Last week Apple announced that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) had begun an audit of Apple’s suppliers in China to assess working conditions at their factories. The FLA is an independent organization founded in 1999 after concerns that Nike’s products were being produced in foreign sweatshops. The FLA’s membership now includes 34 companies and nearly 200 universities. Auret van Heerdan, president of the FLA, caused controversy when he immediately praised Apply supplier Foxconn for their “first-class” facilities before the audit was even completed. Steven Greenhouse, Early Praise in Inspection at Foxconn Brings Doubt, N.Y. Times, Feb. 17, 2012, at B6. The FLA reportedly sent a team of 30 auditors to Foxconn and pledged to interview tens of thousands of workers. Foxconn last week announced substantial (ranging up to 25%) increases in hourly pay at its facilities, reflecting the general tightening in the Chinese labor market.
On February 16 a new initiative to reduce black carbon and other potent, but short-lived greenhouse gases, including methane and hydrofluorocarbons, was announced by officials from the U.S., Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the UN Environment Program. The U.S. State Department pledged $12 million to the initiative and Canada pledged $3 million. The initiative will promote voluntary efforts to shift to cleaner technology, such as replacing cookstoves with more efficient models, methane capture technology, and the installation of filters on diesel engines. John M. Broder, U.S. Pushes to Cut Emissions of Some Pollutants that Hasten Climate Change, N.Y. Times, Feb. 15, 2012.
Swiss government officials last week announced plans to produce the first “janitor satellite,” called CleanSpace One, to retrieve two orbiting Swiss satellites as a first step in reducing space junk. It is estimated that more than 500,000 pieces of space debris are now in orbit and the risk of collisions with functioning satellites is increasing rapidly. The Swiss satellite, which could serve as a model for future efforts to clean up space, will cost $11 million. It is being built at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne and could be launched in three years.
A Japanese Parliamentary inquiry was told last week of significant safety lapses in the regulation of nuclear power in Japan prior to the Fukushima Daiichi accident last year. A panel of nuclear safety experts reported that, prior to the accident, no serious consideration had been given to the consequences of losing electric power at a Japanese nuclear power plant because the Japanese grid was deemed far more reliable than foreign grids. Scant consideration was given to the possibility of large earthquakes off the coast, lax safety inspections were conducted, and the government was more interested in promoting nuclear power than ensuring its safety. Hiroko Tabuchi, Japan Ignored Nuclear Risks, Official Says, N.Y. Times, Feb. 16, 2012, at A13.
Even though OPEC and the International Energy Agency recently have reduced their forecasts for global oil demand in 2012, the price of Brent crude hit nearly $120/barrel last week. Conflict in Sudan and fears of other supply disruptions are contributing to the price rise, as is strong demand from China. Guy Chazan, Oil Prices Resistant to Demand Doubts, Financial Times, Feb. 16, 2012, at 23. High global oil prices seem to have contributed to the recent upswing in manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as the cost of transporting products from abroad has risen.
Mexico’s top oil regulator expressed alarm last week over plans by the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) to drill two ultra-deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, including one at a depth of 9,000 feet. Juan Carlos Zepeda, director of Mexico’s National Hydrocarbon Commission, said his agency lacks both the resources and experience to ensure the safety of drilling offshore wells at such depths, nearly twice as deep as the Macondo well that blew out in April 2010. Officials at PEMEX rejected the criticism. Angel Gonzalez & Laurence Iliff, Mexico Oil Watchdog Sounds Alarm, Feb. 15, 2012, at A10.
Documents prepared for a board meeting of the Heartland Institute, a free market group that opposes controls on greenhouse gases, were leaked to the web. The New York Time reported that the documents reveal an upcoming campaign to promote a high school curriculum sowing doubt concerning the science behind climate change. Justin Gillis & Leslie Kaufman, In Documents, a Plan to Discredit Climate Teaching, N.Y. Times, Feb. 16, 2012, at A21. While maintaining that some of the documents were forged, the Heartland Institute declared that the person responsible for the leak should be criminally prosecuted.
On Thursday I traveled to Lexington, Virginia for a Friday symposium on “Reclaiming Environmental Federalism” at the Washington & Lee School of Law. On the opening panel with me were former EPA general counsel Roger Martella, Emory law professor Bill Buzbee, Tulane law professor Amy Stein, and GW professor Rob Glicksman. Martella discussed some federalism controversies that arose during his tenure at EPA. I reviewed the history of disputes between states over transboundary pollution. Stein analyzed disputes involving the siting of energy facilities and transmission lines. Buzbee discussed federalism theory and Glicksman proposed new agency organizations to promote smoother and more effective federal-state relations. Washington & Lee has installed solar panels on the roof of their law school to provide the school’s electricity. Dr. Tony Smith, CEO of Secure Futures, LLP, which installed the panels, spoke about efforts by Dominion Resources to block the project despite the utility’s advertised commitment to renewable energy.