On Tuesday March 1 I flew from Washington to Vermont to participate in Vermont Law School’s conference on “China’s Environmental Governance: Global Challenges and Comparative Solutions.” The conference, which was held on Wednesday March 2, featured China’s top environmental law professors, including Wang Canfa of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), Li Yanfang of Renmin University, and Li Zhiping of Sun Yat Sen University. Zhang Jingjing, from the Public Interest Law Net Beijing’s office, also spoke at the conference. The Chinese professors reported on recent developments in environmental law in China, including the development of environmental courts, the first successful suit by a federation of Chinese environmental lawyers, and controversy over the use of civil suits by the Chinese procurate, public prosecutors who traditionally focus on criminal actions.
Other U.S. professors participating in the symposium included Pat Parenteau from Vermont, who gave a terrific talk on the state of environmental enforcement in the U.S., Patricia McCubbin, who spoke about EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and Jon Nagle who explored “how much should China pollute. “ Judge Meredith Wright described her work as the first judge on Vermont’s environmental court and Jennifer Turner of the Wilson Center gave a fascinating presentation linking Chinese energy development to increasing pressures on Chinese water supplies. I spoke on how globalization is affecting Chinese environmental policy, including actions by Chinese NGOs to “green” the supply chains of multinationals, and I warned that Chinese companies extracting resources from developing countries should learn from transnational liability litigation like the long-running lawsuit against Chevron for pollution in the Oriente region of Ecuador. Papers prepared for the symposium will be published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. The Chinese professors are now in Washington where they will be featured at a program sponsored by the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum on “Green Governance Victories and Ongoing Challenges in China” on Wednesday morning March 9 (see http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1421&fuseaction=topics.home).
As the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas continues to grow, see Sheila McNulty & Ed Crooks, U.S. Groups Unlock Secret Recipe for Oil, Financial Times, March 4, 2011, at 5, the New York Times explored why the practice has been largely exempted from U.S. environmental laws. Ian Urbina, Pressure Stifles Efforts to Police Drilling for Gas, New York Times, March 3, 2011, at A1. The article alleged that political pressure during previous administrations had forced EPA to limit studies that might have exposed environmental hazards from the increasingly popular drilling practice. It alleged that conflicts are now occurring between EPA and state environmental officials in Pennsylvania where “fracking” has been widely permitted despite EPA concern that disposal of untreated waste generated by the practice violates the Clean Water Act. On Friday Arkansas authorities ordered two companies temporarily to stop the practice of injecting wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing into deep underground wells following a recent cluster of earthquakes in the areas. Daniel Gilbert, Arkansas Shutters Two Wells in Area of Quakes, Wall St. J., March 5-6, 2011, at A4. With so much at stake economically and environmentally, it would behoove companies using fracking to produce natural gas not to blindly oppose all precautionary measures to ensure that the practice does not cause unnecessry harm. See Christopher Swann, Address the Fears on “Fracking”, New York Times, March 7, 2011, at B2.
On March 3 a federal court jury in Utah convicted Tim DeChristopher on two counts of illegally disrupting a federal auction of public lands for oil drilling during the last days of the George W. Bush administration (see blog post on January 23, 2009). Judge Dee Benson prohibited the defense from telling the jury that DeChristopher had bid on the leases in order to block what he believed to be illegal and environmentally damaging lease sales rushed to auction prior to the Obama administration taking office. DeChristopher, who rejected a plea bargain, now faces up to five years in prison on each count. Kirk Johnson, Utah Man Convicted in Fraud at 2008 Energy Auction, New York Times, March 4, 2001, at A15.
On Friday March 4 a federal judge in Alaska conducted a hearing on whether a reopener provision in a settlement agreement over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill should be invoked to require ExxonMobil to pay an additional $92 million for continuing environmental damage and to repay a $125 million criminal fine previously returned to the company. William Yardley, 22 Years Later, the Exxon Valdez Case Is Back in Court, New York Times, March 4, 2011, at A15. The hearing is being held at the request of marine biologist Rick Steiner.
With violence continuing in Libya as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seeks to repress a major rebellion, significant legal questions are arising concerning who should be paid for exports of Libyan oil and investments by the country’s $70 billion sovereign wealth fund. Landon Thomas, Jr. Libya’s Hidden Wealth May Be Next Battle, New York Times, March 4, 2011, at B1. Libya’s former Justice Minister, who has joined the rebels, alleges that Colonel Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight #103 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, killing 270 passengers. The only person held accountable for the bombing, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was released from serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison in August 2009, on the ground that he was near death from cancer. Aside from the release making a mockery of the concept of a life sentence, the fact that Megrahi remains very much alive in Libya more than a year and a half later, must be a source of unbelievable angst for the victims‘ families. Clyde Haberman, Viewing Libya through Prism of Lockerbie, New York Times, March 4, 2011, at A20. As surprising as the unrest sweeping the Middle East may be to many, in retrospect it seems incredible that rulers like Gaddafi have been managed to remain in power for so long.
On Friday I flew to Florida with my daughter to watch spring training for the Washington Nationals baseball team. On Saturday March 5 we watched the Nats beat the Yankees 10-8 in a game on the Yankees home turf in Tampa. On Sunday we saw the Braves beat the Nats 5-0. A photo gallery from spring training has been posted online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100786.