This week India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh revealed that his country is cooperating with China in a joint effort to study the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, a critical water resource threatened by global warming. Ramesh is visiting China this month to coordinate opposition to efforts to include developing countries in global limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the Copenhagen conference in December. He describes the two countries as a potential “countervailing power” against efforts to extend GHG emissions controls beyond the developed world. James Lamont, New Delhi and Beijing Work to Save Glaciers of Himalayas, Financial Times, Aug. 3, 2009, at 3.
While it is rarely news in the U.S. when a trial court agrees to hear a case, in China if it is a public interest lawsuit it often makes news because courts there so rarely agree to hear them. On July 31 a member of the All-China Environmental Federation announced that a court in Qingzhen, China agreed to hear a lawsuit the group filed against a local government agency to challenge the sale of land to a drink and ice cream processing facility near a scenic lake. While reports of this decision claimed that “China Accepts 1st Environmental Lawsuit Against Government” (see http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i_In50yqHnCKiougCwRvgdHmkW2wD99PA7R81) in fact there have been other instances where public interest groups in China were able to sue local governments, and some of these suits have been successful. However, this is certainly a welcome development. The case is expected to be heard in the Chinese court in September.
Due in part to the Aarhus Convention, new freedom of information laws have been adopted in many countries. They are now starting to be used to publicize information that can be embarrassing to governments. Recently the environmental group Oceana, using Chile’s new freedom of information act, obtained data from the Chilean government showing that salmon farmers in Chile used far more antibiotics than their counterparts in Norway, Chile’s chief competitor. The antibiotics have been used to combat diseases that have been harming the Chilean fish. Alexei Barrionuevo, Chile’s Antibiotics Use on Salmon Farms Dwarfs That of a Top Rival’s, N.Y. Times, July 27, 2009.
On Thursday the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Sonya Sotomayor as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 61-38. While the Senate floor debate on her nomination was being completed, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on climate change where it heard testimony from federal officials, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a midwestern electric utility. Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior discussed how their agencies are trying to facilitate renewable energy and carbon capture technology. EDF argued that the costs of complying with a cap-and-trade program will be even lower than previously estimated because the cap will create incentives for technological innovation. The organization’s testimony noted that air pollution control regulations consistently have been far less costly than initially predicted with the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments costing only 21% of predicted costs and three other programs ranging from 7 to 32% of predicted costs. The testimony is available online at http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=cdecc040-802a-23ad-4421-dd97594eaafb.
On Thursday night the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 60-37, joined the House in approving legislation extending the “cash for clunkers” program that provides incentives for U.S. auto owners to junk their old cars and purchase more fuel efficient models. Some opponents of the extension argued that it was inefficient to scrap the old vehicles and proposed allowing them to be donated to charities. Of course, this would have undermined the environmental benefits of getting the older cars of the road, as Germany has discovered. Investigators have determined that many of the vehicles supposed to have been junked in Germany’s cash-for-clunkers program actually have ended up in Eastern Europe and Africa because the German program only requires dealers to deliver the old vehicles to junkyards and not to destroy them. Carter Dougherty, Driving Out of Germany to Pollute Another Day, N.Y. Times, Aug. 8, 2009, p. A4. The proposed amendment was rejected in the Senate and the legislation was signed by President Obama on Friday.
On Tuesday I went with Bob Irvin, Vice-President for Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife, to see the Washington Nationals play the Florida Marlins. Coming into the game Florida was 8-0 against the Nats and the Marlins led by 4-0 in the 8th inning of a game in which the Nats had only managed two hits. But the Nats then scored 6 runs in the 8th for a dramatic 6-4 victory. Bob is going on the law teaching market this fall and will be a great asset to any school seeking to beef up its environmental law program.