Saturday, March 24, 2007

On Judge E.J. Sutherland of Dickenson County

April Cain of the Hillbilly Savants has this interesting post on Judge E.J. Sutherland of Dickenson County.

The latest District Court opinion on mountaintop mining

The anti-mountaintop mining removal people are proud to post this opinion from Judge Chambers of the S.D. W.Va., issued March 23, and ruling against the federal government's issuance of permits for the disposal of fill materials from mountaintop removal into the waters of the United States.

The odds are that this is a bad decision, from the perspective of administrative law. The presumptions are mainly in favor of the agency decision. The judge has ruled, in effect, that the pros at the Army Corps of Engineers bypassed some of the things they were supposed to think about before making their permit decisions, and so he remanded the permits for them to do more. One suspects that in another two years, they'll be back in the same place.

The opinion does contain one cool movie reference at footnote 65 - to Field of Dreams, one of my favorites. The plaintiffs characterized the Corps of Engineers' position on an issue related to new streams as the Field of Dreams theory, "[a]s in '[i]f you build it, [the streams] will come.

Best new immunity in Title 8.01

In the 2007 session, the General Assembly passed HB 3184, the Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act, which immunizes the providers of suborbital space flight from liability for simple negligence.

Jack Kennedy explains it all in this post.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference

This year's program includes this:

"For the Final Session on Saturday morning, we will be pleased to have Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who will join us for the first time to provide 'Highlights of the 2006 Supreme Court Term' followed by a panel discussion in a Review of the Major Supreme Court Decisions. Professor A.E. Dick Howard will serve as Moderator of the panel that will include Professor Lillian R. Bevier, University of Virginia; Professor Walter E. Dellinger, III, Duke University; Thomas C. Goldstein, Esquire, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Professor Stephen A. Salzburg, George Washington University."

I like the look of the paperwork for the Judicial Conference, it seems sort of like getting an invitation to come watch The Masters. Even the capitalization in the Program conjures the image of something old and Southern. The papers for the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference, which is periodically open to all, are in no way similar.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On living happily ever after

I was in Richmond earlier in the week for the VBA Leadership conference and the highlight for me was meeting Jim Guy, the subject of this post.

And, I could tell that he was somewhat uncertain when I told him that I had read his blog, and liked it. His troubles were worse than any I ever had, but his last post from over a year ago ends like this: "They all lived happily ever after."

I'll take a happy ending, any day. That fellow who was married to Julie Whitt is still looking for one.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On going digital in Norfolk Circuit Court

The Virginian-Pilot has this report on the plans of the circuit court clerk there to go paperless with the records of the court.

In a somewhat related story, Jurist reports here on a pilot project to make the audio from federal court proceedings available online.

Lawyer sanctions instead of damages caps?

This story reports that in Tennessee, legislators are looking at bolstering sanctions against lawyers who bring frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, as an alternative to imposing damages caps on medical malpractice awards.

The Faustian bargain for Exit 14

The Bristol paper notes correctly that it is a mistake for the Commonwealth to make transportation decisions based on "free" money, in connection with the proposed bargain of a new Exit 14 in return for VDOT's approval of access for a new superstore.

The same is true whether it is free money for truck lanes the length of Interstate 81, or an above-ground Metrorail extension to Tyson's Corner, or a new and improved Exit 14 to allow access to another Walmart. The highest priority should not be the maximization of private or federal funding.

Of course, if Exit 14 had been done right in the first place, it would not be an issue now.

The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal.

So says the author in this interesting article about the state of the coal business.

The article says in part:

"In the 1990s, the Energy Department funded a new kind of coal plant. Instead of pulverizing coal to burn it, engineers turned coal into a gas. Coal gasification wasn't new. Long before Edison opened the Pearl Street station, a rough form of gasified coal - called town gas - was used to light streets in many cities. Cleaner natural gas replaced town gas in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, although it is still burned in China and elsewhere. But the coal gasification plants pioneered by the Energy Department were unique. By gasifying the coal, engineers discovered it could be cleansed of nearly all pollutants, a major breakthrough for controlling emissions. The process, called IGCC for integrated gasification combined cycle technology, is used commercially today at only four plants in the world, two in the United States: one near Tampa, Fla., and another on the Wabash River near Terre Haute, Ind. They are among the world's cleanest power plants, having eliminated more than 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and 98 percent of sulfur from coal. But they also are significantly more expensive to build than pulverized coal plants, which is why there are only two in the country."

Wikipedia has this explanation of the workings of an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle power plant. The article suggests that some in Europe but none of the IGCC experiments in the United States have been successful, and concludes: "Given the extreme cost of IGCC, heavy subsidies necessary to facilitate construction, and particularly because carbon capture and storage is so far in the future, it is doubtful that it can gain a foothold in the market."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More navel gazing over publishing the list of gun owners

The Roanoke paper, by publishing then pulling the list of gun permit holders, has surely made at least one mistake, possibly two.

In the first place, they could have written about the accessibility of this information without publishing all the names and addresses - they could have told the story without becoming the story. By publishing all the names, they maximized the public splash in ways that don't strike me as relevant to the goal of exploring FOIA.

In the second place, they quickly caved when the permittees complained about the invasion of their privacy, even though, as the paper now reports in this piece by Laurence Hammack, the privacy issues are largely hypothetical and other newspapers in other states continue to publish this information. The reporters probably smacked their foreheads when they learned of this editorial sell-out.