Do You Know What It Means for a Vegan to Miss New Orleans?

Douglas Doneson

No matter how many cups of Yerba Mate I drink or how many lamps I turn on (or off) to get the right lighting, I can’t focus on my law school work. After living in New Orleans for close to six years my body knows Mardi Gras is approaching. It knows I should be there. Anyone who has been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras knows that once the thought of Mardi Gras comes to mind, so many good memories are recalled and flow throughout the brain.

One memory that always comes to mind is the amazing food New Orleans has to offer.  This is a funny thought for me because I am vegan. I actually stopped eating meat, while working at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in 2007. But for some reason when I think about New Orleans, food is always the first thought that come to mind. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has a pretty small selection of vegan restaurants.  One of my favorite qualities of New Orleans, its stagnancy, is also its worst enemy.  Continue reading

Some Preliminary Steps Toward Regulating Nonpoint Source Pollution

David Cassuto

At long last, EPA is taking steps (or beginning to take them) toward addressing nonpoint source pollution of the nation’s waters.  Nonpoint sources are pretty much all those pollution sources that cannot be traced to the end of a pipe.  The Clean Water Act is far less concerned with nonpoint sources than with point sources, a historical exclusion that has much to do with the fact that when the Clean Water Act was enacted, point sources were low-hanging fruit from a regulatory perspective, and were also the primary polluter of the nation’s waters.  The CWA has done a great deal to decrease point source pollution and the nation’s waters fare much the better for it.  However, over the last 4 decades, nonpoint source pollution has greatly increased in the absence of meaningful regulatory oversight.              Continue reading

Survey Says: 100% Mercury Contaminated Fish

David Cassuto

In case you were thinking of celebrating the efficacy of the Clean Air Act and/or the Clean Water Act, consider this: a recent study by the U.S. Geological Service revealed mercury contamination in 100% of the fish tested from 291 freshwater streams in the United States. 

That is not a typo. 

Every single one of the fish sampled was contaminated by mercury, a potent neurotoxin.  Over a quarter contained levels exceeding what the EPA considers to be safe.  Some of the highest concentrations of mercury appeared in fish taken from coastal “blackwater” streams of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — undeveloped, wooded areas  — areas where people looking for clean air and water might look to go.  Apparently, such characteristics facilitate the conversion of mercury from its inorganic form in the atmosphere to a more toxic organic form, methylmercury, which accounts for at least 95 percent of the mercury found in fish.

All this might make you wonder where all that mercury comes from.  Answer: coal-fired power plants (and mining).     Continue reading

CAFOs — An Unregulated Assault on the Air & Water

hog-cafo-798035David Cassuto

Today’s NYT does a good job of describing the environmental and human health crisis wrought by CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).  It does a less good job of describing the horrendous conditions imposed on the animals thus confined.  Still, a lot of tragedy gets captured in this little vignette:

In June, Mr. Natzke explained to visiting kindergarteners that his cows produced 1.5 million gallons of manure a month. The dairy owns 1,000 acres and rents another 1,800 acres to dispose of that waste and grow crops to feed the cows.

“Where does the poop go?” one boy asked. “And what happens to the cow when it gets old?”

“The waste helps grow food,” Mr. Natzke replied. “And that’s what the cow becomes, too.”

The thrust of the article concerns the lack of regulations controlling CAFO emissions as well as the ways that Big Ag squashes all attempts to change the status quo.  Consider this: Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  That statistic alone makes factory farming environmentally problematic and in need of regulatory oversight.  But there’s more.

Pig waste is more concentrated than human waste and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, waste from pigs does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it tends to go straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and into the air, causing respiratory problems, antibiotic resistance, and more.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste and air pollution are also serious and growing CAFO-related problems.  And still, industrial agriculture remains virtually unregulated.

Continue reading

Pete Seeger, Hope, & Animals

pete_seeger_the_power_of_song_400x300Yesterday, I attended Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration (and benefit for the Clearwater) at Madison Square Garden.  The music and spirit of Seeger (and the Weavers) were a huge presence in my house during my childhood and remain so to this day.  To attend this event with multiple generations of my family was a blessing beyond words.

What does this have to do with animals?  Nothing and everything.  Pete Seeger has fought the power for a long time.  Summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, he pleaded not the Fifth but the First Amendment.  He declared that he had the right to discuss (and sing about) politics with whomever he pleased.  In 2003, as the nation prepared to invade Iraq, an 84 year-old man stood by himself on a cold, snowy street corner in Beacon, New York holding a hand-painted sign that simply said: “Peace.”   As Bruce Springsteen observed, Seeger’s life and work has been all about driving a “stealth dagger into the heart of our illusions about ourselves and our country.”

As I listened to all the wonderful performers and watched Seeger himself, voice now gone but still out front leading others in song, I thought about the animal advocacy movement.  Whether it be unions, civil rights, peace, or the Hudson River, the causes Seeger has championed often offered little reason for optimism.  But he and countless thousands of others fought on.  Today, progress — great progress — has been made and continues to be made as the struggle(s) continue.

Similarly, the animal cause presents a bleak reality that can and does routinely fill those of us who care with despair.  But progress has been made — even if one only looks to the number of people who now care about these things.  And I believe (because I have to) that great progress is in the offing.  The obstacles we face are no greater than those we and others have faced on other fronts.  That’s the message of last night’s celebration.

We *shall* overcome.  You can take that to the bank.  Our job is to do what Springsteen said of Pete.  We have to “outlast[] the bastards.”

–David Cassuto

Great Lakes Compact Council to be Headed by Industrial Ag. Zealot

The Berry Street Beacon has an excellent post on the hard-to-fathom reality that Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana will chair the Great Lakes Compact Regional Council.  The Council is the oversight body of the newly minted (and highly significant) Great Lakes Compact (full name: Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact) enacted this past fall.  For more on the Compact, see Professor Noah Hall’s informative blog, Great Lakes Law.

The Great Lakes contain about 20% of the world’s surface water.  Governor Daniels has determined that the answer to Indiana’s financial woes lies in turning the Hoosier State into a haven for industrial agriculture.  Industrial agriculture pollutes water — both surface and ground.   It thus seems sub-optimal that someone with Daniel’s views would emerge as the choice to head a Council charged with administering 6 quadrillion gallons of the stuff.

I guess stranger things have happened.  But I keep wondering why they do.

David Cassuto

Tribal Animal Law

I often tell my students that all law is animal law and cite a laundry list of legal disciplines — from matrimonial through constitutional to support my thesis.  We then spend the semester reading cases that run that gamut.  However, I had never included tribal law in that list, nor have I ever taught a tribal law case in animal law.  I think that is about to change.   Next semester I will teach Animal Law at Fordham.  This is both my first time teaching there and the first time Animal Law has been taught there (the course description is not particularly accurate) and this case, dealing with the waste from industrial poultry operations being dumped into the Illinois River and whether the state of Oklahoma or the Cherokee Nation has standing to sue, looks like a useful example through which the class can study the complexities of bilateral animal issues as well as its intersection with environmental law.  More about it here.

David Cassuto