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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy produces a high quality biannual journal on cutting-edge environmental legal and policy matters.  JELP is entirely run and produced by students at UCLA School of Law.  Articles in JELP are written by leading scholars throughout the country and often the world, and by students focusing on environmental law at UCLA.

Volume 42, Issue 1, 2024

Issue cover


Forever Chemicals in Modern Dinosaurs: Using CERCLA to Force Polluters to Pay for PFAS Contamination of Florida Alligators

First, this paper will describe what forever chemicals are and the damage these compounds inflict. This paper will then explore what a CERCLA NRD assessment is: a tool to protect the public from chemicals like PFAS. The goals of NRD assessments can be tied back to the Public Trust: a sovereign holding natural resources in public trust for the citizenry. After briefly discussing pending federal regulatory action, which would list PFOA and PFOS as hazardous and thus pull them under CERCLA’s jurisdiction, this paper will propose two potential solutions to the problems trustees face when asserting NRD claims. To illustrate these problems and their proposed solutions, this paper uses the Florida marine environment and one of the oldest and most treasured natural resources in the animal kingdom, the alligator, as a muse.

The first solution the paper proses is that Congress amend CERCLA to exempt public or municipal wastewater treatment facilities and waste management facilities from litigation related to NRD assessments. Additionally, this paper proposes that Congress amend CERCLA to broaden the potentially responsible parties to include manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, as they so often fall outside CERCLA’s four statutorily responsible parties. Finally, this paper will show the NRD process will bolster the science around PFAS, proving causation and not just correlation, so that all potentially responsible parties can be held responsible.

Climate Change Loss and Damage: A Case for Mandatory Cooperation and Contribution under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

While climate change impacts all countries around the world, many of the most vulnerable countries are not just the lowest historical greenhouse gas emitters, but also have the least financial capacity to deal with climate loss and damage. It is thus a matter of climate justice to set up an effective loss and damage fund, which provides fast finance following extreme weather orc limate-related disaster events, and funding to address the negative impacts of slow-onset climate events such as sea level rise.

Although the recent COP28 finally operationalized a loss and damage fund, this Article explores how it remains voluntary and inadequate. This Article elaborates on the justifications, background and weaknesses of the current loss and damage regime, before proposing some solutions. This Article argues that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”) is an effective tool to ensure mandatory cooperation and contribution to a loss and damage fund, given its compulsory dispute resolution mechanism and Article 235, which covers State responsibility and liability. If climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions is construed as marine pollution, it may be argued under UNCLOS that States have an obligation to contribute to and cooperate in the development of a loss and damage fund.

This Article also explores how the climate loss and damage regime can be better structured so that there will be adequate funding. In particular, this Article draws on the existing oil spill compensation regime to propose a two-tiered insurance pool, with the first tier based on contributions from industry and the second tier funded by nations based on their emissions and capacity to contribute.

Student Comments

Only YOU Can Prevent Immigration Detention: Analyzing the Ways Environmental Laws Can Close or Prevent the Opening of Toxic and Dehumanizing Immigration Detention Centers

This Comment looks at the ways in which environmental law can be used to both delay the opening of new immigration detention centers and shut down existing centers. This Comment is not advocating for unhousing undocumented folks, nor is it advocating for NIMBYist exclusion by white communities. At its core, the detention of migrants is wrong. The separation of families is wrong. Profiting off other people’s pain is wrong. Although this Comment discusses environmental law as an avenue of resistance, this Comment is part of a movement that asks for a complete reorganization and abolition of the United States’ current immigration system. Additionally, although this piece primarily highlights legal strategies, it is important to recognize the hard work of the advocates on the ground, who are protesting and taking direct action against detention centers and prisons. All the cases discussed below were the result of the combined labor of direct action and legal challenges. Failure to acknowledge these efforts would be unfair to the priceless work of organizers and activists.

Part I discusses a variety of statutes and common law remedies that can delay the opening of new detention centers, close existing detention centers, or provide more information regarding detention center inadequacies, violations, and negligence. These statutes include the Freedom of Information Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and environmental torts (negligence). Part II provides solutions and alternatives to our current immigration detention system. This Part discusses the importance of addressing the root causes of immigration and emigration by acknowledging the United States’ role in migration, and the viability of holistic community-based programs.

California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and the Half-Exemption of Owens Valley Groundwater Basin

This Comment tells the story of how California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) has been applied in Owens Valley. Owens Valley, called Payahuunadü by the Native Paiute and Shoshone people, is the source of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system that exports both surface water and groundwater to Los Angeles. Los Angeles’s involvement in the region led to SGMA’s half-exemption of Owens Valley Groundwater Basin where all portions of the groundwater basin underlying Los Angeles-owned land is exempt from the Act. This Comment explores how this half-exemption was included in SGMA, describes what it means for local groundwater governance, and details California’s Department of Water Resources’ shifting approach to Owens Valley that most recently weakened SGMA’s protections for the region.

This Comment makes direct recommendations to state and local agencies with the goal of better leveraging SGMA to protect Owens Valley Groundwater Basin. SGMA’s explicit protections for the “entire basin” mandate a comprehensive approach to protecting not just Owens Valley, but also the other half-exempt California groundwater basins. This Comment specifically points to how state and local agencies can use SGMA to save the irreplaceable high desert wetlands at Fish Slough in Owens Valley from urgent ecological crisis. The Comment ends by advocating for a changed application of SGMA in Owens Valley to better uplift the Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone Tribes’ participation in the Act’s implementation.

Surfacing the Problems with Deep Sea Mining: The Need for a Cautious International Regime

Deep sea mining (DSM) is an increasingly controversial yet seemingly inevitable next step in humankind’s collective march toward a greener future. Advocates for DSM insist that the bounties of the ocean floor will help us mitigate the harms of climate change. Critics caution that a strong profit motive has made us careless and that the seemingly inconsequential damages apparent to DSM threaten even greater second-order consequences, not least of which is the elimination of various marine ecosystems. Beyond environmental risks, there exist major ethical concerns about the global distribution of licenses to harvest these underwater metals given that they are overwhelmingly located in international waters. Should mineral rights be distributed in accordance with some objective scheme for the benefit of all humanity, or is the seafloor to become the new “Wild West” where private interests reap all rewards? What of oft-overlooked Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral practices are more threatened by the harms of unfettered sea mineral exploitation? This Comment advances the position that the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has failed to adequately acknowledge the myriad complexities of DSM and advocates plausible legal reform which better addresses these issues in the future.