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.