On October 12 the lower house of the Australian Parliament approved by a narrow 2-vote margin (74-72) a carbon tax to combat climate change. Approval of the tax, which is expected to become law after being approval by a larger margin in the upper house of Parliament, represents a significant victory for Prime Minister Julia Gallard’s Labor government. Under the legislation more than 400 of Australia’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will pay a tax of A$23 ($23.80 US) per ton of GHG emissions beginning in July 2012. This is a particularly significant development for global environmental law because Australia was the last developed country to approve the Kyoto Protocol except for the U.S., which remains the sole holdout. Due to its economy’s heavy dependence of fossil fuel industries, Australia refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol until 2008. Peter Smith & Pilita Clark, Gillard Scores Victory as MPs Support Carbon Tax, Financial Times, Oct. 12, 2011.
On October 11 five national environmental and health groups in the U.S. filed suit to challenge the national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for ozone initially promulgated by the Bush administration and reinstated by the Obama administration after it decided for now not to tighten the standard. The ozone NAAQS sets the permissible concentration of the pollutant at .075 parts per million, despite the unanimous recommendation by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee that it be set between .060 and .070 ppm. John M. Broder, Groups Sue After EPA Fails to Shift Ozone Rules, N.Y. Times, Oct. 12, 2011.
Last week three officials of the government of Uganda resigned due to an investigation of alleged bribery by Tullow Oil, a British company seeking to develop the country’s estimated 2.5 billion barrel oil deposits that were discovered in 2006. The officials who resigned included foreign minister Sam Kutesa, the governing party’s parliamentary whip and a lower level labor minister. Tullow had previously caused controversy by proposing to drill for oil in protected areas of the country. The Ugandan Parliament voted to impose a temporary moratorium on new oil development projects while the bribery allegations, which Tullow vehemently denies, are investigated.
Congressman Henry Waxman revealed last week that the U.S. House of Representatives has voted 168 times this year against the environment, making it “the most anti-environmental Congress in history.” Fortunately the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has prevented the measures approved by the House, many of which would strip EPA of authority to prevent air or water pollution, from becoming law. On October 14 the House approved a measure to block EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste. The bill would leave the problem largely to state regulation. A total of 37 Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the bill, which was approved by a vote of 267 to 144.
After class on October 13 I flew to Indianapolis in order to attend the opening of the 19th Annual Fall Meeting of the American Bar Association’s Section on Environment, Energy & Resources. More than 300 people attended the event. I was the opening keynote speaker and I spoke about “The Global Transformation of Environmental Law.” An abstract of my remarks is available online at: http://www.law.umaryland.edu/about/features/documents/aba_keynote.pdf. After my presentation I attended a session on the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident on regulation of nuclear power and a session on the Supreme Court’s American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision before having to return to Washington.
As a member of Maryland’s law school appointments committee I spent October 14 and 15 interviewing faculty candidates at the annual American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Faculty Recruitment Conference in Washington, D.C. We interviewed more than 30 candidates over the two days, an exhausting process, but one that was not without its intellectual rewards. After we finished on Saturday I was able to attend the final half hour of an open house for my dear friend Zhang Jingjing, her husband, and new baby, at the home of her in-laws in Garrett Park, Maryland. Jingjing, who has been called “the Erin Brockovich of China,” is currently the Deputy Director of PILnet: Global Network for Public Interest Law in Beijing. Her daughter Meghan, whose Chinese name means “little flower” is truly adorable. Jingjing will be returning to China on October 25.