Article coauthored by J.B. Ruhl selected among top five environmental articles of 2010

Jun 19, 2011

An article co-authored by environmental law scholar J.B. Ruhl has been selected as one of the five top scholarly articles addressing environmental law for inclusion in the Land Use and Environmental Law Review.

Professor Ruhl has joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty as the David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law. This is the sixth time one of his articles has been selected for this distinction.

“Climate Change, Dead Zones and Massive Problems in the Administrative State: A Guide for Whittling Away” (98 California Law Review, 2010), coauthored by Professor Ruhl with James Salzman of Duke Law School, was selected for the 2011 edition of the Land Use and Environmental Law Review, a peer-reviewed compendium of the best scholarly articles published during the previous calendar year. Ruhl and Salzman’s article was selected from among 100 articles dealing with environmental law by a peer review process involving more than 80 environmental law professors and practitioners conducted by the Review’s environmental law editor, Dan Tarlock of the Chicago-Kent Law School.

In the article, Ruhl and Salzman address a conundrum: Congress frequently charges individual federal agencies with address “massive problems” such as urban sprawl or climate change with dimensions that extend beyond any individual agency’s power to regulate activity or implement change. “Serious policy challenges such as these have dimensions far beyond the capacity of any single agency to manage effectively,” Ruhl said. “As the Supreme Court recently observed, ‘Federal agencies can’t resolve massive problems such as climate change in one fell swoop. Instead, they have to whittle away at the problem over time.’ In this article, we explored more workable approaches both to defining the issues to be addressed by agencies and to enabling various agencies to work together to develop and implement effective ways to address these issues.”

As an example of how one key strategy they propose can work, Ruhl and Salzman discussed the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, a network of five federal agencies, 12 state agencies, and the Native American Tribes in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River basin which was formed to address the problem of hypoxia syndrome in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is an environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in water is too low to support life, creating a “dead zone” where fish and other aquatic plants and animals cannot survive.

While hypoxia is a natural phenomenon in extremely deep water, its occurrence in shallow coastal waters such as those in the Gulf hypoxia zone is due to soil erosion and runoff containing nitrogen fertilizers, animal wastes and sewage. The task force was formed almost 15 years ago to address the Gulf hypoxia zone. “The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico watershed is the world’s second largest dead zone,” Professor Ruhl said. “The task force enables representatives of various agencies responsible for regulating farming activities, water reservoirs, river navigation and scientific activities to work together to address the factors contributing to the creation of the Gulf dead zone.”

Professor Ruhl is affiliated with Vanderbilt’s Environmental Law Program, Program in Law and Government, and the Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network. Before he joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty, he was the Matthews & Hawkins Professor of Property at the Florida State University College of Law.

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