On January 18 President Obama denied approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Environmentalists fiercely oppose the pipeline, which they argue would facilitate the use of the dirtiest, carbon-intensive fuel on the planet while threatening spills that would harm precious groundwater resources. Proponents of the pipeline argue that the pipeline project will create jobs and that the tar sands oil will be used whether or not the pipeline is built because Canada will instead sell the oil to China if the pipeline is not built. Canada currently is holding hearings on a plan to build a trans-Canada pipeline to the Pacific Ocean. While Canada’s First Nations tribes initially were united in their opposition to the proposed Canadian pipeline to the Pacific, many have dropped their opposition in return for a 10 percent equity share in the Canadian project. President Obama argued that the 60-day period Congress had given him to make a decision was too short in light of the need to study the environmental impact of a new route for the pipeline that would avoid Nebraska’s Ogallala aquifer. His decision does not permanently bar construction of the pipeline. The President indicated that he eventually would consider a new application subject to the normal timetable for environmental reviews.
Efforts to protect endangered sharks gained ground last week when the luxury hotel chain Shangri-La Asia Ltd. announced that it would ban shark fin from all the dishes served at its 72 hotels throughout Asia. Two weeks ago the large supermarket chains Carrefour and FairPrice announced that their Singapore stores will no longer sell shark fins. The popular South Beauty chain of restaurants in China also banned shark fins two months ago, as did the Peninsula Hotel chain. This represents a significant shift in Chinese attitudes from the time when I lived in Beijing in 2008. The restaurants are quite significant. I often ate at the South Beauty restaurant in Oriental Plaza and the Beijing Shangri-La Hotel’s Blu Lobster restaurant was absolutely the best in town. Four years ago, while dining at an upscale restaurant in the Oriental Plaza complex called My Humble House, an EPA attorney and I asked the waitress why they still displayed two pages of shark fin dishes on their menu despite Chinese basketball star Yao Ming urging people to stop eating shark fin soup. She replied, “then there will just be more for the rest of us to eat.”
Last week a Vermont federal district judge, Gavin Murtha, ruled that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant could continue operating despite efforts by the Vermont legislature to prohibit an extension of its operating license. The plant initially had been given a 40-year operating license that would expire in March 2012. But last March the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved a 20-year extension of the plant’s license, just as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was occurring in Japan. Judge Murtha ruled that Vermont’s efforts to prohibit an extension of the license were based primarily on safety concerns and thus are preempted by federal law and the NRC’s issuance of a license extension.
On January 23 the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) issued its preliminary 2012 Annual Energy Outlook (see http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4671). The EIA reported that production of oil and natural gas has surged dramatically in the U.S. in recent years. Domestic crude oil production increased from 5.1 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010, more than in nearly any other country. Last year North Dakota produced more oil than OPEC member Ecuador. The EIA is forecasting a 20 percent increase in U.S. production of crude oil to 6.7 million barrels daily in 2010. Due to higher fuel economy standards and increased domestic production, U.S. petroleum imports are projected to decline from 49 percent of domestic liquid fuel consumption to 28 percent in 2020. In four years the U.S. is projected to become a net exporter of natural gas, due largely to expanding use of hydraulic fracturing. U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide in 2020 are expected to be 7 percent below their 2005 levels, though tighter fuel economy standards may reduce them even further.
A second call for papers has been issued for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which will be held from July 1-5, 2012 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. The theme of the Colloquium is “Global Environmental Law at a Crossroads.” The deadline for submitting proposed speaker/paper abstracts has been extended to February 15, 2012. For details see: http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/gelc/