Jan. 10, 2022 - Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Houston Law Center Professor Victor Flatt quickly realized that emergency environmental waivers were becoming routinely abused, so he began to look into it further.
This research evolved into an article, “Holding Polluters Accountable in Times of Climate and COVID Risk: The Problems with ‘Emergency Enforcement Waivers,” that was recently awarded as an Honorable Mention in the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review. The article was selected from hundreds of law journal articles on environmental topics and included review by Vanderbilt Law School students, Environmental Law Institute senior staff and an advisory committee that included environmental leaders.
“This was exciting news to receive,” Flatt said. “Not only for the validation of the article itself but because it means that the issues that prompted me to write the article will continue to get attention.”
Flatt’s main goal in writing the article was to put a focus on the abuse and problems with routine waivers of environmental enforcement, which he said don’t receive sufficient scrutiny. He said the article was prompted by a call for papers on the relationships and lessons from the COVID crisis and the climate crisis.
“During these early days of COVID I was taken aback, but not surprised, to note how easily environmental enforcements were waived, even though they are designed to protect the public health,” he said. “This reminded me of what I considered the abusive waivers of enforcement that had occurred in Texas after various natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey. I wanted to get this issue out there and in front of the public.”
Flatt’s article touches on various topics and examines the legal basis of emergency exemptions, as well as provides examples of how they have been abused in climate-related disasters and even the COVID-19 pandemic. In the article, Flatt also proposes solutions to avoid this abuse while at the same time ensuring that genuine emergency conditions are attended to.
When it comes to what Flatt hopes readers and colleagues will take away from the article, he said that he wants people to understand the need for scrutiny and support for environmental enforcement.
“Simply saying the word ‘emergency’ should not be a get-out-of-jail-free card for polluters who are harming public health,” he said.
The Dwight Olds Professor of Law and the Faculty Co-Director of the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Center, Flatt is a recognized expert on environmental law, climate law, energy law and how these areas intersect. His research focuses on environmental legislation and enforcement, and he has authored more than 50 law review articles.
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