Republican attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency constitute the most pressing development in environmental law and policy facing the United States, according to Vermont Law School’s 2011-’12 Environmental Watch List.

This is the second year the law school, which is known for its environmental law program, has published its list of critically important environmental issues. Students involved with the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law researched key environmental developments, then worked with faculty in the school’s Environmental Law Center to draft the list, said law professor Patrick Parenteau.

“We look back over the year at the significant legal developments,” he said. “One of our goals is educational, but we’re also trying to draw the attention of the public to what we see as major developments.”

The list focuses on matters in which something specific has happened — be it a legal ruling, a policy decision or some other action, Parenteau said.

Political fighting emerged as a theme for this year’s list, Parenteau said. Attacks by Republicans in the House of Representatives on the EPA landed at the top of the list, and could signal major changes in environmental law during the coming year. Should Republicans gain a majority in the Senate in 2012, a significant pullback on environmental law and the authority of the EPA could result, he said.

In the second spot on the list is President Obama’s rejection in September of a EPA proposal to toughen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone.

Also on the list are:

• Interior Department plans to open federal land in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to coal mining.

• The temporary derailment by environmental activists of the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry petroleum derived from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast.

• Efforts by the EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation to increase regulation of greenhouse gas emissions one industry at a time.

• A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under color of common law.

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