On Friday, April 17, the U.S. EPA responded to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA by proposing to adopt a finding that emissions of six greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations within the meaning of Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The GHGs named in the endangerment finding include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. EPA’s proposal begins a process that will enable EPA to regulate emissions of GHGs under the Clean Air Act if Congress fails to adopt new legislation regulating them. This ultimately may prove to be the most significant impact of the Massachusetts v. EPA decision - arming EPA with a tool that can be used to help overcome congressional resistance to legislation regulating GHG emissions.
A copy of EPA’s proposal is available at: http://epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/downloads/GHGEndangermentProposal.pdf. EPA concluded that the emissions of GHGs contribute to climate change whose effects include include “the increased likelihood of more frequent and intense heat waves, more wildfires, degraded air quality, more heavy downpours and flooding, increased drought, greater sea level rise, more intense storms, harm to water resources, harm to agriculture, and harm to wildlife and ecosystems”. EPA is soliciting public comment on its proposal for 60 days. Congress will be holding hearings next week on proposed legislation drafted by Congressmen Markey and Waxman to adopt a cap-and-trade program to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050. EPA’s proposal and the proposed legislation in Congress should signal to the rest of the world that the Obama administration truly is serious about changing U.S. climate policy.
Last month the Supreme Court of Peru issued a surprising 4-3 decision that places an important natural area of the Cordillera Escalera, off limits to oil development. The decision cited the importance of protecting the area in its natural state because it is the source of water supply for 280,000 people who depend on the Caynarachi, Cumbaza, and Shanusi watersheds. The decision will result in a suspension of all oil exploration in the area, which will be subject in the future to compliance with a regional environmental “master plan.” In its decision, the Court apparently refers to the importance of preventing irreperable environmental harm in order to respect the needs of future generations. See Naomi Mapstone, “Peruvians Try to Maintain Flow of ‘Water Bank’,” Financial Times, April 14, 2009, at 7.
On Monday April 13, Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Rospirodnadzor, Russia’s Environmental Protection Agency that is part of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources resigned, claiming that he had been deprived of most of his authority for protesting official corruption. Mitvol had attracted international attention for forcing foreign oil companies to sell some of their assets to Russian companies in settlement of environmental cleanup claims. He announced that he plans to lead the Green Alternative, a new environmental group that will challenge Kremlin candidates in local elections.
The last two weeks have been the first weeks of the Major League Baseball season in the U.S. On Monday April 6 I attended the Baltimore Orioles season opener at Camden Yards. Vice President Joe Biden threw out the first pitch and a sell-out crowd saw the Os embarrass the New York Yankees and their new free agent pitcher C.C. Sabathia. On Wednesday April 8 I was at Fenway Park and watched the Red Sox lose in their second game of the season to the defending American League champions, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I root for the Washington Nationals, the worst team in baseball, and saw them lose their season opener on April 13 by a score of 9-8 to the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. President Obama declined an invitation to throw out the first pitch at the Nats’ opener, one of the few missteps of his first three months in office. I always love to introduce foreigners to baseball and last Saturday I was delighted to take Bo Li, a student from Renmin University in Beijing who is spending the year at the University of Maryland, to Nationals Park for his first baseball game ever. During the games, Nationals Park is touted as “America’s Greenest Ballpark” for being the first to become LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.