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.