On Tuesday December 14, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that the controversial Moscow-St. Petersburg toll road will be routed through the Khimki Forest after all, despite environmental protests that led President Dmitry Medvedev to suspend work on the project last August (see Aug. 29, 2010 blog post). Ivanov chaired a commission examining the controversial $8 billion road project. Russia’s ministry of natural resources announced that it would seek to provide greater protection for the remaining portions of the forest and that it would increase the compensation to be paid for the road’s damage to the forest from 3 billion to 4 billion rubles (approximately $130 million). Ivan Blokov, Greenpeace’s Russia program director, vowed to take the fight to Vinci, a French company involved in the road construction project.
Wikileaks continues to publish leaked cables from U.S. embassies. Of the more than 250,000 cables it reportedly possesses, a total of 7,992 deal with the “environmental affairs.” Cables published last week revealed that U.S. diplomats in Brazil saw President Lula de Silva as simply bowing to political reality when he decided in December 2009 to postpone enforcement of the Brazilian Forest Code’s requirement that rural landowners in the Amazon retain 80% of their forest holdings as reserves. Following the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference, U.S. diplomats specializing in Cuba complained that “Climate change is Fidel Castro’s latest pet project in which poor, socialist countries are the victims and rich, capitalist countries are entirely to blame. . . .Some element of the [Government of Cuba] may see climate change as a legitimate concern, but the view from the top is that of a political propaganda goldmine.” In November 2009 the U.S. Embassy at the Vatican notes that Pope Benedict is stressing environmental concerns. It reports: “While the Vatican's message on caring for the environment is loud and clear, its message on biotechnologies is still low-profile. Quietly supportive, the Church considers the choice of whether to embrace [gentically modified organisms] GMOs as a technical decision for farmers and governments. The Vatican's own scientific academy has stated that there is no evidence GMOs are harmful, and that they could indeed be part of addressing global food security. However, when individual Church leaders, for ideological reasons or ignorance, speak out against GMOs, the Vatican does not -- at least not yet -- feel that it is its duty to challenge them. Post will continue to lobby the Vatican to
speak up in favor of GMOs, in the hope that a louder voice in Rome will encourage individual Church leaders elsewhere to reconsider their critical views.” The cables also indicate that Saudi officials were privately telling U.S. diplomats that they understood the need for the world to work together to combat climate change even as they were publicly questioning the science behind it and doing everything they could to obstruct a global agreement at Copenhagen.
Last week a new searchable Google database was publicized that includes all 2 trillion words contained in 15 million books the company has scanned. The books represent about 12% of all books published in every language since the Gutenberg Bible in 1450. Researchers using the database have discovered that the number of words in the English language has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 1 million words, including 500,000 that do not appear in any dictionary. The database, which is available online at http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/, allows one to search the relative frequency with which terms of up to five words appear in the database each year. This is spurring interest in a new field that has been dubbed “culturomics” to explore changes over time in the popularity of certain terms. A search for the term “global environmental law” indicates that the term first appeared in books in 1980, but increased significantly in use during the 1990s. A chart showing the frequency of the use of "global environmental law" in books between 1975 and 2000 is displayed as part of my December 19, 2010 post on my parallel blog at: www.globalenvironmentallaw.com.
On Wednesday December 15, the U.S. government filed a lawsuit seeking civil penalties against BP and others involved in drilling and insuring the Macondo well whose blowout caused the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in New Orleans, did not specify a dollar amount of the penalties the government is seeking, but they could run to more than $20 billion. The suit was filed to meet a deadline imposed by the judge overseeing the consolidated oil spill litigation.
On December 15 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued its proposed rule implementing the “conflict minerals” provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (see July 18, 2010 blog post). The proposed rule would require a broad array of companies, including retailers who sell store brand products, that use certain minerals to report to the SEC what steps they have taken to verify that the minerals did not help fund rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A fact sheet on the proposed rule, on which public comment will be accepted until January 31, 2011, is available online at: http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-247.htm. The SEC also proposed a rule to implement another provision of the Dodd-Frank legislation that requires resource extraction industries to report on payments they made to foreign governments.
On Thursday December 16, the California Air Resources Board by a 9-1 vote adopted regulations to implement the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state by 15 percent below 2012 levels by 2020. Felicity Barringer, California Approves Stringent Pollution Controls, N.Y. Times, Dec. 17, 2010, at A19.
Plaintiffs suing the Chevron Corporation over pollution of the Oriente region of Ecuador have hired new legal counsel in response to Chevron’s efforts to discredit its existing lawyers. The plaintiffs have hired the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs and they have received new funding from Burford Capital Ltd., a London-based hedge fund that invests in litigation. Ben Casselman & Angel Gonzalez, Chevron Forces Legal Change, Wall St. J., Dec. 18-19, 2010, at B4.
Last week Beijing’s Municipal Commission of Transport indicated that it is considering severe new measures to combat horrendous traffic congestion in China’s capital. The measures may include congestion fees and barring vehicles from certain roads at certain times based on license plate numbers. There are now 4.7 million cars in use in Beijing, 2.1 million more than in 2005 - more than 1,000 new cars a day. Chinese officials estimate that if present trends continue traffic will slow to an average speed of 15 kilometers (9 miles) per hour on the city’s expressways by 2015.
Construction started last week on Israel’s first large project to generate electricity from solar energy. The project in the Arava Valley in southern Israel will employ 18,000 solar panesl on 20 acres of land to generate 5 megawatts of electricity. Larger projects are in the planning stage as Israel seeks to meet its goal of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020. Charles Levinson, In Israel, Big Solar Field Begins to Rise, Wall St. J., Dec. 14, 2010, at B12.