Last week was International Law Week at the University of Maryland School of Law. On Monday November 15 we hosted Alex Wang, director of the Environmental Law & Governance Project at the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Alex spoke to my Administrative Law class about his work to develop a Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI) in China. The PITI provides annual ratings of Chinese cities on how well they are implementing China’s Open Information Law, which became effective in May 2008. This is a brilliant project because the local governments are where the power is in China and the wide publicity this kind of U.S. News ranking of cities has received has led many local officials to approach NRDC inquiring about how they can improve their ratings. Alex also spoke about the state of environmental law in China at a lunch for students from the Maryland Environmental Law Society and the Asian and Pacific Law Society.
From Wednesday November 17 to Friday November 19 the University of Maryland Law School hosted a conference on “Re-imagining International Clinical Law.” I was the luncheon speaker on Thursday November 18 and in my talk I discussed the history of my work on global environmental law and how globalization is affecting legal education. I emphasized the need to break down disciplinary barriers that separate clinical education from other parts of the academy and how the “Globalizing Clinical Education” conference that Maryland sponsored in April 2007 tried to encourage U.S. clinicians to expand the focus of their work to embrace global concerns. Friday’s sessions included considerable brainstorming about how to structure international clinical work such as the clinics that Maryland is operating that send our students to Namibia, Mexico, and China.
In 1995 I visited Mongolia to present a week-long environmental law workshop for that country’s new government in a program sponsored by Maryland’s Institutional Reform of the Informal Sector (IRIS) program. One of my indelible memories of that experience, aside from how cold it was in Ulan Bator in February, is overhearing a mining company executive tell a new employee on the flight into the country that as long as you “wear a tie” while visiting the Environment Ministry you don’t have to worry much about the country’s environmental regulations. In July of 2009, Mongolia enacted a new Water and Forest Law that prohibits mining activities in water basins and forest areas. As a result of the law, Dashdorj Zorigt, the country’s minister for mineral resources and energy, has suspended the licenses of 254 gold mining enterprises. A list of 1,700 of the country’s 4,000 other licensed mining enterprises is being reviewed for possible revocation to comply with the law. Under the law exemptions can be granted for mines with “strategic deposits” of minerals, but the Mongolian government can then acquire equity stakes in such projects. Peter Stein, Mongolia Reviews Mine Licenses, Wall St. J., Nov. 20-21, 2010, at B3.
On Tuesday November 16, the National Academy of Engineering released its interim report on the BP oil spill. The report, which had been commissioned by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last May, concluded that further investigation was necessary before firm conclusions could be drawn about the causes of the spill. But it spread plenty of preliminary blame around, citing a “lack of management discipline” and “lack of onboard expertise and of clearly defined responsibilities” on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The report also faulted government regulators for failing to have “sufficient in-house expertise and technical capabilities” to evaluate the safety of industry practices and it noted that regulations had lagged behind the development of new deep water drilling technologies. A copy of the interim report is available at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/includes/DH_Interim_Report_final.pdf
A fierce battle has broken out between Congressmen Joe Barton and Fred Upton over who will assume the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee when Republicans assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. Barton, who has been the ranking minority member of the committee, is well known for his insistence that U.S. officials should apologize to BP for asking them to create a compensation fund for the Gulf oil spill. While term limits on committee leadership normally would preclude Barton from taking the chairmanship, he is asking for a waiver and arguing that his chief rival Rep. Fred Upton should be denied the chairmanship because he voted in favor of the Energy Policy Act Amendments of 2007 that have banned the sale of incandescent light bulbs effective in 2014. Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Light Bulb Dispute Darkens Contest to Lead House Energy Panel, Financial Times, Nov. 19, 2010, at 4.