On Friday November 21 the University of Maryland Environmental Law Program hosted its 16th annual Winetasting Party for students, faculty and alumni. This event originated in 1992 when a former dean encouraged faculty who require students to use casebooks authored by them to rebate to students the royalties earned from the casebook purchases in the form of a party. Since my Environmental Law students use my casebook, I provide the wines each year and the school provides the food. The event has grown in size each year as the number of alums from our program increases. This year it also served as a retirement party for Program Coordinator Laura Mrozek who on Wednesday retired after 22 years of service to the school. More than 250 people attended this year’s event to honor her. The alums presented Laura and the school with a check for more than $5,000 to fund a public interest summer grant in her honor. Photos from the event are posted online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100336.
It was terrific to see so many alums at the party, though it was frustrating that because of the huge turnout there was not enough time to get to catch up with all of them. To honor Laura’s retirement, I brought some of the very best wines from my cellar, including a 1982 and a 1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, some other 1982 Bordeauxs, and some of the best California cabernets from the early 1980s. I have always thought that protection of the environment and enjoyment of wine go hand in hand. Our Environmental Law Program has even commissioned wine glasses with a logo that says “Wine -- Nature’s Thanks for Preserving the Earth”.
Last year Britain launched a new approach to tackling climate change modeled on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee that since 1997 has removed interest rate policy decisions from the political process. To insulate greenhouse gas reduction targets from political manipulation, the country enacted a law establishing an independent Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Jonathan Adair Turner, a former Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. Composed of experts in environmental science, economics, and business, the panel next week will publish three carbon budgets to govern different parts of the British economy through the year 2022. These budgets are to be legally binding and enforceable against the British government, though not all the legal details have been worked out yet. Of course, if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions engender widespread public opposition, Parliament could always repeal the law, just as the U.S. Congress could abolish independent agencies like the Federal Reserve Board.
On Tuesday November 25 I was interviewed on Baltimore’s National Public Radio station (WYPR) about the Bush administration’s efforts to issue “midnight regulations” to weaken environmental protections. A tape of the program, “Maryland Mornings with Sheila Kast,” is available online at: http://www.wypr.org/MD_MORNING.html While I noted that every administration in recent years has issued a flurry of regulations at the end of its term, I distinguished between regulations long in the pipeline that involve “finishing your homework” and efforts to rush through parting gifts to special interest groups. I argued that most of the Bush administration’s efforts fall into the latter category. During the interview I discussed how the incoming Obama administration and Congress could block or reverse the “midnight regulations” by suspending the effective date of regulatory changes that had not already gone into effect or using the Congressional Review Act to veto the changes. I also noted that some of the changes would be vulnerable to lawsuits challenging their legality because they had been rushed through the process so quickly. The most difficult actions to reverse will be the awarding of leases for oil drilling on public lands because the leases create entitlements. While the Bush administration revealed last week that it had scrapped plans to lease a few parcels near national parks after objections from the National Park Service, it seems determined to lease some other areas that may affect aesthetics at the parks.