On Monday, September 13th, I participated in a conference sponsored by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) as part of its “Transatlantic Climate and Energy Dialogue: Balancing Aspirations with Actions.” The conference was held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. After an opening update on climate negotiations from Elliott Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, I was on the first panel with my former colleague Miranda Schreurs, who is now the Director of the Environmental Policy Institute at the Freie Universität of Berlin. Miranda discussed the German government’s bold new energy plan that seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020, 55% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. Environmentalists are upset because the plan would extend the lives of some of the existing nuclear powerplants by 8 to 14 years. See Patrick McGroarty, Germany to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors, Wall St. J., Sept. 7, 2010, at A17. The plan seeks to obtain 18% of Germany’s primary energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 60% by 2050. Our panel provided “German and U.S. Perspectives on Intellectual Property Rights and Green Technology Transfer”. Also speaking on tech transfer in the second morning panel were Joanna Lewis of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service who provided a case study of wind energy in China, Dominic Marcellino of the Ecologic Institute who is tracking tech transfer during the climate negotiations, and Alan Miller of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Alan, who is one of the co-authors of my environmental law casebook, stressed that while most of the UNFCCC negotiations have focused on public investment in green technology, approximately 80% of the investment is being done by private companies. He explained why the IFC was willing to continue fund state-of-the-art fossil-fueled powerplants despite critics who believe that only renewable energy projects should be funded.
On September 9th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent letters to nine companies requesting detailed data on the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to crack underground rock formations to release oil and natural gas. The data is to be used as part of a new EPA study of the environmental consequences of fracking. In 2004 EPA released a controversial study finding that the practice was safe, which Congress relied upon to exempt the practice from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, there have been many complaints of contamination of underground aquifers near sties where fracking is used, an issued explored by the award-winning documentary film “Gasland” (http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/index.html). EPA’s new study, whose results are expected to be published by the end of 2012, is being undertaken in response to a new mandate from Congress. Tom Zeller, Jr., EPA to Study Chemicals Used to Tap Natural Gas, N.Y. Times, Sept. 10, 2010, at B3.
On September 9th the United Steelworkers union filed a 5,800-page complaint with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative charging that Chinese officials are unfairly subsidizing the production of clean energy technologies, including wind turbines and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Elizabeth Williamson & Ian Talley, Steelworkers Blast China on Subsidies, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2010, at A4. Chinese authorities reportedly are scrambling to meet energy efficiency targets contained in the country’s 2006-2010 five-year plan. Faced with the realization that they may come up short of the target, Chinese officials reportedly are even ordering temporary shutdowns of enterprises. Shai Oster, Beijing Gets Tough on Targets for Energy, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2010, at A10.
On September 8th, the Unilever Corporation announced that it had made a multi-million dollar investment in Solazyme, Inc., a U.S. company that harvests oil from algae, as a way of moving away from use of palm oil in its food and consumer products. Unilever says that it may take three to seven more years before algal oil could be used as an ingredient in its products, but it is convinced of its potential. Paul Sonne, To Wash Hands of Palm Oil Unilever Embraces Algae, Wall St. J., Sept. 8, 2010, at B1. On September 7th, the Danish shipping company Maersk announced that it would voluntarily switch away from low-cost, dirty bunker fuel to low sulfur fuel when its ships berth in Hong Kong. The move will cost the company an extra $1 million per year during its 850 annual port calls in Hong Kong, but it will greatly reduce air pollution from the ships. Cleaner fuel already is required for ships visiting many European ports and similar requirements will take effect in U.S. and Canadian ports in 2012. Asia is moving much more slowly on the issue and Maersk hopes its Hong Kong initiative, which it said was taken in response to calls from the Hong Kong NGO Civic Exchange, will help spur further action. Bettina Wassener, Maersk to Use Cleaner Fuel in its Hong Kong Shipping, N.Y. Times, Sept. 8, 2010, at B10.