On Wednesday January 12 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA announced that 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year since global temperature readings began to be recorded in 1880. The agencies reported that nine out of the ten warmest years on record have occurred in the last decade. NOAA scientists attributed the temperature anomalies to the influence of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a third request from the state of Texas to block EPA’s takeover of issuance of Clean Air Act permits in Texas. On Friday EPA held a hearing in Texas where its actions were widely supported by local environmental groups. Texas officials did not testify at the hearing. EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz stated that EPA was forced to take the action due to the refusal of Texas authorities to implement new requirements for controlling GHG emissions. Randy Lee Loftis, EPA Gets Citizen Backing in Texas Greenhouse-Gas Disp[ute, Dallas Morning News, Jan. 15, 2011.
On January 11 the President’s Commission on the Deepwater Hortizon oil spill released its final report. The report called for “fundamental reform” to produce dramatic improvements in oil industry safety practices. The Commission recommended that an independent safety agency be created to regulate offshore oil drilling and it called for significantly increased funding on oil spill response planning. The Commission expressed “serious concerns” about offshore drilling in Arctic waters off the northern coast of Alaska because of very limited industry response capabilities there. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/final-report. One indication of how eager the oil industry is to drill in Arctic waters was last week’s stock swap agreement between BP and Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft oil company. The agreement, which gives BP an additional 9.5% stake in Rosneft and Rosneft a 5% stake in BP, is expected to facilitate drilling by the companies in Russian Arctic waters. On January 11 the Trans Alaska pipeline restarted after a three-day shutdown caused by a leak at a pump station. While work continues to repair the damage, oil is flowing through the pipeline at a reduced rate.
On January 13 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the claims of a filmmaker who produced a documentary on the Ecuador litigation against Chevron that outtakes from his film are protected by the press privilege. Chevron sought the outtakes to bolster its claim that plaintiffs lawyers had colluded with Carlos Beristain, the special master appointed by the Ecuadoran court to assess environmental damage caused by oil drilling. In rejecting the press privilege the court emphasized that plaintiffs had asked Joe Berlinger, the filmmaker, to tell their story, which the court said undermined his claim that he collected the information for independent reporting. The court also noted that the film had been altered at the Ecuadoran plaintiffs’ request to delete scenes in which they interacted with the special master prior to his appointment. A copy of the decision, Chevron Corp. v. Berlinger, is available online at: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/8b2ec3ba-a15a-46d8-a8ae-fcfe27105709/1/doc/10-1918_opn.pdf
On January 13 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked a crucial Clean Water Act §404 permit that had been granted to Arch Coal for its proposed Spruce No. 1 mountaintop coal mining operation in Logan County, West Virginia. The project, which would have been one of the nation’s largest mountaintop removal operations, had been approved in 2007 by the George W. Bush administration. EPA concluded that by burying miles of streams under millions of tons of residue the project would have caused unacceptable environmental damage. The project reportedly is the only individual mountaintop mining operation to have been subject to a full blown environmental impact analysis. John M. Broder, U.S. Revoke Permit for West Virginia Mining Plan, N.Y. Times, Jan. 14, 2011, at A14.
On January 10 environmental activists who were scheduled to go on trial in Nottingham, England for plotting to occupy and temporarily shut down Britain’s largest coal-fired power plant had the charges dismissed against them. The dismissal came 12 hours after a British newspaper revealed that the group had been infiltrated by a government agent provocateur named Mark Kennedy. A jury previously had rejected the claim by other members of the group that they had a “lawful excuse” because they were acting to prevent greater harm of death and serious injury from the plant’s emissions. The defendants who had the charges dismissed argued that Mr. Kennedy, who assumed the fictitious name of Mark Stone, was responsible for involving them in the action. Kennedy has quit the police and gone into hiding abroad. The protesters previously convicted were given only minimal sentences earlier this month by Judge Jonathan Teare who stated that he had “no doubt that each of you acted with the highest possible motives.” John F. Burns, Charges Dropped Against British Protesters, N.Y. Times, Jan. 10, 2011.
On January 13 Wikileaks released diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland. The cables discussed the January 27, 2009 decision by Iceland’s outgoing Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Einar K. Gudfinson quietly to authorize a massive increase in commercial hunting of fin and minke whales from 2009 through 2013. The cables reported the initial anticipation that the minister who succeeded Gudfinson would quickly withdraw the order. But they subsequently noted that the new government claimed that it was legally bound by the action. The British and Swedish ambassadors proposed a strong, joint protest with the United States. The ambassadors from these three countries later were joined by those from Finland, Germany, France and the Netherlands at a meeting with the new minister to protest the action. The new minister Steingrimur J. Sigfusson expressed an interest in scaling back the new quotas, while noting that support for whaling in Iceland was so deap-seated it constituted a “clash of cultures” with the outside world. He also claimed that if he rescinded the quotas he might be removed from office by Parliament. At a subsequent meeting in April 2009 the minister confirmed that he had read a letter from the Whole Foods grocery conglomerate warning that it would boycott Icelandic products if whaling continued, but he “did not seem to take it seriously” according to the cable. “He admitted that he had received a stack of similar letters but hadn’t read them all.”