Last week an appellate court in Ecuador upheld the $18 billion judgment against Chevron for oil pollution that had been awarded by a trial court in February 2011. The decision still can be appealed to Ecuador’s Supreme Court. The plaintiffs previously had told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that they would not seek to enforce the judgment until the appeal in Ecuador was finished. Ecuador’s Supreme Court can still review the case and stay enforcement of the judgment if Chevron posts a multi-billion dollar bond. Naomi Napstone, Chevron Fights on Despite $18 Billion Ecuador Ruling, FInancial Times, Jan. 8, 2012, at 9.
The January 9th issue of the New Yorker features an excellent article on the Ecuador litigation against Chevron. The article, entitled “Reversal of Fortune: A Crusading Lawyer Helped Ecuadorans Secure a Huge Environmental Judgment Against Chevron -- But Did He Go Too Far?,” profiles plaintiffs’ lawyer Steve Donziger who has been involved in the litigation since 1993. Patrick Keefe, the author of the article, interviewed me for the article by phone for 40 minutes on November 25. We primarily discussed the legal issues involved in the case and I am not quoted in the article, which focuses largely on Donziger. I learned some interesting facts that I did not previously know, including that Donziger was in Barack Obama’s Harvard Law School class and about a prior settlement offer.
Last week the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau announced that by January 23 it will provide the public with hourly PM2.5 data measuring the amount of small particulate (2.5 micron) air pollution in Beijing. The decision was announced after Chinese Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian toured Beijing’s air pollution monitoring facilities. As noted in previous blog entries, the U.S. Embassy has been tweeting air pollution readings that indicated that official Chinese data seriously underestimate the severity of air pollution in Beijing. Chinese officials maintain that Beijing experienced 286 “blue sky” days in 2011 compared with 252 such days in 2010. However, last Friday was officially reported as a “blue sky” day in Beijing even though the embassy’s tweets showed that pollution ranged from “very unhealthy” to “unhealthy”. The decision is viewed as one of the most important examples of Chinese officials bowing to public pressure expressed over the internet. Jeremy Page, Beijing Bows to U.S. On Air Quality Report, Wall St. J., Jan. 7-8, 2012, at A11.
On January 5 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that releases of toxic chemicals into the environment increased by 16% in 2010 over 2009 levels. This was the first increase in toxic releases since 2006. EPA attributed most of the overall increase to the metal mining industry, but it also noted that releases from the U.S. chemical industry also had increased. Annual reporting of toxic emissions is required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). Juliet Eilperin, Toxic Releases Rose16 Percent in 2010, EPA Says, Washington Post, Jan. 5, 2012.
Last week China’s Tianjin Maritime Court agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by clam and sea cucumber producers against ConocoPhillips for oil pollution from offshore drilling in Bohai Bay. In June 2011 two leaks of oil and drilling muds occurred near a Conoco platform there. Conoco maintains that the contamination was mostly drilling muds that have been fully recovered, but Chinese authorities subsequently shut down oil production in the area. Conoco has stated that it will pay “reasonable compensation” to those harmed by the spill. CNOC, China’s national oil company, also announced last week that it had established a 500 million renminbi ($79 million) marine environmental fund. James T. Areddy, Chinese Court Accepts Offshore-Oil Lawsuit Against ConocoPhillips, Wall St. J., Jan. 3, 2012.
Gasoline prices soared last week in Nigeria as a result of the government ending fuel subsidies. The price of a liter of gasoline jumped from 65 naira (approximately 40 cents) to between 130 and 140 naira on January 2. This is the equivalent of a rise in gasoline prices from $1.50 to $5.00 per gallon. The Nigerian government announced that the $7.3 billion it had been spending annually on fuel subsidies could now be used to build schools, hospitals, and roads. Drew Hinshaw, Nigeria Braces for Gas-Price Protests, Wall St. J., Jan. 3, 2012, at A11. Responding to fierce protests generated by the end of the subsidy, the government announced that it would consider measures to reduce the cost of mass transit. It noted that oil subsidies had cost approximately one-quarter of the government’s annual budget and had contributed to corruption as much of the gasoline was resold at higher prices in neighboring countries. Drew Hinshaw, Kills of Christians, Protests Roil Nigeria, Wall St. J., Jan. 7-8, 2012, at A9.
On January 6 Japanese government officials announced that they would submit new legislation to the country’s Parliament to strengthen regulation of nuclear power. Goshi Hosone, the minister responsible for responding to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, stated that the the legislation would mandate that Japanese nuclear power plants close after 40 years of operation while requiring plant owners to engage in “worst-case” analysis. Kelly Olsen & Phred Dvorak, Japan Plans Age Limits, Tougher Tests for Nuclear Plants, Wall St. J., Jan. 7-8, 2012, at A9.
Last week the annual conference of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) was held in Washington, D.C. I spent Thursday afternoon at Aspen Publishers’ booth in the exhibit hall demonstrating their “SmartBook” technology that has been used to produce an electronic version of my casebook Environmental Regulation: Law, Science and Policy. The technology enables professors to annotate the book electronically and to embed links that provide a multi-media experience to students. It has proved wildly popular with the students who opted to use it.