On November 10 the Obama administration announced that it would delay a decision on whether or not to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project to transport heavy tar sands oil to the U.S. The delay will give the administration time to consider routes that skirt around the important Ogalala aquifer in Nebraska. It also should postpone the decision until after the 2012 presidential election, extricating President Obama from a “no-win” situation. Christi Parsons & Paul Richter, Decision on Pipeline Put Off Until 2013, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 2011, at A10.
The latest chapter in the long-running controversy over the accuracy of air pollution monitoring in China occurred last week when Chinese authorities announced that 40 lucky people per week would be allowed to tour Beijing’s air quality monitoring center. Air pollution in Beijing has been particularly nasty this fall and the U.S. Embassy’s online air quality monitoring, made available online through an iPhone app and Twitter, reportedly has been embarrassing Chinese authorities. Last year a Wikileaks cable revealed that the Chinese government had privately asked the U.S. Embassy to stop posting its monitoring data online. Pan Shiyi, a Chinese real estate developer with 7 million followers of his blog, asked the Chinese public to vote on whether more stringent air pollution standards should be adopted. More than 30,000 of the 40,000 respondents voted “Yes”. Andrew Jacobs, Beijing Acts to Calm Anger Over Reporting of Air Pollution, N.Y. Times, Nov. 9, 2011.
Last week the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual report. It reported that global carbon dioxide emissions grew in 2010 at the “almost unprecedented” rate of 5.3% to 30.4 billion metric tons. James Herron, Energy Agency Warns Government to Take Action Against Global Warming, Wall St. J., Nov. 9, 2011. The IEA also forecast that in 2015 the EU will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of oil. This somewhat surprising prediction is a result of the dramatic increase in U.S. fuel economy standards and increased U.S. natural gas and oil production. The report also forecast that by 2020 China would overtake the EU as the world’s largest importer of oil. Global demand for oil is expected to grow from last year’s 87 million barrels a day to 99 million barrels per day by 2035. The IEA concluded that every additional $1 invested in fossil fuel production will cause $4.30 in environmental damage after 2020. Julia Werdigier, Europe’s Oil Imports Poised to Pass Level of U.S., N.Y. Times, Nov. 9, 2011.
On November 7 the Australian Parliament gave final approval to a carbon tax. Beginning in July 2012 the top 500 emitters of greenhouse gases will be required to pay a tax of approximately $24 for each ton of carbon they emit. Beginning in July 2015 an emissions trading program will be launched. The decision represents a huge victory for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as well as a dramatic turnabout for a country that until late 2008 had been the only developed country other than the U.S. that had failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
On November 9 the U.S. Department of Commerce opened an investigation of charges that China is unfairly dumping below cost solar panels on the market. A new trade group representing buyers and installers of solar panels was established this week to press the argument that any trade sanctions imposed on Chinese solar manufacturers will cost U.S. jobs. Due largely to increased Chinese exports, prices of solar panels have plunged from $3.30 per watt in 2008 to only $1 to $1.20 per watt today.
On Friday Nov. 11 I spoke at a conference on “CERCLA and the Future of Liability-Based Environmental Regulation” at Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles. Professor Percival compared CERCLA with other countries’ programs for remediation of environmental contamination. The conference was terrific. It featured lots of veterans from the early history of CERCLA and the war stories we shared were absolutely fascinating. Southwestern has what Dean Bryant Garth accurately described as the best building of any law school - a 1929 art Deco former Bullocks department store on Wilshire Boulevard. I joined several of the speakers on a fabulous tour of the building that emphasized how the school has gone to great links to preserve its historic builgin. I spent Saturday in a cold and rainy Vancouver, Canada, before returning to D.C. on Sunday.