10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

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, August 24, 2008

VERMONT LAW SCHOOL VISIT TO THREE GORGES DAM (BY GUEST BLOGGER TSEMING YANG)

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 http://china.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/thursdays-expert-zhang-jingjing/) and in a PBS Frontline series on “Young and Restless in China” (available online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/youngchina/nine/).

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: http://www.feer.com/essays/2008/august/playing-air-quality-games), 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 (http://www.pyongyangsquare.com/beijingair).

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 (http://en.beijing2008.cn/live/interview/n214521103.shtml).

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 http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2008/08/chevron.

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.