconsin Justice Department has shrunk staffing levels in its environmental protection unit to the lowest level in 25 years.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the unit had six attorneys last year compared to 10 as recently as 2008.

A DOJ spokesman says he couldn’t explain the trend, although he mentioned that lawyers with the agency’s special litigation unit and solicitor general’s office work so closely with other attorneys that it's hard to determine how much responsibility they’ve assumed for environmental protection.

Carl Sinderbrand, a lawyer who once worked in the environmental unit, says the staffing reduction may reflect the dwindling number of pollution cases the Department of Natural Resources has referred for legal action.

Last year fines against polluters dropped to their lowest point since at least 1994.

In other environmental news …

Companies will study risks to underwater pipeline

The state of Michigan has tapped two companies to analyze the financial risk of an oil pipeline rupture in the Straits of Mackinac and evaluate any alternatives to the pipeline.

Enbridge Energy, based in Calgary, Alberta, has agreed to pay $3.5 million but will not oversee the studies. Enbridge owns the twin oil pipelines in the area where lakes Huron and Michigan converge.

Det Norske Veritas will determine how much money would be needed to clean up an oil spill. Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems will study alternatives to Line 5. The announcement was made Tuesday.

Line 5 carries nearly 23 million gallons of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas daily. It runs across Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before entering the Straits of Mackinac. It ends in Sarnia, Ontario.

 

California governor looks to extend climate-change efforts

California Gov. Jerry Brown has launched a campaign to extend some of the most ambitious climate-change programs in the country and ensure his environmental legacy when he leaves office in two years.

The centerpiece of the push is a cap-and-trade program that aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels by forcing manufacturers and other companies to meet tougher emissions limits or pay up to exceed them.

The program has been one of the most-watched efforts in the world aimed at the climate-changing fuels.

The four-year-old program, however, is only authorized to operate until 2020 and faces a litany of challenges, including a lawsuit questioning its legality, poor sales of credits, and lukewarm support among Democratic legislators to extend it.

With Brown set to leave office in 2018, a state appeals court is considering a challenge from the California Chamber of Commerce contending the pollution-credit program is an illegal tax, not a fee.

Environmental groups say the lawsuit and overall uncertainty about the survival of the program are undermining the market for pollution credits. A May auction saw companies buy only one-tenth of the available credits, leaving the state billions of dollars short in projected revenue from the sales.

Meanwhile, groups representing oil interests confirmed last week that they are in direct talks with the Brown administration over cap-and-trade.

 

India state aims to plant a record 50 million trees in a day

Hundreds of thousands of people in India’s most populous state jostled for space as they attempted to plant 50 million trees over 24 hours in hopes of shattering the world record.

Officials in Uttar Pradesh distributed millions of saplings to be planted across the state to help India’s efforts to increase its forest cover, and to get into Guinness World Records for the most trees planted in a day. The current record is 847,275, set in Pakistan in 2013.

More than 800,000 people, including students, lawmakers, government officials, housewives and volunteers from nonprofit organizations, headed out Monday to plant the saplings at designated spots along country roads and highways, rail tracks and forest lands.

Uttar Pradesh’s top elected official, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, said that planting 50 million trees would spread awareness and enthusiasm about afforestation and environmental conservation.

“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard,” Yadav told volunteers in the city of Kannauj, 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.

India’s government is encouraging all 29 states to start tree-planting drives to increase the country’s forest cover as part of commitments made at last year’s climate change summit in Paris.

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