On Tuesday August 23 I hosted a group of visiting environmental professionals from Vietnam at the University of Maryland School of Law. The group included Dr. Loi Van Dang, Deputy Director of the Department of Pollution Control at the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA), Mr. Son Minh Hoang, Deputy Director of the VEA’s Department of Policy and Legislation, Dr. Dong The Nguyen, VEA’s Deputy General Director in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dr. Khanh Quoc Nguyen, Director of the VEA’s Center for Environmental Information and Data. It also included Mr. Phuong Nam Nguyen, Director of the Vietnam Environment Protection Fund, Mr. Sy Thi Nguyen, Deputy Director of the Environmental Crime Prevention Unit in Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security and an environmental journalist, Dr. My Thi Pham, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Natural Resources & Environment. Vietnam is in the process of revising its environmental laws, as is customary every five years, and the group was visiting the U.S. under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. I was asked to present a lecture to them summarizing aspects of U.S. environmental law that might be useful to them in updating Vietnam’s laws.
When I visited Vietnam in May 2008, I spent an afternoon in Hanoi at what was then called the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency, meeting with Dr. Tran Hong Ha, who was then the agency’s Director General. (See May 4, 2008 blog posting). Last Tuesday I showed the Vietnamese visitors a photo of my visit with Dr. Ha, who they explained has been promoted to an even more important position in the Vietnamese government. Half way through my presentation the ceiling started rumbling and the floor shook. One of the interpreters who had lived for many years in California jumped under a table and declared that it was an earthquake. I continued lecturing for another 15 minutes until a security guard burst into the room and asked why we had not evacuated the building (answer: no one told us to). The evacuation enabled me to introduce the visitors to several members of our faculty, gathered in the park across the street from the law school, but it precluded us from completing our workshop.
Hurricane Irene hit the east coast and the Washington area this weekend. While it was not nearly as bad as people initially had feared, the concern that major urban areas like New York City could be flooded by Katrina-like storm surges seems to have pointed the way to what we can expect in the future as sea level rise and stronger hurricanes (both forecast by the IPCC) occur with greater frequency.
Despite a strong stock market rally today, Monsanto Corp. was one of the few companies that saw its stock decline in price. The reason apparently was an article in the Wall Street Journal that publicized a discovery by scientists from Iowa State University. The scientists found that some agricultural pests appear to have developed immunity tonsanto’s genetically modified crops that are supposed to be resistant to the bugs. Scott Kilman., Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance, Wall St. J., Aug. 29, 2011, at B1. Are presidential candidates who question the theory of evolution listening?
Despite strong protests from environmental groups, the U.S. State Department on August 25 approved construction of the XL pipeline to transport crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to U.S. refiners. Several prominent environmentalists,, including Gus Speth, were arrested and spent last weekend in jail after protesting in front of the White House. Environmentalists fear that the piepline will help Canada market oil derived from Alberta tar sands that generates significantly more greenhouse gase emissions than alternative fuels.
In August 2010 the nation of Kenya adopted an ambitious new constitution that, among other reforms, created a Land and Environmental Court. The constitution was approved by a vote of 67% of Kenyans who voted in a referendum in August 2010. Under the terms of the new constituton, Kenya’s Parliament was supposed to enact implementing legislation within one year of adoption of the constitution. With the deadline looming, Kenya’s Parliament did in fact adopt legislation to implement the terms of the new constitution. While I do not have direct confirmation that this included legislation to establish Kenya’s Land and Environment Court in July 2011, draft legislation to implement this provision of the constitution was unveiled in late July 2009.
On August 23 the Foreign Ministry of Denmark unveiled a new 10-year plan for the Arctic that shifts the focus of government policy from environmental protection to commercial and economic development. The strategy was agreed upon by the governments of Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Danish Foreign Minister Lene Esperson explained that “Previously, the discussion about the Arctic region has focused on the environment, on whether we oughtn’t turn the region into one large natural preserve. But Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands have now agreed that we want to utilize the commercial and economic potential of the area.” The plan seeks to encourage private investment in the area to improve the living standards of people residing there. Flemming Emil Hansen, Arctic Strategy Shifts to Economic Development, Wall St. J., Aug. 24, 2011, at A6.
Press reports last week confirmed that the Chinese government’s maritime authority is about to sue the U.S. oil company Conoco-Phillips for two major oil spills that occurred in June 2011 in Bohai Bay. China’s State Oceanic Administration is reviewing applications from 49 Chinese law firms to help with the litigation. The two spills released 3,2000 barrels of oil and drilling fluids in the Penglai 19-3 offshore oil field, spreading pollution over 324 square miles of Bohai Bay. Conoco states that its cleanup of the spills is more than 95% complete and that it will “do the right thing” with respect to compensating victims of the spills. Edward Wong & Clifford Krauss, Chinese Maritime Agency Plans to Sue American Oil Company Conoco Phillips Over Two Spills, N.Y. Times, Aug. 25, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/26/world/asia/26china.html).