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, December 28, 2008

Hong Kong, Harbin, Holidays & Chinese Gas Taxes

On Monday night I returned to the U.S. after my latest visit to China. The atmosphere in Beijing seemed quite different from the pre-Olympic frenzy that gripped it when I left last July. There is far less construction in evidence and concern about the impact of the global economic slump is pervasive. Chinese students seem far more concerned about the job market than they were when I was last there.

I spent December 15-19 in Hong Kong, my first visit there since 1981. Not surprisingly, Hong Kong has changed quite a bit in the last few decades. One of the most striking changes is that Victoria Harbor is far less congested with boat traffic now that highway and subway tunnels provide alternative means for crossing it. I took the Peak Tram, a funicular that has been in operation since 1888, to the top of Victoria Peak, as I had done in 1981. The view from the Sky Terrace atop the Peak remains spectacular, though now it is marred by numerous, cheesy commercial enterprises that one has to pass through before emerging on the Sky Terrace. After descending from the peak I had a great lunch at M at the Fringe, a restaurant located in an historic part of Hong Kong that has the same owners as Shanghai’s great M on the Bund. Earlier in the week I met my Maryland colleague Professor Shruti Rana for lunch in Kowloon where I stayed. Shruti was in Hong Kong to do a site visit for a new clinical externship that Maryland is establishing there.

Hong Kong seems so different from Beijing. In Beijing the vast majority of taxis still do not have working seat belts for their passengers (most taxis drivers have removed either the belts or the buckles). In Hong Kong the taxis not only have seat belts that work, but they also prominently display a warning that the drivers can be fined if any passengers are discovered not to be wearing seat belts. While I certainly do not advocate a nanny state (and I still rail against the outrageous French regulation requiring male swimmers at public pools to wear bikini briefs), seat belts have become fundamental to public safety. Today is the anniversary of the day in 1970 when I was in an auto accident that killed my best friend and debate partner and another acquaintance because they were not wearing seat belts. I feel distinctly at risk in Beijing whenever I am in a taxi without working seat belts, particularly when the driver seems to be auditioning for NASCAR.

The Hong Kong press is distinctly freer than the press in Beijing. The Hong Kong newspapers carry reports about criticism of the Chinese government, demonstrations on the mainland, and books banned on the mainland that one would not expect to see in the Beijing press.

On Friday December 19 I flew back to Beijing and then spent the weekend in Harbin, a city of four million people located more than 600 miles north of Beijing. Harbin is the city where the December 2005 benzene spill in the Songhua River forced the authorities to shut off local drinking water supplies for an extended period. Harbin is close to Russian Siberia. Historically it has had a large Russian population and St. Sofia’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral is one of the major tourist attractions in downtown Harbin.

I arrived in Harbin the day after a snowstorm had hit the city and the temperature was as low as -24 degrees Centigrade (-11 degrees Fahrenheit). While the extreme temperature and a chill wind made it uncomfortable to expose any flesh to the elements, Harbin residents were reveling in preparations for the city’s annual Snow and Ice Festival. The festival, which features hundreds of elaborate snow and ice sculptures along the river, does not officially open until January 5, but many snow sculptures already have been completed. Locals were skating on the frozen Songhua River, roaring down ice slides, and a few were even diving into the freezing water through holes cut in the ice to demonstrate to tourists that they were unfazed by the cold.

I visited the Siberian Tiger Park outside Harbin where a captive breeding program has produced more than 400 of these magnificent animals. Tourists tour the park in specially reinforced vans and can watch the tigers feeding. Unfortunately, the precipitous decline in suitable habitat for Siberian tigers in Northern China has made it impossible to reintroduce them into the wild where it is estimated that a population of only approximately 200 remain. Photos of my trips to Hong Kong and Harbin are available online at: Videos are available online at:

Back in the U.S. for the holidays I noticed that the price of gasoline in Baltimore is now as low as $1.59 a gallon, less than 40% of what it had been in July when gasoline prices exceeded $4 per gallon. The precipitous decline in the price of oil since July may once again kill the incentive for expanded investments in renewable energy, as occurred when oil prices declined during the 1980s and 1990s. In China the government controls gasoline prices, which were among the lowest in the world until they were increased in the first half of the year when global crude oil prices soared. On December 19 the Chine government responded to the decline in global oil prices by reducing the price of gasoline by 14 percent. However, China also will increase its tax on gasoline five-fold effective January 1 from approximately 3 cents to 15 cents per liter (or roughly from 11 cents to 56 cents per gallon). Many believe that a similar strategy would make a lot of sense for the United States, see Thomas L. Friedman, “Win, Win, Win, Win, Win . . .”, New York Times, Dec. 28, 2008, p. 8 (Week in Review), though it is widely viewed as politically impossible.

While I was in China the Chinese press put a somewhat positive spin on the Poznan Conference, while stressing the importance of poverty alleviation and greater financial aid to developing countries as elements of any post-Kyoto regime to control emissions of greenhouse gases. They also reported on a largely symbolic auction of carbon credits that occurred on the China Beijing Environment Exchange on December 11. The credits had been “earned” by 81,670 commuters who opted to take public transportation from July 20 to September 20. They were calculated by scientists from Tsinghua University and Environmental Defense. Si Tingting, “Symbolic Efforts,” China Daily, Dec. 22, 2008.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Golden Tree" Awards & CUPL Moot Court Practice

On Thursday I arrived in China for a reunion with the students I taught last spring while a Fulbright scholar at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). On Friday morning I met with Professor Wang Canfa, the CUPL professor who is director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV). He had just received a copy of the Chinese edition of Esquire magazine that had named him one of the 30 hottest men in China. The magazine had an Annie Liebowitz-type photo of him standing next to the famous Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the Beijing Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies. Ma Jun, the environmental law professor from Peking University also was one of the 30, which included Yao Ming and Jackie Chan.

After I met with the students on CUPL's International Environmental Moot Court team, Professor Wang and I went to lunch. We were joined by Professor Xu Kezhu and other members of the CLAPV staff. At lunch we discussed CLAPV's growing litigation docket and recent developments in Chinese environmental law. Professor Wang noted that there are now specialized environmental courts in at least four provinces in China. One judge from such a court has expressly recognized the right of registered NGOs to bring public interest litigation. CLAPV is involved in a wide variety of cases, many of which center on failures to comply wth environmental assessment requirements. On Monday Professor Xu will be appearing in court in Shanghai to represent CLAPV in its challenge to the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau’s (EPB’s) refusal to release certain environmental assessment documents in response to a request from CLAPV under China’s new open information law. Ironically, in May I spoke at a conference co-sponsored by the Shanghai EPB and NRDC to encourage broad use of the new law. The judge hearing CLAPV's challenge seems interested in persuading the litigants to settle, though CLAPV staff believe that the case can be a vehicle for establishing an important precedent for public access to information.

After lunch we returned to CUPL where we held an awards ceremony to honor the students who had made films in my environmental law class last spring. The awards were the result of voting by an independent panel of seven judges, including Professors Taunya Banks and Kathy Vaughns from Maryland, former Fulbrighter Alan Lepp, Maryland alums Karla Schaffer, David Mandell, and Lewis Taylor, and former student filmmaker Bob Clemons. "Golden Tree” awards were presented in eight categories. “White Pollution,” a film that examines the new law banning free distribution of plastic bags at Chinese grocery stores, won awards for Most Educational, Best Interviews, and Best Picture. “Disposable Chopsticks,” a film about the environmental consequences of using disposable chopsticks, won the award for Best Acting. “Red Beijing,” a film that examined the daily consequences of air and noise pollution in Beijing, won awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. ”Banana’s Fault,” which focused on the consequences of improper waste disposal, won the award for Best Use of Humor. A Special Judge’s Award was given to “Loving Animals Is Loving Ourselves” for Creativity for filming from the animal’s perspective.

Following the awards ceremony, we conducted a moot court practice session for the CUPL students who have entered the Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition. CUPL is becoming the first Chinese law school ever to compete in this event. I served as a judge along with my Maryland colleague Shruti Rana, who is in Beijing to lecture as part of our exchange program with the Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE), and Maryland 3L Nathan Hopkins, who is participating in the Maryland/CUFE exchange program. Considering that it was their first argument, the CUPL students did an absolutely fabulous job. They were unflappable and yet appropriately deferential to the judges who peppered them with lots of challenging questions. I am really proud of the team that CUPL has put together for this competition.

Friday night I attended a performance by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at the National Center for the Performing Arts, the spectacular new structure near Tiananmen Square known affectionately as “the egg” because of its shape. It was the first time I had been inside this breathtaking building. I was a guest of CUPL Professor Xu Kezhu, who is leaving CLAPV this month to join her husband in Caracas, Venezuela where he is a diplomat with the Chinese Embassy.

On Saturday I flew to Shanghai where I visited my friends Dan Guttman and Zhenzhi Zhong. We had lunch and dinner together with Dan’s friend Jonathan Moreno, a bioethics professor at Penn who also works for the Center for American Progress. On Sunday I toured the Bund and then joined Dan and ZZ to explore the Taikang Lu art district before having dinner together at a Yunnan folk restaurant. On Monday I fly to Hong Kong.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


On Monday my Environmental Law students showed the films they made this semester. Each year I encourage students in the class to form small groups and to choose environmental issues they care about to be the subject of short (5 to 7 minute) films. This year the class produced eight wonderfully creative films. They included: “Sustainable Harvest: A Visit to the Baltimore Farmer’s Market” by Natalie Baughman, Lisetta SIlvestri, Kim Stefanski, and Lynne McChrystal; “There Doesn’t Have to Be Blood” by Jordan Vardon (a film about the benefits of solar energy); “Urban Legends of the Inner Harbor” by Andrew Keir, Manali Patel, Eric Hergenroeder, Chris Montague-Breakwell, Daniella Einik, and Patrick Smith (a film about pollution in Baltimore’s inner harbor and the health consequences of falling into it); “The Percival News Network” by John Archibald, Carter Beach, Joey Chen, and Raima Taib (environmental news featuring an interview with Maryland Secretary of the Environment Sherri Wilson); “The Blue Mount Quarry and the Gunpowder River” by Talley Kovacs and Brooke O’Hanley (highlighting the environmental effects of an expanded quarry operation near the Gunpowder River); “Sustainable Shrimp Farming” by Eva Carbot, Aminah Famili, Jesse Iliff, Emily Lipps, Megan Mueller, Limor Weizmann (examining the how entrepreneurs in Maryland are trying to make shrimp farming sustainable); “Swann Field” by Katy Jackman, Rene Parks and Rebecca Seitz (focusing on the cleanup of arsenic contamination in a Baltimore park); and “Greenco” by Kim Myers and Scott Yager (a collection of environmental wisdom from commercials, including a marvelous scene of a Hummer talking to a Prius). After the students polish their films following exams, the films will be submitted to an independent panel of judges who will vote for “Golden Tree” awards that will be presented to the best films next March at our annual Environmental Film Awards Festival.

On Wednesday I leave for China for a reunion with the students I taught during the spring semester 2008 at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) in Beijing. I am really looking forward to seeing them again. On Friday, December 12 I will host a “Golden Trees” awards ceremony to honor the top films made by the CUPL students in my class last spring. I also will host a practice moot court session for the CUPL students who will be competing in the International Environmental Law Moot Court at Stetson University School of Law in March 2009. CUPL will become the first law school in China ever to enter this competition.

Three years ago this month I was in Beijing for a meeting of the China Council on International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) that focused on the massive benzene spill in the Songhua River that then was creating an international incident. The spill was caused by an explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin. It forced the 4-day shutdown of public water supplies in Harbin, China, a town of 4 million residents that I will be visiting on December 20th. Despite Chinese efforts to control the spill, it flowed northward across the border into Russia, sparking public protests.

The photo above, which I obtained from Bie Tao, then chief legal counsel for China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), was taken when he traveled to Russia to discuss the spill with Russian officials. I showed it to my class and asked them whether anyone could translate the sign for me. After consulting with friends and relatives with Russian language skills, two students reported the following translations: “This is our order. If you take a crap, clean up after yourself.” “We have a certain procedure. Our rules are as follows: if you shit, you clean up after yourself.” The students explained that when spoken in Russian it actually rhymes and is quite clever, even if the spill was not.

On Monday the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP-14) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change convened in Poznan, Poland. Alan Miller, one of the co-authors of my Environmental Regulation casebook, is attending the conference. I spoke with him before he left and he noted that the incoming Obama administration is being represented by Senator John Kerry at the conference, which will conclude on December 12. It is hoped that this conference will produce some progress toward a new global climate agreement that could be signed when COP-15 is held in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Winetasting Party, Midnight Regulations, and a Federal Reserve Approach to Combat Climate Change

On Friday November 21 the University of Maryland Environmental Law Program hosted its 16th annual Winetasting Party for students, faculty and alumni. This event originated in 1992 when a former dean encouraged faculty who require students to use casebooks authored by them to rebate to students the royalties earned from the casebook purchases in the form of a party. Since my Environmental Law students use my casebook, I provide the wines each year and the school provides the food. The event has grown in size each year as the number of alums from our program increases. This year it also served as a retirement party for Program Coordinator Laura Mrozek who on Wednesday retired after 22 years of service to the school. More than 250 people attended this year’s event to honor her. The alums presented Laura and the school with a check for more than $5,000 to fund a public interest summer grant in her honor. Photos from the event are posted online at:

It was terrific to see so many alums at the party, though it was frustrating that because of the huge turnout there was not enough time to get to catch up with all of them. To honor Laura’s retirement, I brought some of the very best wines from my cellar, including a 1982 and a 1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, some other 1982 Bordeauxs, and some of the best California cabernets from the early 1980s. I have always thought that protection of the environment and enjoyment of wine go hand in hand. Our Environmental Law Program has even commissioned wine glasses with a logo that says “Wine -- Nature’s Thanks for Preserving the Earth”.

Last year Britain launched a new approach to tackling climate change modeled on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee that since 1997 has removed interest rate policy decisions from the political process. To insulate greenhouse gas reduction targets from political manipulation, the country enacted a law establishing an independent Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Jonathan Adair Turner, a former Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. Composed of experts in environmental science, economics, and business, the panel next week will publish three carbon budgets to govern different parts of the British economy through the year 2022. These budgets are to be legally binding and enforceable against the British government, though not all the legal details have been worked out yet. Of course, if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions engender widespread public opposition, Parliament could always repeal the law, just as the U.S. Congress could abolish independent agencies like the Federal Reserve Board.

On Tuesday November 25 I was interviewed on Baltimore’s National Public Radio station (WYPR) about the Bush administration’s efforts to issue “midnight regulations” to weaken environmental protections. A tape of the program, “Maryland Mornings with Sheila Kast,” is available online at: While I noted that every administration in recent years has issued a flurry of regulations at the end of its term, I distinguished between regulations long in the pipeline that involve “finishing your homework” and efforts to rush through parting gifts to special interest groups. I argued that most of the Bush administration’s efforts fall into the latter category. During the interview I discussed how the incoming Obama administration and Congress could block or reverse the “midnight regulations” by suspending the effective date of regulatory changes that had not already gone into effect or using the Congressional Review Act to veto the changes. I also noted that some of the changes would be vulnerable to lawsuits challenging their legality because they had been rushed through the process so quickly. The most difficult actions to reverse will be the awarding of leases for oil drilling on public lands because the leases create entitlements. While the Bush administration revealed last week that it had scrapped plans to lease a few parcels near national parks after objections from the National Park Service, it seems determined to lease some other areas that may affect aesthetics at the parks.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

IUCN Academy Colloquium in Mexico City

Nearly two hundred environmental law professors from 41 countries gathered in Mexico City this week for the annual colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. The event was hosted by the Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico City under the leadership of Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Vice Chair of the Academy. It featured full-days of presentations on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, a field trip on Wednesday, and a half day of presentations on Friday, followed by a closing ceremony passing the torch to Wuhan University, which will host next year’s colloquium.

Many of the presentations dealt with climate change issues, including a terrific presentation by Professor Lesley McAllister who reviewed problems with existing cap-and-trade programs and questioned whether they would be successful when applied to control emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Anita Ronne from the University of Copenhagen described how Denmark’s development of renewal energy has enabled the country to increase GDP by 56% since 1989 while reducing CO2 emissions by 22%. She noted that on October 24, 51 countries meeting in Madrid agreed to establish an International Renewable Energy Agency to promote further development of renewables. A treaty establishing the agency will be signed in Madrid on January 26. Professor David Hodas emphasized the importance of establishing a global cap on GHG emissions and argued for immediate focus on GHG control actions on which even countries with divergent interests could agree. Professor Wang Xi from Shanghai Jiao Tong University noted that a large portion of Chinese emissions of GHG are caused by the products exported to the U.S. and other developed countries, which has been referred to as “carbon laundering”. Professor Marjan Peters of the University of Maastricht raised the idea of personable tradable carbon allowances in the form of “carbon credit cards”.

There was considerable discussion of the impact of the global financial crisis on global environmental protection efforts. Ricardo Sanchez from UNEP’s regional office for Latin America noted that crises often can be opportunities for promoting new policies, but others noted that many countries, including Mexico, will be forced to reduce their environmental protection budgets due to economic difficulties.

One of the great features of these annual colloquia is that they present an opportunity to learn about environmental law and policy developments throughout the world. Alfred Mumma from the University of Nairobi described his work as a member of Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal, which was established in 2003. This specialized body of lawyers and scientists primarily has been hearing cases involving housing developments who need environmental impact assessment licenses. Disputes over the standing of neighborhood groups to appeal approvals of development projects have been a prominent issue before the tribunal. One advantage of the Tribunal is that it has taken on average only 6 months to resolve cases that would take an average of three years if litigated through Kenya’s court system. Rock Pring from the University of Denver described the results of his fascinating year-long collaboration with his wife on a study 35 specialized environmental courts in 21 countries. He noted that most such courts are established to increase access to environmental justice, though there is considerable variation in their jurisdiction and practices. Bangladesh’s environmental court heard only 17 cases last year due to its requirement that litigants must first receive permission from a government ministry. Sweden’s court only allows Swedish NGOs with more than 2,000 members to have standing, which limits the universe of NGOs who can appear before the court to two.

There was considerable discussion of developments in environmental law in Mexico. The governor of Mexico’s Federal District, Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, hosted a reception for the IUCN Academy at his government’s offices in a historic 16th-century building adjoining the Zócalo, the largest main square in Latin America. He is committed to promoting green development and has launched several new policies, including vehicle-free mornings to promote bicycle use and the appointment of an experienced, independent prosecutor, Diana Ponce Nava, to focus on environmental cases. Several presentations focused on Mexico’s efforts to improve the management of protected areas by involving local communities in their management. Jose Cibrian Tovar, Director General of Mexico’s National Forest Commission, described “Pro Arbol” program to pay locals for forest preservation efforts. Some speakers noted that a major problem facing Mexican environmental protection efforts is that virtually all major projects involving development of natural resources in the country are tainted by corruption in some form.

At a plenary session on Monday I made a presentation on “Global Environmental Law and Poverty Alleviation.” I discussed the globalization of environmental law, a topic that I will explore in more depth during my Garrison Lecture at Pace Law School on April 1. I then explored how three global crises - the financial crisis, dramatic fluctuations in oil and food prices, and the climate crisis - are jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development goals, particularly the goals of poverty alleviation and environmental protection.

Following the meeting with the governor on Wednesday there was a field trip to “Los Dinamos,” a forest preserve in the mountains outside of Mexico City named for small hydropower plants that were used to power a textile industry in the 18th century. Local residents escorted our group on hikes up into the forest. They described some of the difficulties facing the community because of the lack of clear legal protections for communal property.

Abstracts and papers prepared for the colloquium will be posted on the Academy’s website at: A gallery of photos I took at the conference and in Mexico City is available at: Surprisingly, many U.S. law schools who have specialized environmental law programs are not yet members of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. In fact, I am told that there are now more law schools in China that are members than U.S. law schools. We hope to encourage more U.S. law schools to become academy members in the future.

After lunch on Tuesday we were treated to a performance of indigenous dancers, wearing thongs and elaborate feather costumes, who persuaded most of the conference participants to join them in dancing. Seeing professors in suits holding hands with Mayan dancers and running around a ceremonial circle was most amusing. On Thursday I also was amused, during a brief sightseeing trip around Mexico City, to see a group of naked protesters who covered their private parts with photos of the government officials who were the targets of their protest.

I arrived back in the U.S. on Friday just in time to join my dean at a dinner with two of our school’s most illustrious alums - Robert Parker, the world’s leading wine critic, and Jamie McCourt, president and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Parker brought the wines, which were paired with each of eight courses prepared by Cindy Wolf, executive chef and co-owner of Baltimore’s Charleston restaurant. Parker’s running commentary on the fifteen different wines we tasted made for a most educational evening, as did his (and Jamie McCourt’s) recollections of what our law school used to be like. Needless to say, the food and wine were spectacular. Next Friday I will be hosting our Environmental Law Program’s annual winetasting party for students and alums.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama Wins, Rotterdam Convention COP-4, EU Auto Carbon Emissions, ELI DInner & MSU Conference

Much has happened in the past two weeks. Environmentalists in the U.S. are walking around with big smiles on their faces after the stunning election of Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. The election was a decisive victory with Obama winning 53% of the popular vote to John McCain’s 46%. In electoral votes, which are what matters to win the election (Al Gore had 543,895 more popular votes than George W. Bush in 2000) Obama received 364 electoral votes to McCain’s 174. Democrats picked up at least six seats in the Senate (with three races remaining to be decided) and 19 seats in the House (with six races still to be decided). This election result is likely to produce significant, positive changes in federal environmental policy.

The fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the Rotterdam Convention failed to add chrysotile (white) asbestos to the list of hazardous substances that require prior informed consent before they can be exported from one country to another. While 120 countries supported the proposal to add chrysotile asbestos to the list, opposition by India, Kyrgistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Ukraine, Pakistan and the Phillippines blocked the proposal, not on scientific grounds, but on political grounds. It will be reconsidered next year at COP-5. For background on the controversy, which charges the Candian government with hypocrisy in continuing to export such a dangerous product that is rarely used in Canada today, see “Hazardous Hypocrisy,” Economist, October 25, 2008, p. 49.

European Union states agreed to delay compliance with new rules to limit carbon emissions from automobiles to 2015. The decision is considered a victory for the continent’s auto industry, which had opposed the previous plan to require compliance by 2012.

On Monday November 3, Fulbright scholar Emmanuel Kasimbazi from Uganda, who is visiting at the University of Maryland School of Law this fall, gave a talk on the role of developed and developing countries in combating climate change. A large group of students from the Maryland Environmental Law Society (MELS) attended the talk, which was held at the law school. On Wednesday November 5 Emanuel and I attended the Environmental Law Institute’s Annual Dinner. Unfortunately, heavy traffic following my environmental law class kept us from attending the pre-dinner reception. At the dinner we heard this year’s honoree, former ELI President J. William Futrell, give a talk emphasizing the importance of focusing environmental concern on the protection of soils.

On Friday, November 7, I spoke at a conference at Michigan State University College of Law on “Administrative Statutory Interpretation.” I addressed the question of whether regulatory statutes should be interpreted to give the President directive authority over agency heads in making regulatory decisions (“Who’s in Charge? Interpreting Agency Regulatory Authority in the Era of Presidential Management”). The conference featured a stellar group of administrative law scholars. Jerry Mashaw presented a fascinating paper on administrative law in the 19th century, which included fascinating research on the commission Congress established in 1832 to regulate the safety of steamship boilers. Cary Coglianese presented data questioning whether the Supreme Court’s Chevron decision has changed the rate of judicial reversal of agency decisions. Dick Pierce criticized the Court’s 2007 decisions in Massachusetts v. EPA and NAHB v. Defenders of Wildlife for holding it impermissible for an agency to consider factors other than those specifically mandated by statute.

I am now in Mexico City for Sixth Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. The theme of the conference is “Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Duke & Maryland Conferences, EU Regulations on Aircraft Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

On Friday October 24 I spoke at a conference at Duke Law School on “The Future Environmental Agenda: Environmental Law and Policy Challenges Facing the Next President.” The conference was the 2008 Symposium of Duke’s Environmental Law & Policy Forum. It featured a terrific collection of speakers who addressed the environmental agenda at the international level and with respect to natural resources law and pollution control. I was on the pollution control panel along with former EPA general counsel Don Elliott, Environmental Defense Fund assistant general counsel Vickie Patton and Professor Noah Sachs from the University of Richmond. There was a lively debate over whether cap and trade or carbon tax approaches were the best policy for responding to global warming and climate change.

I made a presentation on “Presidential Transitions and the Environment.” Reviewing transitions the Carter administration to the present, I noted that while it once was considered presumptious for a presidential candidate to start transition planning prior to the election, it now has become essential to do so. I argued that the notion of a “honeymoon” for a new administration was largely a myth since there have been so many instances where opponents try to test a new administration, often derailing important administration initiatives. More information about the symposium can be obtained at:

Unfortunately the Duke conference coincided with a terrific Maryland conference on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The conference featured presentations by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, former South African Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, and South African Constitutional Court Justice Bess Nkabinde. Because I was at Duke I missed the conference, but I was able to attend a talk by Mary Robinson today. After her presentation I asked her what the new U.S. President could do to restore its tarnished human rights reputation. She recommended that the new President immediately announce a policy of “no torture and no renditions,” close Guantanamo, and reengage with the UN Commission on Human Rights.

On Friday, October 24, the European Union (EU) approved a cap of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from airlines flying into or out of the EU. Citing the global economic turmoil, the director general of the International Air Transport Association denounced the new regulations, which he claimed would cost airlines $4.4 billion. The regulations take effect on January 1, 2012. Mindful of the potential economic impact of the regulations, the regulations allow start-up airlines and airlines growing faster than 18% a year to qualify for the issuance of a limited supply of additional fre permits.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Will the Global FInancial Crisis Undermine Efforts to Control Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

As the global economic crisis continues to cause turmoil, concern is growing that it will force governments to shelve efforts to adopt new controls on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to respond to global warming and climate change. Last week Canadian voters returned the Conservative government to power in an election viewed in part as a rejection of the Liberal Party’s plan for a nationwide carbon tax. At the same time, resistance is growing to the plan the European Union (EU) adopted last year to reduce emissions of GHGs by 20% below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

At a meeting of EU heads of state in Brussels on October 15 & 16, several leaders questioned whether the 20/20 goal could be achieved in light of the current financial crisis. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi led the resistance with support from the leaders of Bulgaria, Latvia, and Poland, a country heavily dependent on coal. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who chaired the summit meeting, argued that it was crucial to maintain a consensus in favor of the 20/20 plan in order not to undermine negotiations with a new U.S. president on a global regime for controlling GHG emissions. Leaders of poorer Eastern European countries argued that some concessions should be made to accommodate them because it would be more difficult for them to meet the 20/20 goals given their greater dependence on fossil fuels. The leaders agreed to allow any of the 27 EU member countries to veto the final plan and they declined to set a December 2008 deadline for finalizing it. Stephen Castle, European Nations, Fearing Downturn, Seek to Revise Agreement on Emissions Cuts, New York Times, October 17, 2008, p. A6.

To be sure, there were other reasons for the Liberal Party’s defeat in the Canadian elections rather than simply voter opposition to a nationwide carbon tax. One report noted that Liberal Party leader Stéphan Dion’s less than stellar command of English could have been a factor. To make the carbon tax more appealing the Liberals had promised offsetting reductions in income taxes.

Every time the economy slows, arguments for relaxing environmental regulations seem more appealing to some, as illustrated by President George H.W. Bush’s actions during the 1992 presidential campaign. After having fought for the far-reaching 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments he imposed a regulatory moratorium that made it difficult to implement them and blamed the spotted owl for some of the economic troubles. No one enjoys an economic downturn and the current global financial crisis has been truly frightening at times because it appears to be of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression. But one also should remember that a slowdown in economic activity reduces emissions, including emissions of greenhouse gases, that will make it much easier to achieve any reduction goal, which is why Russia’s Kyoto commitment to reduce emissions over 1990 levels has been so easy to achieve. Stay tuned to see how these arguments play out when COP-14 is held in Poznan, Poland from December 1-12.

Monday, October 13, 2008

World Conservation Congress in Barcelona

On Sunday October 12 I returned from a week at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. The Congress, which is held every four years, attracted 8,000 environmental leaders from governments, NGOs, academia, and businesses in 177 countries. It opened on October 5 with an impressive opening ceremony featuring the theme “What Kind of World Do We Want to See?”

The first four days of the Congress were devoted to a Forum that featured hundreds of programs, exhibits, and poster sessions addressing a dizzying array of environmental issues. For example, on Tuesday I attended a session on the impact of climate change on the Arctic region. Moderated by Fran Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, it featured Jim Leape, co-author of my Environmental Regulation casebook and now director-general of the World Wildlife Fund, His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco, whose foundation has been supporting environmental initiatives, and scientist Jane Lubchenko from Oregon State University. Prince Albert showed a video of his trip to the North Pole that featured him lurching about with a GPS to locate the exact point where it would register 90 degrees north latitude where he planted the flag of Monaco. After the session I had my first opportunity to speak to Jim Leape since he moved to Switzerland to assume leadership of WWF in 2005.

While IUCN has become so large as to be almost unwieldy, one of the great features of the Congress is the diversity of its participants with scientists, lawyers, business people, activists and academics from every corner of the globe rubbing shoulders. This made for some lively exchanges at some of the sessions. At the Congress I finally got a chance to meet Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. He is probably the only prominent environmental professional in China that I did not manage to meet during my time teaching there in the spring. His Institute has prepared a database of polluting companies in China that is available online at It has received wide publicity in China as a tool for citizens to put pressure on companies to reduce their pollution. He discussed his use of the database in a video interview that is online at the IUCN website

The Congress also featured a Conservation Cinema that continuously showed environmental films from around the world. It was inspiring to see how many NGOs are now making videos and films, many of them highly sophisticated, to communicate environmental issues to the public. I am hoping that some of the films my students have been making may be shown at a future Congress. While I was at the Congress I had a group of former students who had made environmental films in my class speak to my current class and show them the films they had made. I introduced the speakers by videoconference from my hotel room in Barcelona. On Wednesday October 8, I used videoconferencing to introduce Neal Kemkar, a former student of mine who gave a guest lecture to my class on Winter v. NRDC, an environmental case argued that morning in the Supreme Court. Neal just finished a clerkship with Judge Betty Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit, the author of the Winter decision upholding an injunction restricting the Navy’s use of sonar because of its potential to harm marine mammals.

On Thursday evening, Sheila Abed, chair of the Commission on Environmental Law, sponsored a cocktail party for commission members at a hotel across from the Convention Center. This enabled me to catch up with many other environmental law professors from around the world, including many who I will see next month in Mexico City at the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law’s annual colloquium.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

World Conservation Congress, Lisbon & Vermont

Today I arrived in Barcelona for the opening of the World Conservation Congress. The Congress, sponsored by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is held every four years. Four years ago in 2004 I attended the Congress in Bangkok and in 2000 I participated in it when it was held in Amman, Jordan, with Queen Noor as the host. IUCN is an unusual conglomerate of governments, NGOs and others interested in global environmental protection.

Yesterday I visited Lisbon, Portugal for the first time. I was very impressed with the city which is a great combination of old and new. It is very pedestrian-friendly with cars stopping for people in crosswalks, something I never experienced in Beijing. I had a fabulous lunch at Eleven, Lisbon’s only restaurant with a Michelin star, which is located in a park with a spectacular view of Lisbon.

A week ago Friday I visited Vermont Law School (VLS) to give a lecture on “The War of the Worldviews: Precaution v. Reaction on the U.S. Supreme Court.” The lecture expanded on some themes I outlined in my article in the latest edition of the Supreme Court Review - that the Court is narrowly split between two fundamentally different approaches to government regulation that repeatedly resurface in cases involving standing, statutory interpretation, and deference to the decisions of administrative agencies. I had a great time at Vermont where I have a lot of terrific friends, including Tseming Yang, co-author of my forthcoming casebook on Global Environmental Law, and Jason Czarnezki, who just joined the VLS faculty from Marquette.

In the last two weeks there has been considerable news in the global environmental law area. Last Monday I was interviewed by Greenwire about voter approval of the new Ecuadoran constitution that contains the most far-reaching environmental provisions of any constitution. It recognizes the rights of nature in a distinctly eco-centric way not seen in other constitutions and it requires the government as a constitutional obligation to remediate environmental contamination. Of course, its impact will depend on how it is implemented by legislation and judicial interpretation. Given that this is Ecuador’s 20th constitution in a country that has seen so many changes of government in recent years, it remains to be seen whether the political stability that is necessary for law to thrive and be respected will be forthcoming.

The European Union seems to be holding firm with its desire to adopt stringent new limits on greenhouse gas emissions by automobiles. However, several European car companies and a few governments are lobbying hard to weaken the standards.

Tata Motors has announced that it will shift manufacture of the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, to a new plant outside of West Bengal where protests continue against the existing plant (see Sept. 8th post reporting on a settlement agreement that now appears not to have been successful).

While the U.S. financial crisis reflects the fruits of overly aggressive deregulation at the behest of the financial industry, as my colleague Rena Steinzor has pointed out in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun (“Reviving Regulation, Baltimore Sun, Sept. 28, 2008), one probably can expect to start hearing the financial crisis being raised as an asserted justification for loosening (or at least not improving) environmental standards. That already seems to be happening here in Europe as part of the automakers’ opposition to strengthening controls on emissions of greenhouse gases.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

China Panel at ABA SEER Conference

On Friday morning September 19, I participated in a panel on “China and the Environment -- A Conservation with Experts on Environmental Protection, Development of Natural Resources, Energy Use, and Health and Safety in China” at the fall conference of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy & Resources (SEER). The conference was held at the Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, Arizona. The panel was moderated by Margret J. Kim, senior advisor on International Climate Change and China Program Director for the California Air Resources Board. EPA attorney Steve Wolfson discussed the prospects for China controlling its emissions of greenhouse gases, noting that the Chinese government has been quietly shutting down many old, inefficient coal-fired power plants. Former EPA general counsel Roger Martella discussed the huge market for clean energy technologies in China and the rapid growth of wind power in China. I discussed the prospects for democratization in China and the need for greater centralization of authority to enforce Chinese environmental laws.

I was particularly struck last week by reports that the Chinese central government did not learn of the scandal involving Chinese infant formula contaminated with melamine until it was informed by the government of New Zealand. The contaminated formula has caused the deaths of some infants and sickened hundreds of others in China. It was produced by the Sanlu Group, a Chinese company whose New Zealand business partner was appalled when it was informed of the problem but told that there would be no public announcement of it. The New Zealand company then informed its government, who notified Chinese authorities. As other countries now restrict imports of Chinese dairy products, it seems likely that the Chinese central government will have to do much more to ensure the public in both China and export markets of the safety of Chinese products.

This week’s incredible gyrations in U.S. financial markets, including the sudden bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the sale of Merrill Lynch, the U.S. government bailout of AIG, and massive federal intervention to shore up financial markets, may signal a substantial shift in the relationship between government and business. Globalization and deregulation have made markets so interconnected that bad business decisions can have ripple effects that have much broader consequences than previously. The collapse of the Russian stock market earlier in the week was viewed by some as the global marketplace’s response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Russia’s reckless treatment of foreign investment partners. By the end of the week both the U.S. and Russian governments intervened to shore up their markets, at least temporarily, but the long-term effects of the bursting of the housing bubble in the U.S. are likely to persist for a long time to come.

After I flew into Phoenix on Thursday night I met five of my former students for drinks. Two of the Maryland alums - Brad and Karlene Martorama -- now work for law firms in Phoenix. The three others were in Phoenix for the SEER conference. They included Andrea Curatola, who is an attorney at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); Sriram Gopal, an attorney for EPA; and Rich Kuhn, who works for a law firm in Washington, D.C. Andrea’s expertise proved useful when a question arose at the SEER panel on regulation of nuclear power in China.

On the way back to Washington from Phoenix I stopped in Denver and saw a baseball game in Coors Field for the first time. On Saturday I stopped in Dallas and caught a game at the Ballpark in Arlington with my nephew who works there for the Texas Rangers.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Tata Nano Plant Protest in India, Bisphenol-A in U.S. (by Bob Percival)

On January 13, 2008, this blog reported the announcement that Tata Motors of India had developed an automobile that would sell for one lakh (100,000 rupees, or approximately $2,300). This week construction of a $350 million production plant for the Nano in the state of West Bengal was briefly halted by vehement protests from farmers and local political leaders complaining about forcible seizures of land for the plant. During the course of the protests, Tata Motors threatened to move the location of the production plant to another part of India. The state governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, brokered a meeting between officials of the Communist Party of India, which supports the plant, and representatives of the opposition Trinamool Congress party, which opposes it. The Associated Press reports that today it was announced that the protests will be called off after the state government agreed to provide greater compensation to those who lost their land. The opposition is declaring the compensation agreement to be “a big win for us.”

Protests over seizures of land for economic development also are becoming increasingly common in China. When I discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London in my Environmental Law class in Beijing, my Chinese students were highly critical of the decision because it upheld the U.S. government’s right to seize land for purposes of economic development. A major reason for their opposition is that this practice is quite common in China, but the compensation provided by the Chinese government when land is seized is viewed as grossly inadequate. Yet few protests in China succeed because the government does not have well developed protections for property rights. This is one reason why China has been able to develop large infrastructure projects more quickly than India. While it is too soon to tell, the settlement of the Tata protests may signal that when the stakes are high enough, Indian political leaders can afford to grease the wheels of development.

Controversy continues in the United States over the safety of a chemical - bisphenol-A - that is widely used to harden plastics. In April of this year Canadian health authorities concluded that the chemical may pose some risks to infants because of test data associating it with toxic effects in animals. The data had been obtained through targeted testing pursuant to the government’s new chemical control law that is similar to the European Union’s REACH program. These programs require extensive testing before new chemicals can be marketed and they establish tiered testing procedures to assess the safety of chemicals already on the market.

In April 2008 the Canadian Health Minister announced plans to ban the sale of products containing bisphenol-A in baby bottles. At the same time retailers such as Walmart agreed not to sell food containers, bottles and pacifiers containing the chemical and Nalgene, a manufacturer of water bottles, agreed to discontinue use of the chemical. The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, continues to insist that the chemical can be safely used in such products. Their position recently received support from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which reported that human exposures from use in consumers products were too low to be dangerous. However, this week researchers at Yale released a study linking the chemical to neurological problems and mood disorders in monkeys. Lyndsey Layton, Chemical in Plastic Is Connected to Health Problems in Monkeys, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2008, p. A2. The responses of the Canadian and U.S. governments to the test data seem to reflect a more precautionary approach in Canada than in the United States.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Visiting Uganda Scholar, ANWR & China Car Tax

This week Professor Emmanuel Kasimbazi from the Faculty of Law at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, arrived at Maryland to begin his time as a visiting scholar. Professor Kasimbazi is an expert on environmental law. He received his LL.M. in Environmental Law from the University of Calgary in 1995. He currently is the President of the East African Association for Environmental Impact Assessment and the Vice President of the Association for Environmental Law Lecturers in African Universities. Prof. Kasimbazi has extensive experience in energy law, water law and forestry law. He has been a consultant to the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the European Union.

I first met Prof. Kasimbazi in 1999 when I presented an Environmental Law Workshop in Uganda for the American Bar Association’s African Law Initiative. I was very impressed with him then and I subsequently have encountered him at meetings of members of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. Prof. Kasimbazi’s visit is funded by a J. William Fulbright scholarship. He will be in residence at the law school through the end of January 2009. I am sure that Prof. Kasimbazi will be a big help to me in putting together the casebook on Global Environmental Law that I am co-authoring with Prof. Tseming Yang.

I am currently working on the sixth edition of the environmental law casebook that I co-author with Chris Schroeder, Alan Miller and Jim Leape. Chapter One of the book raises the question of whether the Arctic National WIldlife Refuge (ANWR) should be opened to oil drilling. That part of the chapter appeared in the first edition in 1992 when we had no idea how durable the controversy would be. We have been contemplating replacing it in the sixth edition with material on climate change, particularly since both presidential candidates now oppose oil drilling in ANWR. However, it now appears clear that the controversy simply will not die.

Last week the Republican Party adopted a platform that urges more oil drilling in Alaska, but that for the first time in many years does not specifically mention drilling in ANWR. However, the debate in the platform committee made it clear that this is not a reflection of any real change in the party’s policy in ANWR, but only a matter of trying not to directly contradict the position of the party’s presidential candidate. On Wednesday an Alaska delegate to the platform committee made a motion to amend the draft platform to specifically endorse oil drilling in ANWR. An opponent of the amendment from Oregon stated: “We all support, I think, drilling in ANWR, and we know that President McCain will eventually come around to our position. But he’s not there yet. And so I would say prudence would dictate that we leave the text as it is until our candidate catches up with us a little bit.” See The proposed amendment narrowly failed.

With Senator McCain’s announcement on Friday that his running mate will be Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the pressure on him to reverse his position and support drilling in ANWR may increase. Gov. Palin, like virtually all Alaskan politicians, strongly supports opening up ANWR to oil drilling. She previously has expressed hope that she can convince Senator McCain to change his position and to support drilling in ANWR. On Friday Gov. Palin and the state of Alaska sued the Secretary of Interior to challenge his listing of the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

On Monday, September 1 a new tax on gas-guzzling cars will go into effect in China. Automobiles with engines larger than 4.1 liters will be subject to a 40% sales tax, double the previous amount. Cars with engines between 3 and 4.1 liters will be subject to a 25% tax, an increase from 15%. The tax on cars with engines smaller than 1 litter will be reduced from 3 percent to 1 percent. The Chinese government hopes that these tax changes will encourage Chinese consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars. Skeptics argue that there also may be a protectionist motivation since virtually all the large cars sold in China are imported from abroad. The Economist notes that the tax may be a “canny” response to a July WTO ruling striking down China’s 25% tariff on imported car parts. “Taking Another Road,” The Economist, Aug. 23, 2008, p. 54.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I accompanied a group of 8 Vermont School students from my “Environmental Law and Regulation in China” summer course for an 8 day study tour to China (8/6-8/14). In Guangzhou, we were able to visit the Guangdong Province Supreme Court. Together with Sun Yat-sen University Professor Dejin Gu and SYSU student Peipei Wang, we also traveled to Hubei Province. In the city of Wuhan, we met with the Wuhan University Law School’s Environmental Law Center faculty. The focal point of the Hubei province trip, however, was a visit to the Three Gorges Dam Project near the city of Yichang, approximately a 4 hour drive from Wuhan.

Our main impression of the dam project was its massive size and the tight security surrounding it. We had to go through several security check-points in order to approach the dam. Near the dam ship-locks, we were also subjected to what appeared to be a radiation detection device. At the top of an project area observation point (see the picture), we were able to see the entire dam. From that vantage point, the dam does not appear too overwhelming in size – until we saw a bus crossing the dam. Compared to the other structures on the dam, the bus’s size was miniscule, showing how everything is dwarfed by the dam and its structures. In fact, it is rather difficult to take a good picture of the dam – A picture showing the entire dam makes it impossible to discern much detail.

The dam also has permanently altered the landscape of what is one of the most aesthetically stunning areas that I have ever seen. Even with the dam there, however, the area remains an amazing sight -- mountains rise high above the river on both sides. What was less enchanting, however, were the great amounts of trash floating down the river, concentrated in the center of the stream by the fast-moving currents. From afar, it almost looked like long ribbons of flotsam. When examined more closely, they turned out to be plastic bottles, styrofoam pieces, or many other household items.

When we left the Three Gorges Dam Project, we saw a multitude of power transmission lines radiating away from the dam’s power plants. That is of course one of the dam’s main justifications. While the dam has been operational since 2003 and is already delivering electricity, additional turbines are still being installed. When everything is completed in 2009, the total installed electric power generation capacity of the dam will be 18 gigawatts. The price in human cost, however, has been high. At last count, about 1.4 million people had to be resettled to avoid the rising reservoir waters. And there are many other adverse environmental effects. Hopefully, this dam project can serve as a learning experience for China.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beijing Air Quality, Oil Drilling in U.S.

Zhang Jingjing, Director of Litigation for Wang Canfa’s Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) was in Washington this week. Jingjing is going to be spending the 2008-2009 academic year in New Haven as a Yale World Fellow. During the spring semester 2008 she audited my Environmental Law class at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. She is one of the top public interest environmental litigators in China. Last year she was featured in a New York Times expert roundtable about China’s environmental problems (available for viewing online at and in a PBS Frontline series on “Young and Restless in China” (available online at

On Monday I met Jingjing for dinner at Zatinya. We were joined by Dan Guttman, who is briefly back in the U.S. from China, Carl Bruch of the Environmental Law Institute, and Professor Jamie Grodsky from George Washington University Law School. Jingjing brought along her friend Steve Andrews who she met while working at the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Steve, who will start law school in the fall at UCLA, has done some fascinating work on air quality in Beijing using the Chinese government’s own reported data. In an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review, “Beijing Plays Air Quality Games” (available online at:, he notes that China began to release air quality data in 1996 in an effort to put pressure on local officials to enforce the environmental laws. However, the Chinese government subsequently weakened its standards for ozone and nitrogen oxide and stopped reporting levels of ozone after the data demonstrated widespread exceedances of those standards. Andrews views with suspicion the fact that so many days are reported as having air quality just below the magic 100 index for “blue sky” days while virtually no days occur with air quality just above 100. He reports that in 2006 the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau changed the location of air quality monitoring stations for the first time in 20 years, moving most of them beyond the Sixth Ring Road where they would be less likely to be affected by motor vehicle pollution. Andrews notes that independent monitoring by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences has found much higher levels of pollution that reflected in the government’s official data. Further discussion comparing independent monitoring readings with those reported by the Chinese government can be found at the Beijing Air Blog (

This week rain cleared out the Beijing air at least temporarily. NBC’s Olympic commentators raved about being able to see the mountains northwest of Beijing, something that was rare when I lived there. The official Beijing Olympic website features an interview with Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) praising the environmental progress made by China in preparation for the Olympics (

On Tuesday I took Jingjing to see her first Major League Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington. She was really interested in learning about baseball and even took notes during the game. The game was an exciting one with the home team Nationals scoring two runs in the first inning off the Johan Santana, the NY Mets’ best pitcher, but unfortunately the Nats ultimately continued their losing streak by a score of 4-3. On Thursday Jingjing left Washington for New Haven, but she promises to return during the fall to speak to my Environmental Law class.

In two weeks I will start teaching Environmental Law and Administrative Law. During the second Environmental Law class of the year we usually discuss the debate over whether the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) should be open to oil drilling. Now that both presidential candidates continue to oppose opening ANWR to drilling, one would think that this is a moot issue for the foreseeable future. However, a group of ten Republican Senators is urging President Bush to issue an Executive Order directing that a seismic survey of ANWR be conducted in hopes of generating data showing that there is far more oil in ANWR that currently believed. These Senators believe that such a study would generate public pressure to open ANWR to drilling. Oddly, a proposed compromise by a bipartisan group of ten senators that would allow limited additional drilling on the continental shelf as part of a broad package of energy measures is being harshly denounced by the far right because they believe it will deprive them of a campaign issue.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are These the "Pollution Olympics"?

As mentioned last week, I was amused by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial (“Olympic Pollution Games”) decrying environmental conditions in China. The gist of the editorial was that only democracies have done a good job of controlling pollution. What amused me was the fact that the Journal’s editorial page seemed to be praising the very U.S. environmental regulations that they routinely denounce. The editorial inspired me to write a letter to the editor that was published in the August 9-10 weekend edition of the Journal. Here is what the letter says:

"How refreshing to read a Journal editorial decrying a government’s failure to control pollution – even if the government is China’s (“Olympic Pollution Games, Aug. 2-3). Having lived in Beijing for the past six months, I can attest to the severity of China’s pollution problems. The editors also are correct that democracies “have for the most part been able to accommodate green priorities without sacrificing growth.” But the editorial fails to explain why. Democracies allow citizens, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and an independent judiciary to ensure that strict environmental laws are implemented and enforced. These features of U.S. law often are the targets of harsh criticism by the Journal’s editorial page (particularly when a court rules against big business or in favor of an environmental group). But they are the envy of those who wish to clean up China’s environment, as I know from a semester teaching environmental law as a Fulbright scholar in Beijing." [The Journal editors cut out the sentence: "But the editorial fails to explain why").

I have been fascinated watching the Olympics because I can recognize virtually every Beijing venue from which a broadcast occurs. This morning’s New York Times Sports section has a photo of Nike’s basketball courts with the apartment complex where I lived in Beijing visible in the background. I planned to watch the Olympic Opening ceremonies on Friday morning, but was outraged to discover that NBC not only refused to cover them live, unlike the rest of the world’s media, but also that the network sought to shut down all foreign sources of live information about them. I think what was most offensive to me is the notion that any TV network thinks it can fool people into thinking that an event is not occurring at the time it actually occurs. Most amazing was to discover that portions of NBC’s “Today” show which purported to be live and were broadcast at the time the Opening Ceremonies were taking place, actually had been taped in advance so that Matt Lauer could attend the Opening Ceremonies and tape the commentary that was shown in the U.S. 12 hours later. The idea that any network thinks it truly can control what information people receive in this age of the Internet and instant global communications seems rather archaic. Oddly, it actually reminded me of the Chinese government’s inept attempts to control broadcasts from international media like CNN & BBC when they are viewed in China.

The rain in Beijing actually should improve Olympic air quality fairly significantly for a day or so. Tomorrow the forecast high in Beijing is 78 degrees, which is unusually cool for this time of year. Thus, the Chinese may luck out. While 54 of the 144 competitors failed to finish yesterday’s grueling cycling road race, one should remember that in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens fully half the competitors failed to finish this race when it was held in 102 degree weather with lots of air pollution in Athens.

National Public Radio ran a great program this week on the continuing litigation over pollution of Ecuador’s Oriente caused by shoddy environmental practices by Texaco when it was invited by Ecuador’s government to develop oil resources there. The program “Oil and Justice in the Amazon” can be viewed online at

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Beijing Visitor, the Olympics and the Environment

On Wednesday, July 30, I spent the day with Deng Haifeng, a lecturer from Tsinghua University’s School of Law who works with Wang Mingyuan’s Center for Environment, Resources and Energy Law in Beijing. Professor Deng had just arrived in Washington after a week in New York. In New York he had visited Jerry Cohen of New York University’s law school to discuss a new project to be funded by the Ford Foundation. NYU and Tsinghua will be working with the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to establish an environmental law clinic at Tsinghua. The project will be launched at an international conference at Tsinghua next summer. Professor Deng accompanied me to Baltimore to tour the University of Maryland School of Law. We participated in a demonstration of Maryland’s videoconferencing technology and he received briefings on our environmental law program and Maryland’s East Asian Legal Studies Program. On Wednesday night I took Professor Deng to his first baseball game at Nationals Park. While the Nats jumped out to an early lead over the Phillies, the Phillies rallied and won the game. Professor Deng agreed that attending a baseball game was a great way to appreciate American culture.

On Wednesday August 6, Professor Deng will fly to Vermont where he will be spending several weeks at Vermont Law School. He is particularly interested in seeing how the Beijing Olympics, which open on Friday, look through the eyes of the U.S. media.

As the opening of the Olympics approaches there continues to be considerable coverage of China’s environmental problems. On Saturday August 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy editorial entitled “Olympic Pollution Games.” The article discussed China’s widespread and severe environmental problems and the difficulty the Chinese government is having fulfilling its pledge to host a “Green Olympics”. It concluded that the main problems was China’s undemocratic political system. “Western democracies -- with their ability to work out compromises among competing interests -- have for the most part been able to accommodate green priorities without sacrificing growth.” What a refreshing change to see the Journal’s editorial board acknowledge the success of U.S. environmental law, which normally is a target of some of its harshest criticisms. What the Journal’s editors fail to explain is that the U.S. has been able to control pollution in large part because it allows its citizens and powerful nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to play a significant role in the development and implementation of environmental law. These features of U.S. environmental law - powerful NGOs, citizen suits, a judiciary willing to uphold the law even when it conflicts with the wishes of the party in power or business interests, are the very things the Journal’s editors often decry when environmental regulations are applied to U.S. industries. But they are the envy of those who seek to clean up China’s environment.

This week Tseming Yang and I submitted a joint abstract of the paper on “Global Environmental Law and Poverty Alleviation” that we are preparing for the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium in Mexico City in November. This month’s issue of EcoAmericas has an interview with Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard that focuses on his efforts to make Mexico City the greenest city in Latin America. In August 2007 Ebrard launched his “Green Plan” that includes efforts to promote greater bicycle use, including closing off all major avenues of the city to motor vehicle traffic on Sundays. This week Tseming is taking his Vermont Law School summer environmental law class to Beijing for a week.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Global Environmental Law: New Research

Ricardo Luis Lorenzetti, the Chief Justice of Argentina, has sent me a copy of his wonderful new book, Teoría del Derecho Ambiental (Theory of Environmental Law). The book, which is in Spanish, argues that environmental law represents a new paradigm that should change the way we think about many different areas of law. The book begins by discussing elements of the environmental paradigm and the paradigm’s impact on values and economics. It then discusses environmental law and its principles and values. The third chapter addresses environmental risk and uncertainty and principles of prevention and precaution and how they should change the legal system’s approach to environmental issues. The book then discusses implementation and enforcement of environmental standards.

Adding greatly to the value of the book is a 128-page appendix that provides details on nearly 100 environmental cases that have been brought in Argentine courts during the last decade. The cases are organized by the type of action: amparo, cautelares, competencia, daños y perjuicios, inconstitucionalidad, and others (including a few criminal cases). This rich book will take me some time to digest, but it will be immensely valuable to my project with Tseming Yang to develop the first casebook on global environmental law. I am immensely grateful to Chief Justice Lorenzetti for sending me a copy of his book, which our library also is purchasing.

On Friday Tseming and I had a conference call with our casebook editor, John Devins of Aspen Publishing. We reviewed the production schedule for the project and agreed that we would make every effort to ensure that the book is available for use in class by the fall semester 2009.

Another great addition to the growing literature on global environmental law is Lesley McAllister’s new book: Making Law Matter: Environmental Protection & Legal Institutions in Brazil. Lesley is a law professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. The book is published by Stanford University Press for whom I reviewed the book manuscript. It compares environmental enforcement in different Brazilian states and assesses the influence of the Brazilian Ministério Público. Tseming and I will be featuring Professor McAllister’s findings in the enforcement chapter of our global environmental law casebook.

As the opening of the Olympics in China approaches on August 8, considerable attention is being focused on efforts to clean up the environment in Beijing. While China’s ambitious plans to take half the cars in Beijing off the road are now being implemented, they do not seem to have ensured acceptable levels of air pollution. While air quality was considerably improved in Beijing early last week, by the end of the week, it was once again at unhealthy levels. Weather conditions will probably have more effect on air quality during the Olympics than any other single factor. If it rains and is windy air quality may be very good so long as the winds do not involve a dust storm off the desert.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Latest Riachuelo Decision & Return from China

On July 8, 2008 the Supreme Court of Argentina issued another remarkable ruling in its ongoing effort to clean up the Matanza -Riacheulo River Basin in Buenos Aires. In June 2006 the Supreme Court ordered the federal, provincial and local governments to develop a plan to remediate severe environmental contamination that threatens the health of millions of poor residents of the area (see blog entry for October 8, 2007 on my other site at: under "weekly blog"). In response to this order, the governments agreed to create a new Riachuelo River Basin Authority and to develop a long-term cleanup plan. In September 2006 the Supreme Court held landmark public hearings where government agencies, polluting companies, and NGOs presented their views on how to clean up the area. After listening to the testimony of some of the companies, Chief Justice Lorenzetti remarked that they tried to make it sound as if “the river polluted itself.” The new decision by the Supreme Court seeks to focus and speed up the cleanup process. It directs the River Basin Authority to inspect all businesses in the basin within 30 days and it directs all polluting companies to present their own cleanup plans within the same period. Measures to prevent clandestine waste dumping and illegal settlements must be in place within six months. The Court specified that any failure to comply with these orders could result in fines being levied by it personally against National Environment Secretary Romina Piccolotti, the head of the River Basin Authority.

The Center for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA) based in Cordoba, Argentina states that the Court’s decision “is as historic as it is controversial.” It is “the first time in Argentine history that the Supreme Court is engaging directly in defining public environmental policy”. A copy of the Court’s decision (in Spanish) is available at: CEDHA’s July 15th press release reacting to the decision is available at: I wish to thank Nestor Cafferatta for sending me a copy of the Court’s decision.

Last Tuesday I left Beijing and moved back to the United States. The night before I left Wang Canfa hosted me for a farewell dinner. We went to the Baguobuyi Restaurant. Following dinner we watched a terrific demonstration of traditional Chinese mask dancing. Also at dinner was Wang Jing, my student assistant, who accompanied me to the airport on Tuesday. I will really miss her. I cannot imagine a better group of hosts than I had during my semester at the China University of Political Science and Law.

During the upcoming fall semester I will be back at Maryland teaching Environmental Law and Administrative Law. But I plan to continue working closely with my many friends in the environmental community in China. I have just completed a short article “The Challenge of Chinese Environmental Law” that will be published in the fall 2008 edition of The International Environmental News, a newsletter published by the International Law Section of the American Bar Association. In September I will be on a panel on Chinese environmental law at the annual fall meeting of the ABA’s Section on Environment, Energy and Resources in Phoenix. As soon as my classes are completed at Maryland in early December, I plan to return to China to host an environmental law film festival and awards ceremony at the China University of Political Science and Law and to work with the Chinese entrants in the upcoming International Environmental Moot Court Competition.

There are many things that I will miss about living in Beijing, including the following:
My wonderful Chinese students who made this the most rewarding teaching experience of my life
The Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (Wang Canfa, Xu Kedzu, Zhang Jingjing)
World class restaurants (Blu Lobster, Hatsune, Made in China, Noble Court, Lan)
Tui Travel and my travel agents April Mo and Winwin Song
Fellow Fulbrighters
The great sense of humor exhibited by my Mandarin tutor
Foot massages at Dragonfly
Late night conversations with Dan Guttman, Zhang ZeeZee and Alan Lepp.
Home delivery of the China Daily
Oriental Plaza
Exploring the Great Wall in three different locations
Beijing’s proximity to so many great weekend travel destinations
The doormen at my Centennial Heights apartment
Quick lunches at Circling Sushi just before leaving for class
Watching the progress of construction on the new CCTV towers (“the pants”)

There also are a few things that I will not miss about living in Beijing, including the following:
Air pollution that makes seeing blue sky or white clouds a rare event
Being unable to use tap water even to brush your teeth
Taxis without working seat belts
Traffic that does not stop even for pedestrians in crosswalks with a green light
Cellphone spam on China Mobile
Poorly qualified posers representing the U.S. point of view on CCTV-9’s “Dialogue” program
Moments of terror from near collisions in taxis
Scammers who say they “just want to practice their English”
Hawkers who won’t take “no” for an answer even when you say it in Chinese
Censorship of CNN International and BBC news reports on topics sensitive to Chinese government

Amazingly, despite my five months living in Beijing, there are several places I never managed to visit:
Beijing Zoo (last visited in 1981)
Inside of the National Theater (“the Egg”)
Inside of the National Olympic Stadium (“the Bird’s Nest”)
Inside of the National Aquatic Center (“the Water Bubble”)
Summer Palace (last visited in 1981)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Yunnan Province & Macau

This week, my final full week in China, included some diverse travel experiences. Early on Monday morning my daughter Marita and I flew from Chengdu in Sichuan Province to Lijiang in Yunnan Province. We visited a Naxi village outside of Lijiang in the morning. A local woman invited us into her house, served us tea, and showed us around her extended family compound. In the afternoon we visited Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, an enormous rock massif that overlooks Lijiang. The highest peak of the rock massif, which reminded me a bit of Torres del Paine in Patagonia, rises to a height of 5,596 meters (or 18,359 feet). We took a chairlift up the mountain to the Glacier Park at an elevation of 4,506 meters (14,783 feet). While I have previously climbed to elevations above 20,000 feet, both Marita and I were feeling the altitude so we did not spend long there.

On Tuesday we drove over the Lijiang Pass to the other side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to hike to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest canyons in the world and is one of the few places in China where environmentalists have been successful (for now) in stopping a plan by the Chinese government to build a dam. The gorge is a 9-mile long canyon formed by the Yangtze River. From the end of the road on the east side of the river we hiked along a three-mile trail to the most dramatic point in the gorge where the tiger allegedly leapt over the rocks to give the gorge its name. A tiger statue has been erected there. The trail is cut out of the side of a sheer mountain cliff and in places the trail has been replaced by tunnels dug into the cliffs to protect hikers from falling rocks. Several minders with megaphones are posted on the trail to urge hikers to hug the side of the cliff so that they will be less exposed to rockfalls. The scenery was truly spectacular, although the Yangtze River is chocolate in color at this point as a result of runoff into it even though it is not far from its mountain source.

On Wednesday Marita and I flew from Lijiang to Kunming and then back to Beijing. Photos of our trip to Yunnan Province are posted online at:

Marita returned to the U.S. on Thursday. On Thursday night I went to a farewell dinner for some of the Fulbright scholars who are in Beijing at the Tenggali-Tala Mongolian Restaurant. On Friday I flew to Macau for the weekend. Macau, a former Portuguese enclave near Hong Kong, is a fascinating combination of old and new, east and west. Gambling is legal there, which attracts many tourists who arrive by ferry from Hong Kong. Macau now boasts the world’s largest casino, but I discovered that its airport is a bit primitive. When it rains, all airport operations are suspended, which meant that I had to wait one hour and forty-five minutes before my bag was unloaded from my plane after I arrived. I visited some of the casinos, but did not gamble. On Saturday I hiked across the Macau peninsula and ate lunch at Littoral, a wonderful Portuguese restaurant that had great seafood (and port wine).

I am now back in Beijing. After a farewell dinner tomorrow night, I move back to the U.S. on Tuesday. In the weeks to come I will have lots more news about global environmental law and less about my travels.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

WHO Project, Return to China & Panda Breeding Base

While spending the weekend in Buenos Aires last Sunday, I attempted to make a day trip to Montevideo, Uruguay. However, after I boarded the Busquebus ferry in Puerto Madera intense fog set in and delayed the boat’s departure for several hours, forcing me to abandon my plans and to stay in Buenos Aires. On Monday June 30 I had a great meeting with Carlos Dora from the World Health Organization (WHO) who is directing a project on which I am consulting to advise developing countries on the potential for using environmental law to recover for damage to public health caused by pollution. On Monday afternoon I flew back to Santiago to catch my return flight to the United States, arriving on Tuesday morning. During the 26 hours that I was back in the D.C. area I had a nice visit with my family and made a quick stop at work in Baltimore.

On Wednesday July 2 I returned to China with my daughter Marita who is 19 years old. It is Marita’s first trip to China. We arrived in Beijing on Thursday afternoon and brushed off jet lag by joining Zhang Jingjing and a group of my Chinese students for dinner. On Friday morning Marita and I walked from my apartment to Tiananmen Square and then we visited the 798 Art District in northeast Beijing. On Friday afternoon my student Wang Xiahui joined us for a shopping expedition to the Pearl Market and the Silk Market. On Saturday we joined Zhang Jingjing and a group of her friends for an exploration of an area of the Great Wall at Jiangkou that is rarely visited by tourists. After a stop for lunch at a local home in the area two hours northeast of Beijing, we hiked up a mountain to the Wall and enjoyed some truly spectacular scenery with few other people around. On Sunday night my friends Dan Guttman, Zhong Zeezee, and Alan Lepp joined Marita and I for dinner and then came over to my apartment to watch the films my environmental law students made.

On Sunday morning Marita and I flew to Chengdu to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Prior to last May’s earthquake, we had been planning to visit the Wolong Panda Research Center in the mountains outside of Chengdu adjoining the protected area that is the largest habitat for pandas in the wild. However, the earthquake caused severe damage to the Center, killing five staff members and one panda, and it is now closed to the public. Instead of visiting Wolong, we went to the Chengdu Research Base where 60 pandas currently live. The Chengdu Base has the most successful captive breeding program for pandas in the world. We spent two and a half hours at the Base observing pandas and watching a movie that explained the panda breeding program and how pandas grow and develop. In return for a substantial donation to the Base, Marita was given an opportunity to hold a panda cub, 8-month old Shu Ling. Because pandas grow very fast this 8-month old cub was nearly as large as Marita. Photos of Marita in Beijing and Chengdu are posted online at:

On Sunday night we had dinner at a famous local restaurant in Chengdu with Chen Xiang Zu, his wife, and Xu Rong, the husband of Zhang Jingjing’s best friend Delia. Xiang Zu and his wife are retired physicians who formerly worked in the area hardest hit by the May earthquake. They described what it was like to be there during the quake and their frantic efforts to reunite with their families. Xiang Zu offered to take us on a tour of the quake-affected area, but we have to leave in the early morning to fly to Yunnan Province.

My Chinese students have finished their final examinations in Environmental Law and Comparative Environmental Law. I am now grading them and I will submit the grades before I return to the U.S. the week after next.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Univ. of Chile IV Jornadas & Garrison Lecture

On Monday night I flew to Santiago, Chile to speak at the University of Chile’s IV Jornadas de Dercho Ambiental. When I arrived in Santiago on Tuesday morning, I discovered that the airline had sent my bag to Buenos Aires by mistake. It was not until late Tuesday night that my bag arrived at my hotel, relieving my fears that I would have to deliver my presentation wearing the only clothes I had with me for nearly two days.

I gave the second presentation at the opening session following a talk by Ana Lya Uriarte, the head of Chile’s EPA (the Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente or CONAMA). Señora Uriarte discussed the government of Chile’s ambitious plans to completely reorganize CONAMA into a cabinet-level Ministry of the Environment with an independent Superintedencia to enforce Chile’s environmental laws. I spoke about “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” and I showed photos of environmental conditions in China, as well as video clips from the environmental law movies my Chinese students made. My slides had been translated into Spanish, as was my paper, which was published as the opening chapter in an impressive book released by the conference sponsor, the Centro de Derecho Ambiental, on the final day of the conference.

The conference was terrific with its sessions featuring simultaneous translation into English and French. Speakers from Argentina, France, and Denmark also participated in the conference. The large audience was particularly impressive because it featured government officials from national and provincial agencies from all over Chile adn representatives from 10 of the 14 schools of the University of Chile. They engaged the speakers in wide-ranging discussions about the future of environmental law in Chile. Rafael Ansejo, a former CONAMA director, argued that the reorganization outlined by Señora Uriarte would only be successful if the President of Chile demonstrated the poltical will to make environmental protection a top priority.

Nestor Cafferatta, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires gave a great presentation on the use of criminal law to enforce environmental regulations. He noted that Ricardo Lorenzetti, Chief Justice of Argentina, has just published a book on The Theory of Environmental Law that argues that environmental law should be viewed as a transformative force. Chief Justice Lorenzetti states that “environmental law is a party to which all other branches of law are invited, but are told to wear new clothes.”

Following the conference I flew to Buenos Aires for the weekend. Due to heavy fog, my flight from Santiago was diverted from Ezezia International Airport to the Jorge Newbery commuter airport. While I initially thought this would get me to my hotel faster, it turned out that the small customs operation at the commuter airport was totally overwhelmed, creating a mob scene with hour-plus waits. While standing in the crowd, I heard a voice say, “Welcome to Argentina, Robert.” It was Professor Cafferatta. We had a nice conversation in Spanish where he complimented me on having mentioned Chief Justice Lorenzetti’s order to clean up the Riachuelo River in the paper published in the book released at the conference. On Sunday I visited the Riachuelo River to see for myself what progress had been made.

I was delighted to accept an invitation from Pace University to deliver their annual Lloyd K. Garrison Lecture on Environmental Law in April 2009. This lecture series has made some rich contributions to environmental law scholarship. I plan to present an updated and greatly expanded discussion of my theme about the emergence of global law and how it is transforming the environmental law field.

After meeting with a WHO official here in Buenos Aires tomorrow morning, I will fly back to the U.S. via Santiago and D.C. I will be in D.C. and Baltimore on Tuesday before returning to China on Wednesday.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Student Movies, A Party & Visit to NRDC-Beijing

On Monday we had the final Environmental Law class of the semester and my students showed the films they had made. There were five films in all and they were surprisingly good, particularly considering that the students had never once asked me for any help. I simply gave them two video cameras, some digital videotape and a laptop with digital video editing software. I was really impressed with what the students produced.

“Red Beijing” featured some nice acting by the students as they tried to demonstrate the impact of air and noise pollution in the city on their daily lives. “Loving Animals Is Loving Ourselves” included photos of animals being rescued from the Sichuan earthquake and it urged people to take care of abandoned and orphaned pets. “Disposable Chopsticks” attempted to demonstrate the environmental damage caused by their use by involving actors playing the police and hospital employees. The students who made “White Plastic Pollution” interviewed shoppers about their reactions to China’s new ban on the free distribution of plastic bags by grocery stores. “Banana’s Fault” urged people to be more careful about their disposal of garbage by following around a banana peel. The films demonstrated great creativity and effort on the part of the students. I plan to host an Environmental Law FIlm Festival next fall where “Golden Tree” awards will be presented in various categories to the student filmmakers, just as we do at Maryland.

Professor Wang Canfa joined our class for its last half hour and he brought along the Olympic torch he had carried in Guizhou the previous Friday. After class he gave a wonderful thank you to me, which was followed by individual students taking turns expressing their thanks. I was really moved. We all posed for photos with the Olympic Torch and Professor Wang then took me out to dinner at the Tenggeli-Tala Inner Mongolian Opera dinner theater restaurant. Professor Xu Kedzhu, Zhang Jingjing and my assistant Huang Jing also joined us.

On Tuesday I hosted a group of 21 students for drinks at my apartment followed by dinner at the South Beauty Restaurant in Oriental Plaza. While I was unsure whether my one-bedroom apartment could accommodate such a large group, it worked out fine. We played a DVD of the student movies in the living room and a slide show of photos from this semester in my study. Photos of the party and the students posing with the Olympic torch after the last class are available online at:

On Wednesday I visited the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to give a lunch talk to their staff. The topic of my talk was “The History and Future of Global Environmental Law.” NRDC’s Beijing staff are expanding rapidly, due in part to a grant from the Google Foundation to work on green energy issues in China. They have just acquired additional office space that will more than double the size of their Beijing office.

After my final comparative environmental law class on Thursday I flew to D.C. en route to Chile to give a talk at the University of Chile’s annual environmental law conference. I stopped at home in in D.C. for the weekend and was able to attend the Washington Nationals/Texas Rangers games, accompanied by my nephew Andrew Percival who works for the Texas Rangers. On Friday night the game went into extra innings. After the top of the 14th with the game tied 3-3, the Nat Pack repeated their 7th inning t-shirt toss and I caught one of the t-shirts that were thrown into the stands from the top of the visitors’ dugout. I opened up the balled-up t-shirt I had caught and discovered that it said “Welcome Home.” I took that as a good omen and, sure enough, the Nats scored in the bottom of the 14th to win the game 4-3.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Holiday Class, Videoconference & Guangzhou

Last Monday the students in my Environmental Law class at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) insisted on having class, even though it was the new national Dragon Boat Festival holiday in China. The students had arranged in advance to get the key to the projection equipment, but they were surprised to discover that it was not the only thing that was locked. The doors to the classroom where the course meets also were locked due to the holiday. After efforts to scour up a key failed, the enterprising students located an unlocked classroom and a spare projector which we used to display my slides on a bare wall after the students reversed all the desks in the room. It looked like every student in the class was there, an impressive testament to the high level of interest in environmental law among this very talented group.

On Thursday evening I was the guest speaker at a meeting of the China Roundtable held at the headquarters of Advanced Microdevices (AMD) in Austin, Texas. The China Roundtable is a group of environmental, health and safety officials from a dozen multinational corporations such as AMD, Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Levi Strauss. I appeared by videoconference from AMD’s Beijing office in the science park just south of Tsinghua University. My topic was the growth of environmental NGOs in China. Given the time difference, we started the conference at 9:30PM Beijing time, which was 8:30AM in Austin. Alex Wang, director of the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), agreed to come with me to share his insights on how NGOs like NRDC operate in China. Susan Keane, an NRDC scientist who is working on a project to help NGOs ensure that their Chinese supply chains are green, also participated by phone from Washington, D.C.

I gave a brief history of the development of environmental NGOs in China and discussed the problems they face: they can be shut down by the Chinese government at any time (as happened to the China Development Brief last year), they have a hard time establishing reliable sources of financing given the lack of tax incentives in China for making contributions to NGOs, and they can have a difficult time publicizing problems given government censorship of the Chinese media. I also discussed whether the Sichuan earthquake has changed Chinese attitudes toward the foreign media and charitable contributions to NGOs. The videoconference was hosted by my former student Steve Groseclose (head of global environmental health and safety for AMD). Despite some initial technical glitches, it seemed to go very well. I am really grateful to Steve for inviting me and to Alex and Susan for agreeing to participate in the program.

On Friday morning I flew from Beijing to Guangzhou to participate in a Workshop on Environmental Law Teaching and Research Capacity Building. The workshop was the South China equivalent of the roundtable I participated in last Sunday in Beijing. It brought together 41 environmental law faculty from 24 schools. The workshop was sponsored by Sun Yat-sen University School of Law and Vermont Law School (VLS), funded by VLS’s AID grant. Sun Yat-sen Professor Li Zhiping and VLS Professor Tseming Yang organized the conference. I gave an opening presentation on the teaching of environmental law, focusing primarily on the experience of the U.S. supplemented by my experiences this semester at CUPL. Shanghai Jiao Tong law professor Wan Xi, who has authored the materials most environmental law professors in South China seem to use, spoke about the need for better supervision by the National People’s Congress and the judiciary to remedy government failures in the environmental area.

Li Ziphing, who has 20 years experience teaching environmental law, discussed her teaching methods, as did VLS Professor Mark Latham, who discussed his course on Environmental Issues in Business Transactions. Professor Du Wanping of Jinan University discussed her use of “social investigations” by teams of students to expose violations of laws to protect sources of drinking water. (Professor Du will be visiting at the University of Kansas School of Law during the next academic year). Ben Boer, director of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law with a joint appointment from the University of Sydney and the University of Ottawa, discussed the difficulties Chinese universities face in responding to the Ministry of Education’s edict that all schools must offer a course in environmental law. The Academy is developing a training course to help prepare more professors to teach environmental law. Professor Wang Zican from the South China University of Technology discussed typical Chinese environmental law syllabi and why some Chinese law professors do not fully appreciate the importance of the subject as a legal discipline. He mapped out a strategy for “the comeback of Environmental Law as part of ‘legal science’.” Marc Mihaly, director of VLS’s Environmental Law Center, discussed Vermont’s extensive environmental law curriculum.

The Q & A sessions featured a discussion of China’s response to the climate crisis. I mentioned the new statistics showing that China has eclipsed the U.S. as the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for three-quarters of the global increase last year. Professor Du Wanping argued that the U.S. bears responsibility for Chinese emissions because U.S. consumers purchase the products whose manufacture generates the emissions. While I agreed that the Bush administration’s response to the problem has been indefensible, I noted that U.S. policy definitely would change as soon as a new president is inaugurated next January. I questioned whether it was good strategy for China to blame the U.S. for its emissions when the U.S. has no way to directly control them other than refusing to buy Chinese products or imposing a stiff environmental tariff. We all appeared to agree that it is a global problem that requires a global solution.

On Sunday morning VLS Professor Carl Yirka gave a great presentation on researching global environmental law. Tseming Yang closed the workshop by expressing his hope that it will be the start of a continuing dialogue and greater collaborative initiatives among environmental law professors in South China and the rest of the world. Ben Boer reports that 15 Chinese law schools have now joined the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which gives them greater representation in the Academy than the North American law schools.

Tomorrow my Environmental Law students will be premiering the films they have made for the class. I am really excited about getting to see them.