On February 3 Chevron told the government of Ecuador that it did not intend to apologize for oil pollution damage in the Amazon for which it has been held liable by an Ecuadoran court. Under a judgment rendered a year ago, Chevron can reduce its liability from $18 billion to $9 billion by apologizing to the people of Ecuador for the pollution. Chevron spokesman James Craig said that an apology would be a “false admission of responsibility.”
In the wake of a cadmium spill that contaminated drinking water to millions, seven people in southern China have been fired. Two hundred miles of the Longjiang River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were affected by the spill, which contaminated drinking water to millions. The fired officials included the head of the environmental protection board for the town of Hechi, which failed to report the spill and six officials from the Jinhe Mining Company and Hongquan Lithopone Factory, who were blamed for the spill. Andrew Jacobs, China Fires 7 Officials After Spill, New York Times, Feb. 4, 2012.
Last week an appellate body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that China’s policies to limit mineral exports, including export taxes, violated international trade rules. The case was initially brought in 2009 by the U.S., the European Union (EU), and Mexico, which challenged Chinese export taxes on bauxite, coke, zinc, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon carbide and yellow phosphorous. The complaining states believe the ruling should curb some of China’s efforts to limit exports of rare earth minerals. Joshua Chaffin & Alan Beattie, Financial Times, Jan. 31, 2012, at 6.
The world’s largest refinery for rare earth metals is about to be opened by Lynas, an Australian company, in Kuantan, Malaysia. Rare earth metals are important components of smartphones and wind turbines. Their prices soared after China slashed exports of the metals in 2010. The Malaysian refinery will generate approximately 20,000 tons per year of low-level radioactive waste. Despite protests by Malaysians, Lynas has failed to find a permanent disposal site for this waste. They plan to store it onsite for 20 years in pits lined with clay and plastic. Keith Bradshear, Rare Earth Metal Refinery Nears Approval, New York Times, Jan. 31, 2012.
On Monday evening January 30 I spoke to a graduate seminar on Environmental Reporting at Georgetown University’s main campus. The seminar is taught by Associated Press energy and environmental reporter Dina Cappiello. I spoke on what reporters should know about environmental law. On Thursday February 2 I joined John Cruden, president of the Environmental Law Institute, in reviewing the four environmental cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court at the annual ALI/ABA conference on Environmental Law in Washington, D.C. I covered the PPL Montana and Kiobel cases while John reviewed the Sackett and Southern Union cases.