Tomorrow I am launching a new website for my environmental law casebook (Environmental Regulation: Law, Science and Policy). The URL for the site is simply the acronym for the title of the casebook: www.erlsp.com. The site contains comprehensive updates for the material in the 6th edition of the casebook, which has been the most popular environmental law casebook used in U.S. law schools. By creating my own website that I personally maintain I am now freed of dependence on the University of Maryland campus IT department (hurray!), which will enable me to post frequent updates instantly from wherever I am in the world. The new 7th edition of the casebook will be published by Aspen Law and Business in early summer of 2012. Aspen has just launched an electronic version of the casebook, which is available through through Aspen’s SmartBooks program (https://www.brainshark.com/WKLB/vu?pi=zEwzmRA44z2C9Vz0). The 2011-2012 edition of my Statutory and Case Supplement arrived in book stores last week (I saw the first copy at Georgetown’s bookstore even before I received a copy from Aspen).
Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and long-time leader of Myanmar/Burma’s democratic opposition, has joined a campaign to protest China Power Investments’s construction of the Myistone Dam on the Irrawaddy River. Tension Over Dam Project Shifts Myanmar’s Politics, Wall St. J., Aug. 13, 2011. The NGO Burma Rivers Network leaked a copy of a 945-page environmental impact assessment prepared jointly by Burmese and Chinese scientists in 2009 that recommended that the project be scrapped. The project has been strongly opposed by many Burmese villagers who are being relocated due to its construction. They argue that it will cause enormous environmental damage and social dislocation while largely benefiting Burma’s authoritarian military government by increasing its revenue from cross-border sales of electricity to China.
This week’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa illustrated the bizarre state of environmental politics in the U.S. today. The Republican candidates in the debate (including even former Governor Huntsman, who says “conservation is conservative” and claims to take climate change seriously) decried overregulation and sought to demonize EPA as a voracious, “job-killing” agency bent on regulatory overreach. Yet as attorney John D. Walke of the Natural Resource Defense Council points out on his blog (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jwalke/out-of-control_criticism_of_ep.html) , most of EPA’s regulatory actions are mandated by law, many to correct actions by the Bush EPA that were struck down by the courts as illegal. Even as Republicans denounced President Obama as anti-business, on August 9 President Obama announced a landmark agreement supported by the trucking industry and truck manufacturers to require heavy trucks to improve their fuel economy by up to 20% by the 2018 model year. It is estimated that the agreement will save 530 million barrels of oil over the lifetime of trucks built from the 2014 to 2018 model years. The industry groups reportedly were attracted to the initiative because it will harmonize federal and California fuel efficiency standards. Mark Clayton, Cheers All Around as Obama Sets Fuel Efficiency Goals for Big Trucks, Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2011.
What explains the new anti-environmental orthodoxy where Republican presidential candidates attack each other for previously supporting cap-and-trade programs to control greenhouse gas emissions? Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein blames business leaders for bankrolling what has spun into an out-of-control anti-regulatory campaign. In today’s Washington Post he writes: “When it started out, all you really wanted was to push back against a few meddlesome regulators or shave a point or two off your tax rate, but you were concerned it would look like special-interest rent-seeking. So when the Washington lobbyists came up with the clever idea of launching a campaign against over-regulation and over-taxation, you threw in some money, backed some candidates and financed a few lawsuits.” But then it morphed into “hundreds of millions of the shareholders’ dollars, laundered through once-respected organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, phony front organizations with innocent-sounding names such as Americans for a Sound Economy, and a burgeoning network of Republic PACs and financing vehicles.” Coupled with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that removed limits on corporate campaign spending, the result was the election of “Frankenpols” who turned what “started out as a reasonable attempt at political rebalancing . . . into a jihad against all regulation, all taxes and all government, waged by right-wing zealots who want to . . . shut down the regulatory agencies that protect you from unscrupulous competitors . . .”. Steven Pearlstein, Who’s To Blame for this Mess? Let’s Start with the Corporate Lobby, Wash. Post, Aug. 14, 2011,at G1.
The prospect for Japan restarting some of its undamaged nuclear reactors dimmed last week with the disclosure by a whistleblower at Kyushu Electric Power Co. that some of Japan’s largest electric companies had collaborated with government officials to stage manage public forums on the issue. Their activities allegedly included organizing phony “astroturf” groups to pack public fora with utility employees, planting questions, and coordinating email drives. The disclosures, which include allegations of document destruction to cover up the campaign, generated considerable public outrage in Japan. Chester Dawson, Scandal Taints Japan Nuclear Sector, Wall St. J., Aug. 13, 2011. Private citizens are now taking their own radiation readings and uploading them on public websites. Hot Concern, The Economist, Aug. 13, 2011, at 39. Last week Tokyo Electric Power, owner of the stricken reactors, began constructing a giant tent around them to contain the spread of radioactive contaminants, even as the Japanese government moved toward shrinking the size of mandatory evacuation areas around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi site. Mitsuru Obe, Japan Moves to Narrow Some Evacuation Areas, Wall St. J., Aug. 10, 2011.
On August 11 the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board (SEAB) Shale Gas Production Subcommittee issued a draft 90-day report on the rapidly growing use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract natural gas from shale formations. Bobbie Brown & Ian Urbina, Panel Seeks Stiffer Rules for Drilling of Gas Wells, N.Y. Times, Aug. 11, 2011, at A12. The report recommended measures to reduce the environmental impact of “fracking,” including greater monitoring and public disclosure of information about fracking, new controls on air emissions from fracking operations, the adoption of best management practices in well development and construction and the use of a manifest system for water transfers. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.shalegas.energy.gov/resources/081111_90_day_report.pdf.
A special advertising supplement to the New York Times sponsored by Rossiskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s paper of record, profiled the rise of environmental activists in Russia. Vladimir Ruvinsky, Out of the Woods a New Opposition, Russia Beyond the Headlines, Aug. 12, 2011, at 2. The article highlighted the efforts of former suburban working mother Evgenia Chirikova and her lawyer Alexei Navalny to try to stop construction of a road through the Khimki Forest. It noted Chirikova’s concern about the extent to which Russia respects the rule of law in light of numerous attacks on environmental activists. Apparently Russian officials believe that publicizing the work of public interest environmental activists will improve Russia’s image in the U.S.
Yesterday I stopped in a Borders bookstore to observe the progress of the chain’s going-out-of-business sale. The advertised 30% discount already had left the travel section of the store severely depleted of books. The travel book that remained in greatest supply appeared to be a guide for touring Syria - not a surprise in light of current events.