The global environmental law community is mourning the death on Friday February 10 of Professor Svitlana Kravchenko of the University of Oregon School of Law. Professor Kravchenko, who was married to Oregon environmental law professor John Bonine, was the Director of the LL.M. program in Environmental and Natural Resources Law. She taught for 25 years at Lviv National University in her home country Ukraine before moving to Oregon eight years ago. Professor Kravchenko was the Vice Chair of the Aarhus Convention’s Compliance Committee and a tireless advocate for using human rights to promote environmental protection. In 2011 she was awarded the senior scholarship prize for outstanding scholarly achievements by the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. Professor Nick Robinson of Pace has shared a moving remembrance of Professor Kravenchenko that I have posted on my globalenvironmentallaw.com website (see link on Feb. 13 blog entry there).
The government of China announced last week that it had prohibited Chinese airlines from complying with the European Union’s regulations controlling emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The EU regulations, which subject all airlines flying to and from the EU to the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) for GHGs, took effect on January 1. In December the European Court of Justice rejected a legal challenge to the regulations brought by China and other non-EU countries. The EU has reiterated its determination to proceed with the regulations, which exempt flights already subjected to their country of origin’s GHG controls. Thus, other than stopping flights to EU countries, the only way countries can opt out of the regulations is by adopting their own GHG controls for airlines. Representatives from 26 nations whose airlines fly to the EU plan to meet in Moscow on February 21 to discuss next steps. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which had rejected the notion of negotiating a global agreement to control GHG emissions from airlines is now considering several options, including a carbon tax or global cap-and-trade scheme for airlines. Trouble in the Air, Double on the Ground, The Economist, Feb. 11, 2012, at 66.
Last week a prominent German energy executive Johannes Teyssen, CEO of Eon, declared the EU’s ETS “dead” and a “bust.” The president of Europe’s equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce, Philippe de Buck, president of Business Europe, blasted proposals to withdraw more than one billion surplus carbon permits from the EU ETS, a move intended to shore up their sagging prices. Carbon permits are now selling for roughly 7 Euros per ton (a little more than $9/ton), far less than anticipated. Joshua Chaffin, Business Warns Against EU Moves in Carbon Market, Financial Times, Feb. 8, 2012.
A new study for the Economist by Yale researcher Angel Hsu, working in collaboration with scientists from Columbia University and Batelle Memorial Institute, uses satellite data to estimate levels of air pollution over China. By measuring how much light is blocked by pollution, the study estimates levels of small particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). It finds that PM2.5 levels exceed the World Health Organization guideline of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air in 20 of China’s 22 provinces. Levels of PM2.5 were estimated to be 35 in Beijing and more than 50 in Shandong and Henan. Cleaning the Air, The Economist, Feb. 11, 2012, at 80. The researchers also found that emissions from aviation contribute to 8,000 premature deaths annually throughout the world, including 3,500 in China.
On February 9 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the first licenses to construct and operate new nuclear power plants since 1978. Southern Company won the licenses to add the reactors to its Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, Georgia. The vote was 4-1 with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko dissenting on the ground that the licenses should include requirements that the plants also comply with future safety regulations that are likely to be adopted to respond to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan. Construction of the reactors is estimated to cost $14 billion. Ryan Tracy & Cassandra Sweet, Agency Clears Reactors, Wall St. J., Feb. 10, 2012, at B4. Japan has begun awarding $13 billion in contracts to decontaminate villages exposed to radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi accident without any clear guidelines for how the decontamination is to be conducted. Hiroko Tabuchi, A Confused Nuclear Cleanup, N.Y. Times, Deb. 11, 2012, at B1.
Two weeks ago the government of Spain announced that it would halt temporarily subsidies for new renewable energy projects due to the subsidies having been set at levels that were far too generous. As a result of the subsidies, solar power now accounts for 13% of the cost of Spain’s electricity, but only 3% of the country’s electrical supply. Ignacio Galan, chairman of Iberdrola, Spain’s largest wind farm owner, has praised the move because it does not retroactively reduce the subsidies. The Spanish government, however, has not ruled out reducing subsidies retroactively. Pilita Clark, Iberdola Backs Freeze on Subsidies, Financial Times, Feb. 13, 2012, at 19.
On Friday Feb. 10, Oxfam International held a protest across from the offices of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Oxfam’s global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is protesting the oil industry’s opposition to the SEC implementing a provision of the Frank-Dodd Wall Street Financial Reform Act that would require oil companies to disclose all their payments to foreign governments. Oxfam argues that companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron purport to support transparency, but then unleash their lobbyists and lawyers to threaten to sue the SEC if it issues the rules. See Ian Gary, The Transparent Hypocrisy of Big Oil, Feb. 9, 2012 on the Oxfam website. Organic farmers from Massachusetts, Mississippi, and South Dakota rallied last week in front of the federal courthouse in Manhattan where an important lawsuit is being heard. The Organic Seed Growers Trade Association is suing Monsanto claiming that it is impossible to prevent genetically modified crops from contaminating organic crops with transgenic seed. Contamination has become so common that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled that organic crops will not lose their organic status if they contain no more than 0.9% transgenic content. Julia Moskin, Modified Crops Tap a Wellspring of Protest, N.Y. Times, Feb. 8, 2012, at D3.