I arrived in Amman, Jordan early this morning to assist the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative in the development of environmental law courses for Jordanian law schools. This afternoon I met with Jordan’s Minister of Environment Khaled Irani in his office at the Ministry of Environment. Environmental law is developing rapidly in Jordan as illustrated by the fact that the Ministry of Environment now is responsible for administering 19 laws, including many that initially were not considered environmental laws. However, penalties for environmental violations remain very low and often do not recoup the economic benefit of noncompliance. Following the meeting with Minister Irani, I went to the Palace of Justice where I met with Judge Abdullah Abu Ghanem, the Jordanian judge who is most interested in developing environmental law training programs for the judiciary. With his assistance, officials from U.S. EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board and Office of Administrative Law Judges will start a three-day environmental law training course here tomorrow for Jordanian judges.
On Monday November 30 my Environmental Law class debuted this year’s group of environmental law films. A total of 13 films were produced by the students, the most ever. On Wednesday December 2 the class concluded the semester by going on a field trip to the U.S. Supreme Court to watch the oral argument in a fascinating property rights case challenging Florida’s efforts to protect eroding coastline. The case of Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Conservation involves a challenge to a Florida Supreme Court decision upholding a Florida law designed to facilitate state efforts to prevent beach erosion. A tiny group of property owners are arguing that the Florida court committed a “judicial taking” by abruptly reinterpreting Florida common law to not require the property line of owners of beachfront property always to extend to the water. Under the law the state acquires ownership of new land created by the state-funded replenishment program seaward of the prior property. Because he owns Florida beachfront property, Justice Stevens recused himself from the case and did not participate in the oral argument, raising the possibility that the decision below could be affirmed by an equally divided U.S. Supreme Court.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court of Thailand largely upheld an injunction that had been issued in September to stop construction of $12 billion worth of petrochemical and power projects for failure to perform full-blown environmental impact assessments. The court ruled that work on 65 of 76 projects planned for the Map Ta Phut industrial park near Bangkok had to be suspended pending the completion of adequate environmental impact reports. The court based its decision on a provision added to the Thai constitution in 2007 that subjects industrial development projects to environmental and health studies.
Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the deadly chemical leak at a Unon Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that quickly killed thousands of nearby residents while permanently maiming tens of thousands. Tragically, the site has not been cleaned up and many continue to be exposed to chemical contamination there. After lawsuits filed against Union Carbide in the U.S. were dismissed, the company settled with the government of India for only $470 million, leaving survivors of the dead with an average compensation payment of $2,200 per victim. See Suketu Mehta, A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal, N.Y. Times, Dec. 3, 2009, at A33 (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/opinion/03mehta.html).
With the start of the Copenhagen conference approaching, the Australian Senate narrowly defeated a compromise plan to create a cap-and-trade program to control the country’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). India announced that while it would continue to oppose any binding limits on its GHG emissions, it would seek to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 20 to 25% by the year 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The Indian government said it would propose legislation to impose fuel efficiency standards on all vehicles by December 2011 while urging lower levels of government to adopt green building codes. On Tuesday December 1 the Financial Times reported that Chinese wind farm projects have been suspended from receiving Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) grants while an investigation is undertaken to determine if the projects will result in genuine reductions in carbon emissions. Kathrin Hille, Geoff Dyer & Fiona Harvey, UN Halts Funds to China Wind Farms, Financial Times, Dec. 1, 2009 (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/128a52de-deaf-11de-adff-00144feab49a.html.) China has received nearly half of all CDM credits issued worldwide to date.
While I will not be among the 15,000 people attending the Copenhagen conference, I have arranged for four friends who will be there to serve as guest bloggers. They should present a diverse set of perspectives on the events taking place there. The four are: environmental law professor Betsy Burleson from the University of South Dakota, my former student Huang Jing from Beijing who will be attending as part of the China Youth Action Network, Alan Miller, principal climate change specialist in the Environment Department of the International FInance Corporation (http://beta.worldbank.org/people/miller), and my former student Yvette Pena-Lopes who is Legislative Affairs Director of the Blue-Green Alliance.