Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award

Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award
Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun receives the Prince Claus Award at the Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam on Dec. 6, 2017

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Sunday, January 21, 2018


NASA reported last week that the year 2017 was the second hottest year on record, bested only by 2016 when El Niño temporarily helped boost temperatures slightly.  Global average temperatures were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1951-1980 average. The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010. Seventeen of the 18 hottest years have occurred since the year 2000.

Last month the World Bank announced that it no longer would provide funding for fossil fuel projects. This week the Conversation published an article by Professor Jason Kirk of Elon University noting that this decision represents the Bank showing a new found sense of independence from the United States, its largest funder, at a time when the Trump administration is promoting greater use of oil and gas.

Several sources report that there has been a noticeable improvement in air quality this winter in Beijing. The improvement in levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) is confirmed by data from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  Te-Ping Chen, Air Quality Improves in Beijing, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 18, 2018, at A6. PM2.5 levels in Beijing during the last quarter of 2017 dropped to 58 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a substantial drop from the year before, but still several times above the level the World Health Organization deems to be safe.  The improvement is attributed to stepped up inspections and fines against polluting factories in the provinces near Beijing, and cutbacks in coal use and steel production designed to meet environmental goals in the 5-year plan that expired at the end of 2017.

Egypt is protesting Ethiopia’s plans to fill the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River within three years of the project’s completion in 2019.  Egypt maintains that this will reduce the flow of the river to Egypt to levels that will cause it harm.  Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo last week to discuss the conflict.  When completed, the da will be the largest in Africa.  Matina Stevis-Gridneff & Dahlia Kholaif, Egypt, Ethiopia Wrangle Over Nile Dam, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 18, 2018, at A9.

A Ukrainian firm, Rodina Energy Group, and a German company, Enerparc Ag, are building a solar energy farm in the exclusion zone around the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor.  They are expected to install 100 MW of solar generating capacity.  The site is seemingly ideal because it has easy access to the transmission lines that formerly carried power from the nuclear power plant that was irrevocably damaged in the 1986 accident.

Last week Coca Cola launched a “World Without Waste” campaign.  The company pledged that it will recycle all of its packaging by the year 2030. Chief executive James Quincey stated that “the world has a packaging problem - and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it.” Greenpeace was not impressed,

Authorities in Bangkok arrested Boonchai Bach, who they allege is the mastermind of an international ring that smuggles endangered wildlife, including rhino horns.  The authorities allege than Bach operated the ring for more than a decades, reaping millions of dollars in revenue. Bach is alleged to have ties to Vixay Keosavang of Laos, who has been described as “the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.” Keosavang is still at large with a $1 million reward being offered by U.S. authorities for his capture.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Top Developments in 2017, Tax Cut Opens ANWR to Drilling, Prince Claus Awards (by Bob Percival)

Happy 2018.  I rang in the New Year while traveling on a plane to Israel.  On January 2 & 3 I participated in a Forum on Water Reuse, Food and Health at the Hotel Tzuba outside of Jerusalem.  The forum was part of the runup to the launching of a new joint Center on Water Reuse, Food & Health between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland.  The other U.S. participants included faculty from the School of Public Health, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, and the College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Resources. The participants from Hebrew University included faculty from the School of Agriculture, Food & Environment, the School of Public Health and the Department of Geography.  The Center will help coordinate multidisciplinary research on how to use water more efficiently in a similar fashion to the multidisciplinary

For the last several years I have sought to highlight in my first post of the year some of the top developments in Global Environmental Law during the previous year.  This year they include the following.  On June 1 Donald Trump announced that he intends to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate Agreement.  With both Nicaragua and Syria deciding to join the agreement, the U.S. will become the only country in the world not participating in it.  Under the terms of the Paris Agreement the U.S. withdrawal cannot officially become effective until November 4, 2020, the day after the next U.S. presidential election.   Several states, cities, universities and companies responded by announcing that they were redoubling efforts to reduce their GHG emissions to signal the world that the U.S. could meet its initial Paris pledge even without the Trump administration.

The Trump administration also moved to shrink the size of national monuments, repeal the “waters of the U.S.” rule and EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  However, because it did not move to reverse EPA’s finding that GHG emissions endanger public health and welfare, EPA will remain under a legal obligation to control them. Overall the U.S. federal  government is moving sharply backwards on environmental protection, while the rest of the world continues to move forward.

Volkswagen pled guilty to criminal charges in the U.S. for its emissions testing scandal.  One VW executive was sent to jail, while several others are under indictment but unlikely to be extradited by Germany.   Sea Shepherd abandoned its annual efforts to harass the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica.  The Minimata Mercury Convention entered into force on August 16, 2017.  Both New Zealand and India granted legal personality to rivers. Climate litigation increased around the world, including lawsuits by Greenpeace against Statoil in Norway, the Juliana case in Oregon, a suit challenging construction of a coal-fired power plant in South Africa, and lawsuits in India, Australia, Colombia and Germany.  The Philippine Commission on Human Rights also launched a climate investigation. 

Decades of efforts by environmentalists to keep the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge ANWR closed to oil drilling were dealt a blow by tax cut legislation. On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which contains a provision opening ANWR to oil drilling.  The provision was added at the behest of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a long-time supporter of drilling ANWR in order to increase royalties to be received by the state of Alaska.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 51-48 under a “reconciliation” procedure that avoided the need to obtain 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.  It was argued that because the measure would raise revenue from oil royalties it was germane to the tax bill.  At a White House celebration following passage of the tax cut legislation, President Trump boasted that he had been able to overcome more than 40 years of opposition to opening ANWR and he congratulated Alaska’s long-time Congressman Donald Young, though calling him “Dan” by mistake. It will take considerable time before any drilling is done in ANWR and with oil prices much lower than in decades past, it is unclear how keen oil companies will be to drill there.

On December 6 I visited the Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam for the annual Prince Claus Awards.  The Prince Claus Fund gave its highest award to Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun and they asked me to write a tribute to him, which was published in the annual awards book.  More information about this event is provided in a blog post I have done for the blog of the American College of Environmental Lawyers ( that will appear this week. 

On January 8 the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected efforts by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to require the provision of subsidies to coal-fired and nuclear power plants in the name of increasing the reliability of the electricity grid.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

U.S. Alone in Rejecting Paris as COP23 Concludes, ABA SEER, ACOEL, Maryland Clinic Summit (by Bob Percival)

The last two months have been so busy for me that I have not been able to find time to update the blog. During the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Bonn in November, both Syria and Nicaragua signed the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. as the only country in the world not to accept the agreement.  Although the Obama administration signed the Paris Agreement and deposited its instrument of acceptance to it, President Donald Trump on June 1, 2017 announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.  Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, this withdrawal cannot become effective until November 4, 2020, the day after the next U.S. presidential election.

On October 19th I spoke on a panel (“And Then There Were Nine”) about the Supreme Court and the environment at the fall meeting of the ABA’s Section on Environment Energy and Resources (SEER), which was held in Baltimore.  I discussed the Supreme Court’s June 2017 decision in Murr v. Wisconsin and prepared a paper analyzing the voting record of Supreme Court Justices on regulatory takings issues.  One striking finding of my paper was that Justice Anthony Kennedy has voted in the majority in all 10 regulatory takings cases in which he has participated.

On October 28, former DOJ Assistant AG John Cruden and I presented our annual Supreme Court review to annual meeting of the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL) in Charleston, South Carolina.  After the meeting concluded, my wife and I ventured out to the Isle of Palms to examine the property that had been owned by David Lucas in the Supreme Court’s landmark Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council case decided in 1992. Although Lucas had rejected the state’s conclusion that his beachfront property was endangered by sea level rise, it is now right at the edge of the ocean.  After the state bought out Lucas, they allowed two homes to be built on the properties.  Even though Hurricane Irma passed 200 miles to the west of Charleston, these homes were severely damaged by it and were boarded up when we visited them.  Meanwhile the Isle of Palms has been seeking millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for beachfront replenishment projects.

On November 10 I attended the wedding of a former student, Lori Schectel, in Palm Springs, California.  Lori now lives in San Francisco and is responsible for environmental permitting for Contra Costa County.  The day after the wedding I toured wind and solar energy farms north of Palm Springs which constitute a veritable museum documenting the development of improved renewable energy technologies over the last several decades.  When leaving Palm Springs I flew over the portion of the wind farms that also is being used to recharge the underground aquifer with some of the surplus runoff from last year’s drought-ending rainfall in California.  On November 20 I showed some of the photos I took of the aquifer recharge effort at a luncheon in Queenstown, Maryland for the multidisciplinary CONSERVE water reuse project I am involved in.  From November 30-December 3 I was back in California, touring Napa antd Sonoma to support the efforts of their wineries to recover from the fires.

On November 16 & 17 Maryland’s Environmental Law Program hosted a summit of U.S. environmental law clinics.  Representatives of thirty of the 62 U.S. environmental law clinics attended the conference.  The participants focused on how to improve collaboration among the clinics to maximize their impact.  The conference concluded with Georgetown environmental clinic director Hope Babcok delivering a stirring call to action.  Video of her presentation is available online at:

On Saturday November 18 I spoke on a panel on “Environmental Law Without Congress at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention in Washington, D.C.  I noted that virtually all the major federal environmental statutes had been passed by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities in Congress.  Now legislative gridlock has plagued environmental legislation, but bipartisan compromises produced laws comprehensively updating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in 1996 and the Safe Drinking Water Act during the same year.  I also reviewed the factors that contributed to the 2016 nearly unanimous adoption of the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in June 2016.  Video of my presentation is available online at:

On Monday I am flying to Amsterdam for the Dutch royal family’s Prince Claus Fund awards, which will be presented at the Royal Palace on December 6.  Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun is winning one of the top awards and the Prince Claus Fund asked me to prepare a tribute to him.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hurricanes Caused Immense Environmental Damage, Minimata Convention Enters into Force, Nicaragua to Join Paris Climate Accord (by Bob Percival)

It has been two months since my last blog entry because I have been incredibly busy with both vacation and work.  In August my wife and I spent ten days in Iceland, including a week on a Wilderness Travel hiking expedition.  A slideshow of photos of our trip can be accessed online at: day after we returned from Iceland my son and I traveled to Oregon where we observed the total solar eclipse on August 21 from a hillside on a historic farm in the wine country south of Portland.  In September I have been working non-stop to prepare for fall classes (teaching Environmental Law to undergrads in College Park and to law students in Baltimore) and to finish some long-time research projects.  I have completed the manuscript for the new 8th edition of my casebook Environmental Regulation: Law, Science and Policy.  It has been four years since the seventh edition came out in 2013.  My editors report that I will be receiving page proofs shortly and the bound book should be in bookstores by early January 2018.

Three hurricanes have caused significant damage in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. At the end of August Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. In early September Hurrican Irma hit the west coast of Florida, and in late Sepatember Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.  The hurricanes left substantial environmental damage in their wake, flooding oil refineries, chemical plants, and Superfund sites in Houston.  An Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, texas caught fire and released toxic air pollutants. ExxonMobil’s Baytown oi refinery, the second largest in the country, also was damaged, causing environmental releases of chemicals.  Compiling regulatory filings from oil refineries, chemical plants, and shale drilling sites, the Center for Biological diversity found that there had been releases of at least 1 million pounds of extra pollutants in the Houston area.  Chemicals released included benzene, 1,3 butadiene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, tolulene and xylene.  Air monitors from the Environmental Defense Fund in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston found up to 324 parts per billion of benzene, well above levels that require workers to wear breathing apparatus.

Scores of sewage treatment plants in the Houston area flooded and released raw sewage.  Sheila Kaplan and Jack Healy, Houston’s Floodwaters Are Tainted, Tests Show, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2017. Testing of some floodwaters found “astonishing levels of E.coli in standing water in one family’s living room – levels 135 times those considered sage – as well as elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from floodwaters in the kitchen.” A few weeks before Harvey hit Houston, President Donald Trump has issued an executive order revoking an Obama administration directive that infrastructure projects receiving federal funds should conduct flood planning that takes into account rising sea levels from climate change.

On August 16, 2017, the Minimata Convention on Mercury entered into force. A total of 83 countries, including the U.S., have deposited their instruments of acceptance of the convention that seeks to lower global environmental releases of mercury. The first Conference of Parties to the Convention has just concluded in Geneva, Switzerland.

President Daniel Ortega told Nicaraguan state media that his government will join the Paris climate accord. Originally Nicaragua did not join the agreement concluded in December 2015 because Ortega said it did not require enough sacrifice from wealthy countries. Syria is now the only country that failed to join the agreement.  Rumors reported by EU climate negotiators that the Trump administration may reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord were forcefully denied on September 17 by Trump administration officials.  States iare now taking the lead in the U.S. in promoting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  California is hanging tough even as the Trump administration considers relaxing fuel efficiency standards.  Northeastern states have strengthened their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI).

In late August the NGO Sea Shepherd announced that it will no longer shadow the Japanese whaling fleet because the Japanese military was providing the fleet with data on the location of Sea SHepherd’s boats that made it easy for the whaling fleet to elude them.

The final report of the Australian Panel of Experts in Environmental Law (APEEL) is now online at:  It consists of a Blueprint and eight technical reports sketching an ambitious vision for a new generation of environmental laws.

Even as the first Volwkswagen employees start to receive criminal sentences, a group of scientists has estimated that 38,000 people die prematurely each year due to diesel exhaust in excess of emission limits, see:

In late August a judge in Ecuador sentenced 20 Chinese fishermen to up to four years in jail for illegally catching 6,600 endangered sharks in Ecuador waters.

Kenya has passed the world’s toughest ban on the production, sale or use of plastic bags to reduce environmental pollution.  Penalties can range up to a $40,000 fine and four years in jail. See: 

At the end of August a Brazilian judge suspended a decree From Brazilian President Michel Temer that would have opened up a vast nature reserve in the amazon to mining.  Judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo concluded thaqt the decree exceeded the President’s powers because only the Brazilian Congress could lift the protected status of the reserve.

U.S. Interior Department officials are moving to open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to seismic exploration to get a better idea of the size of the oil reserves contained there. Interior is also moving to shorten environmental impact assessments. An  August 31 memo from Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said EISs normally should not be more than 150 pages and take more than a year to prepare.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Malawi Field Trip, Australian Panel of E-Law Experts, Conversation Piece, Methane Rule Suspension Illegal (by Bob Percival)

Last week I returned from two weeks in Malawi where some of my students and I were on a field trip to assist the University of Malawi Chancellor College of Law’s Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic.  We left the U.S. on July 7 and arrived in Malawi on Saturday July 8.  On Sunday July 9 we visited Liwonde National Park, which is located north of Zomba, the city where the law school is located.  In Liwonde we saw considerable wildlife, including elephants, warthogs, eland, waterbucks, hippopotamus, and monkeys.  African Parks, a global NGO, has been managing some of Malawi’s protected areas including Liwonde.  They are in the process of installing fences around the perimeter of the park and recently they have moved some elephants from Liwonde to protected areas further north.  Prince Harry visited Liwonde the week before we arrived to help with this project.

On Monday July 10 my students and I participated in a day-long workshop organized by Professor Chikosa Banda of Chancellor College of Law.  The workshop, which was held at the law school, focused on environmental law clinical education at Chancellor College of Law.  I spoke in the morning on the history of the global environmental justice movement.  Maryland 3L Taylor Lilley spoke on different models of environmental law clinics around the world.  Maryland 2L Julia Kenny described how the student practice rule works in the U.S. and Atiji Phiri, a native Malawian who who just received her LLM from Maryland, discussed the role of citizen suits in environmental enforcement in the U.S. and Malawi.  We were honored to learn that a member of the audience including one of the few female chiefs of a village in Malawi.  Following the conference we visited the Zomba office of the NGO Leadership on Environment and Development (LEAD), which is using drones to help communities learn more about how to protect their local environments.

On Tuesday July 11 we traveled from Zomba to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, where we met with staff from the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD).  They explained the challenges they face in implementing a new National Environmental Management Act, which Parliament has just passed, but which has not yet taken effect.  The law will create a new Ministry of Environmental Protection and open the door to citizen suits by virtually eliminating standing requirements for environmental NGOs.  Implementation of the legislation will be particularly challenging because there are only two lawyers in the current EAD.  Following our meeting we visited the Mausoleum of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled Malawi from 1961 until 1994. Malawi became fully independent from Britain in 1964.

On Wednesday July 12 we traveled with Professor Chikosa Banda to Lake Chilwa in eastern Malawi.  The lake, which is the second largest in Malawi, is surrounded by wetland and has no outlet. It is severely polluted from runoff, and at times has dried up entirely.  A World Health Organization (WHO) project was providing free cholera shots at the lakeside.  We visited a climate change adaptation project that included a solar-powered facility to help a community dry fish.  On Thursday July 13 we traveled to Mount Mulanje, a 3,000-meter massif that is part of the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve.  At the offices of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust, an NGO established in part with funds from the government of Norway, we were briefed by program officer Moffat Kayembe.  He warned that despite the forest reserve, deforestation was occurring rapidly due to illegal logging.  We then hiked to the Likhubula Pools, formed by a stream flowing from the massif.

On Friday July 14 Atiji Phiri’s parents hosted a dinner for our group in Blantyre where we sampled local delicacies and met Atiji’s extended family.  On Sunday July 16 we traveled to Cape Maclear on the shores of Lake Malawi.  Lake Malawi is the ninth largest lake in the world and the third largest in Africa.  It is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world and more sfish pecies than North America and Europe have combined.  We saw many of the species of cichlids during a boat trip to an island in the lake, as well as some Nile crocodiles late at night attracted by some of our students dipping their toes into the water. 

On Tuesday July 18 we visited the Satemwa Tea Estate in Thyolo south of Blantyre.  We toured  historic Huntington House on the estate grounds.  We then visited Game Haven, a private game reserve where we saw zebras, eland and giraffes.  On Wednesday July 19 we visited the Center for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CLEAR) in Blantyre.  William Chadza, Executive Director of CLEAR, briefed us on the challenges facing environmental NGOs in Malawi.  He noted that four of the five sewage treatment plants in the country are not working and he took us to a site where a sewage pipe is broken and spewing untreated effluent into a stream used by many people.  Later on July 19 we visited the Malaria Alert Center at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre.  A week before Madonna, who has adopted children from Malawi, opened a new wing of the hospital.

I have put together a 22-minute slideshow of the Malawi environmental law field trip that can be viewed at:

Before traveling to Malawi, I spent a weekend in Sydney, Australia meeting with the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) for whom I serve as an advisor.  The panel members met at the offices of the Wilderness Society in Sydney on July 1 & 2.  The panel’s technical papers, an overview report and 57 recommendations for improving environmental law in Australia is available online at:  The panel was created in 2014 when Australia’s then prime minister Tony Abbott was doing to Australian environmental law what President Trump is trying to do now.  Early in the month I published a piece on “How Environmentalists Can Regroup for the Trump Era” in The Conversation.  It has been widely reprinted, including in Salon ( .  The article notes that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently has struck down as illegal EPA’s attempt to suspend a regulation regulating methane leaks from new oil and gas operations. 

Next month I will be hiking in Iceland (from August 9-18) and then traveling to the U.S. west coast to view the August 21 total solar eclipse before starting fall classes on August 28.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Trump Announces Intent to Withdraw from Paris Climate Accord, 15 IUCN Academy Colloquium in Cebu, Murr Decision (by Bob Percival)

On June 1 President Donald Trump announced that he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  He did so against the advice of the leaders of major corporations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his daughter Ivana.  Several world leaders criticized the decision, which cannot take effect until November 2020 under the terms of the agreement.  Only two other countries in the world have rejected the Paris Agreement - Nicaragua (on the ground that it is not strong enough) and Syria. In his statement announcing the withdrawal, President Trump falsely asserted that the agreement “punishes the United States . . . while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”  He also falsely asserted that the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. economy $3 trillion dollars in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs. In an effort to mollify some of his critics, Trump bizarrely announced that the U.S. would “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”  World leaders promptly rejected any suggestion of renegotiating the Paris Accord.  Several states, cities, corporations, and universities have pledged to work to achieve the U.S. goals in the Paris Accord for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions despite the federal government's withdrawal.

I spent the end of May and the first week of June at the 15th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which was held in Cebu, Philippines.  The Colloquium is the annual gathering of members of the Academy, a consortium of more than 200 law schools from 60 countries.  More than 180 environmental law professors and students from 30 countries attended the Colloquium, which was hosted by the University of Cebu.  The theme of this year’s colloquium was “Stories of the World We Want - and the Law as a Pathway.”  Two of my students presented papers at the Colloquium. Rising 3L Shannon Himes presented a paper on “Expanding Marine Protected Areas to Mitigate Climate Change: A Comparison of Hawaii and the Philippines.”  Her presentation incorporated photos she took the previous day while visiting Philippine marine protected areas.  Rising 3L Kerri Morrison presented a paper on “National and Multinational Strategies for Radioactive Waste Disposal.”  Kerri’s paper had been published in the Environmental Law Reporter (47 ELR 47300) in April 2017.  I addressed a plenary session of the Colloquium on June 2 that focused on environmental success stories.  I reviewed lessons that can be learned from the history of the successful global effort to phase out leaded gasoline.  I also delivered remarks at the closing reception of the Colloquium, which was held in the historic 16th-century Fort San Pedro in Cebu City.

This year’s Colloquium featured keynote addresses from Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Philippine environmental activist Tony Oposa, Jr. as well as an opening reception hosted by Hilario Davide III, Governor of Cebu Province. Several professors from Southeast Asian law schools who participated in the Academy’s Training the Teachers (TTT) program also attended the Colloquium.  Funded by a grant from the Asian Development Bank, the TTT program is helping hundreds of professors to develop competence in environmental law.  In the past 12 months, TTT workshops have been held in China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.  During the next 12 months programs will be held in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Nepal.  Maryland’s Environmental Law Partnership with Pace University’s Haub School of Law serves as the Secretariat for the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law.   

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by property rights advocates to make it easier to claim a regulatory taking when regulations permit development on only one of two adjacent parcels of land held in common ownership.  In Murr v. Wisconsin, the Court voted 5-3 that this did not constitute a regulatory taking requiring the government to compensate the property owner.  The Court’s 5-3 majority opinion (with Justice Gorsuch not participating) was written by Justice Kennedy who emphasized the importance of taking a flexible and pragmatic approach to determining what constitutes the “parcel as a whole” in assessing the fairness of regulatory burdens.  He agreed with the conclusion of Wisconsin courts that the adjacent parcels of land should be considered as one because they had the same owners.  Otherwise there would be an incentive for what Kennedy called “strategic unbundling” of property rights to undermine the traditional “parcel as a whole” approach.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump Postpones Decision on Paris Agreement, Global Seed Vault Breached, Methane Rule Upheld, Goldman Prizes, Cebu Colloquium (by Bob Percival)

Facing conflicting recommendations from top advisers, President Donald Trump has decided to postpone a decision concerning whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement until after he hears the opinion of other world leaders at the G-8 Summit meeting in Taormina, Italy on May 26-27, 2017.

Melting permafrost on the Norweigan island of Spitsbergen has caused seepage into the entrance tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.  The vault is located inside a mountain in an abandoned Arctic coal mine, far below the permafrost.  It is designed to help preserve the world’s crops and plants in the event of a global disaster.  Global warming has caused some of the permafrost unexpectedly to melt, permitting seepage to breach the entrance tunnel where it froze as the seeds are kept at below freezing temperatures.  Trenches are being dug to divert seepage away from the facility, which is owned by the government of Norway.  Pumps are being installed in the event of further flooding.

Although challenges to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan were argued last September before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, no decision has been issued.  On April 28 the court issued an order suspending the litigation for 60 days while asking for briefing on whether to return the rule to EPA.  Environmental groups want the court to decide the case because the legal issues it  

In April the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the Obama administration to halt consideration of a case involving the question whether challenges to the “waters of the U.S.” rule should be heard first in federal district court or in the U.S. Courts of Appeal.  The Court announced in January that it would grant a petition for review in National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense, No. 16-299.  Environmentalists argued that even if the Trump administration repeals the rule, the same legal issues concerning the appropriate venue to challenge that action will be presented.  Twenty-two petitions for review of the rule were filed in the U.S. Courts of Appeal while 18 lawsuits challenging the rule were filed in federal district courts.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued a nationwide stay of the rule, but it has suspended its consideration of the merits of the legal challenges until after the Supreme Court rules on the appropriate venue.

On May 10 the U.S. Senate by a vote of 51-49 rejected an effort to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to veto a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulation limiting emissions of methane from oil and gas drilling on federal lands.  Three Republican Senators - Lindsay Graham (SC), Susan Collins (ME), and John McCain (AZ) - joined all 48 Democrats in voting against the resolution.  Vice President Mike Pence had been on hand to break a potential tie, but Senator McCain surprised observers by providing the decisive vote against the resolution.  He cited the fact that a CRA veto would bar BLM from regulating methane emissions in the future.  This is a significant, symbolic victory for environmentalists, though it remains possible that the Trump administration will suspend or alter the regulations.

On April 24 the recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize for 2017 were announced at a ceremony in San Francisco.  They include Uroš Maceri from Slovenia, Prafulla Samantara from India, mark Lopez! from the U.S., Rodrigo Tot from Guatemala, Rodrigue Mugarka Katembo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Wendy Bowman from Australia.  Maceri stopped a cement kiln from being allowed to co-incinerate petcoke and hazardous waste. Samantara helped protect the Niyamgiri Hills from a proposed open-pit aluminum mine.  Lopez persuaded the state of California to clean up pollution from a battery smelter in East Los Angeles.  Tot won a lawsuit requiring the government of Guatemala to issue land titles to his Q’eqchi community and to halt the expansion of nickel mining.  Katembo exposed bribery and corruption by proponents of oil drilling in Virunga National Park.  Bowman stopped a multinational mining company from taking her family farm and subjecting other residents of the Hunter Valley from further coal pollution. More detailed descriptions of their accomplishments are available online at: 

The global shift toward renewable energy sources continues.  On April 21, for the first time since the 1800s, Great Britain went a full day without burning any coal to generate electricity.  Several other countries previously have eliminated the use of coal-fired powerplants, including Belgium, Norway, and Switzerland.  Britain has not closed all its coal-fired power plants, but the few remaining ones did not operate on April 21 due to reduced demand for electricity then. Katrin Bennhold, For First Time Since 1800s, Britain Goes a Day Without Burning Coal for Electricity, N.Y. Times, April 22, 2017, at A6.

On Thursday May 25 I leave for Cebu, Philippines to participate in the 15th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which will be held from May 31-June 3.  On May 29 & 30 there will be pre-colloquium programs on environmental law teaching and research. This will be the first colloquium with the Maryland/Pace Partnership in Environmental Law serving as the Secretariat for the Academy.  We are particularly excited about welcoming participants from several law schools in Vietnam who participated in the Academy’s Training the Trainers program funded by the Asian Development Bank. Our Maryland delegation will include Managing Director William Piermattei and two students who have just completed their second year of law school - Shannon Himes and Kerri Morrison.  The theme of the colloquium is “Stories of the World We Want - and Law as a Pathway.”  I will be addressing the successful global effort to phase out leaded gasoline.  Shannon will be presenting a paper on marine protected areas and Kerri will be presenting a paper comparing various countries’ efforts to dispose of high-level radioactive waste.  Kerri’s paper on “National and Multinational Strategies for Radioactive Waste Disposal” was published in April by the Environmental Law Reporter (47 ELR 47300).