On September 14 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the U.S. Coast Guard released their final joint report on last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The report was highly critical of BP and its contractors Halliburton and Transocean, while finding that BP bore ultimate responsibility for the spill. Links to each part of the report are available at: http://www.boemre.gov/ooc/press/2011/press0914.htm
On Friday the Shanghai Environmental Protection Board (EPB) ordered operations suspended at two battery manufacturing plants due to the discovery of elevated lead levels in children living nearby. The action was taken after a microblogging campaign by parents of children found to have elevated levels of lead when given health tests at the start of the school year. It was reported that 12 of 25 children found to have elevated lead levels were hospitalized. The levels ranged up to 50 micrograms per deciliter, five times the 10 microgram/dl level of medical concern recognized by health authorities in both the U.S. and China. The plants, which are located in suburban Shanghai near the Pudong International Airport, include one owned by U.S.-based Johnson Controls Inc. A company spokesperson noted that Johnson’s emissions of lead are one-seventh the relevant standard and its wastewater emissions of lead are only one-tenth permissible limits. Johnson’s Shanghai plant is 13 years old and was acquired from another company six years ago. Johnson recently announced that it would build a new $100 million battery plant in China. James T. Areddy, Shanghai Shuts Plants in Lead Probe, Wall St. J., September 17, 2011, at A10. In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court held that a Johnson Controls’ policy barring women of child-bearing age from positions where they would be exposed to lead from battery manufacturing constituted unlawful sex discrimination. In August China suspended operation of companies that mine and produce rare earth metals in order to conduct a three-month review of their environmental practices. Some suspect that this move, which has sent global prices of compact fluorescent light bulbs soaring, may be motivated by a desire to deflect complaints of protectionism. Keith Bradsher, China Consolidates Grip on Rare Earths, N.Y. Times, Sept. 16, 2011, at B1.
Japan officials are drafting new regulations to govern operation of the country’s nuclear power plants in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power complex. Kojiro Irikura, who is chairing the panel drafting regulations for the the country’s Nuclear Safety Commission, stated last week that all plants will have to be able to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and 15-meter tsunami. Only 11 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are currently operating, but federal authorities are trying to encourage the restart of some of the plants. Irikura believes that previous safety guidelines were too lenient because they focused on most likely events rather than worst case scenarios. Chester Dawson, Big Japan Quakes Still a risk, Wall St. J., Sept. 16, 2011, R 10.
Industry efforts to make federal regulations a scapegoat for the sluggish economy continued this week when U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner told the Economic Club of Washington that “219 new rules” were pending that each would cost the U.S. economy at least $100 million per year. After further investigation Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler discovered that a significant portion of these “rules” are simply agency actions to transfer federal funds to recipients, many involve rules that generate benefits greatly in excess of their projected costs, and others involve actions already completed or that are not likely to be completed in the near future. As a result Kessler awarded “three Pinnochios” to Boehner. Glenn Kessler, John Boehner’s Misfire on Pending Federal Regulations, Sept. 16, 2011.
On Friday Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to the University of Maryland School of Law to participate in ceremonies marking the launch of its new name as the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. The new name honors the school’s 1880 graduate whose decendants are responsible for the W.P. Carey Foundation’s $30 million gift to the school. Sotomayor was both warm and eloquent in responding to questions from both Maryland law students and high school students.