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, 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 http://www.npr.org/templates/story.php?storyid=94057387. 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.