Last week Ma Jun’s Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) released a report rating Apple, Inc. last in responsiveness to health and environmental concerns in its Chinese supply chain from among 29 global technology companies studied by the IPE. BT Group PLC and Hewlett Packard Co. were among the highest-rated companies. The report cited an incident in which 49 workers were poisoned by exposure to a toxic chemical at a Chinese touch screen assembly plant in Apple’s supply chain. Apple maintains that the supplier no longer uses the toxic chemical that sickened the workers and that its own supplier responsibility reports document the success of the supply chain auditing program it launched in 2006. Thirty-six Chinese NGOs participated in the “Green Choice” initiative that prepared the report, which is available (in Chinese) online at: http://www.ipe.org.cn/Upload/IPE报告/苹果的另一面_Draft+Final_20110118-3.pdf
Last week Hong Kong-based NGO Civic Exchange announced a new program to promote protection of biodiversity in the former British outpost. The program will include annual biodiversity conservation reviews and a new strategy to improve nature protection in the Hong Kong area. The strategy is outlined in a report Nature Conservtion: a New Policy Framework for Hong Kong,” which Civic Exchange prepared through funding from the ExxonMobil Hong Kong Ltd. A copy of the report, which is designed to enable Hong Kong to participate in the Convention on Biological Diversity, is available at: http://www.civic-exchange.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/110121NatureConservationEN.pdf Civic Exchange will host the first summit of local environmental NGOs in Hong Kong on March 21.
On Tuesday January 18 President Obama signed a new executive order on regulatory review. A copy of the order is available online at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/18/improving-regulation-and-regulatory-review-executive-order The new executive order largely continues the type of regulatory review that has been in operation since September 1993 when President Clinton issued Executive Order 12866. It supplements that order by asking agencies within 120 days to develop and submit to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) plans to streamline, modify, expand or repeal existing regulations to make them more effective or less burdensome. Although some business groups hailed this as a step in the right direction, when contacted by reporters to cite specific examples of rules to be repealed, they did not respond. Binyamin Applebaum & Edward Wyatt, Obama May Find Useless Regulations Are Scarcer than Thought, N.Y. Times, Jan. 22, 2011, at B1. The regulations the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has complained about in the past, including EPA’s regulations of greehouse gas emissions, are unlikely to be among the agency’s or the administration’s candidates.
Ever since the federalization of U.S. environmental law during the Nixon administration, every president has used some form of regulatory review because presidents care intensely about the work of regulatory agencies. I have written extensively on regulatory review and I brought the first successful lawsuit challenging the Reagan administration’s abuse of it. See, e.g., “Checks Without Balance: Executive Office Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency” 54 Law & Cont. Problems 127 (1991); “Presidential Management of the Administrative State: The Not-So-Unitary,” 51 Duke L. J. 963 (2001); Environmental Defense Fund v. Thomas, 627 F.Supp. 566 (D.D.C. 1986). My overall conclusion is that if it is conducted even-handedly, regulatory review may have modest benefits in improving the quality of regulation and spurring agencies to do their jobs. However, as the experience of the Reagan administration demonstrated, it also can used as a tool to prevent agencies from carrying out their statutory duties, sacrificing public health and the environment and serving as a back channel for favored industries. While it is simply too early to tell if the new executive order will produce any significant change in how the Obama administration conducts regulatory review, Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed irritation that President Obama was claiming credit for what Cantor believes was his idea.
The European Commission (EC) suspended trading in carbon allowances on January 19 after the revelation that cyber pirates stole 7 million Euros worth of permits during online attacks over the last two months. The permits were stolen from the Czech Republic’s permit registry. The suspension will last at least a week as the EC determines how to increase cyber security. Security was enhanced after a similar cyber attack stole 4 million Euros worth of permits from Germany in early 2010. Carbon trading has been underway in Europe for six years. From 2005 to 2007 the permits were distributed to companies for free. Companies now have to pay for a portion of their quotas but the EC has proposed to require that all permits be purchased at auction beginning in 2013 for European power companies and in 2020 for other heavy industries. Joshua Chaffin, Hackers Cast Cloud Over EU Emissions Trade Scheme, Jan. 20, 2011, at 22.
On Wednesday January 19 my Global Environmental Law seminar met for the first time this semester. We were pleased to host guest speaker Craig Dilworth, an environmental philosopher who teaches at Uppsala University in Sweden. Dr. Dilworth explained the philosophy outlined in his book “Too Smart for Our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind.” Explaining his “vicious cycle principle,” Dilworth argues that whenever technological development creates surplus, human population expands and creates resource scarcity due to human consumption and pollution. Dr. Dilworth was accompanied to class by David Zoll, former general counsel of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (now the American Chemical Council) and Sam Hopkins, who has long worked on population issues.