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.”