[The following was my blog post for April 23 that I was unable to post because this blog is blocked in China where I was teaching at Shandong University. It was posted on my parallel blog at: www.globalenvironmentallaw.com]
Last week Apple Inc. agreed to an audit of environmental conditions in its Chinese supply chain with the audit to be jointly monitored by Apple and the Chinese public interest group Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE). Ma Jun, director of IPE, stated that Apple’s attitude toward transparency in its supply chain changed dramatically after IPE’s release last September of a report detailing environmental violations by Apple suppliers. Apple previously had engaged the Fair Labor Association to audit working conditions at its Chinese suppliers. IPE hopes that Apple’s decision will encourage other multinational corporations to improve environmental performance in their supply chains. Ma Jun stated that Taiwan’s HTC, Sweden’s Ericsson and Japan’s Canon remain laggards in responding to concerns about environmental compliance by their suppliers. Chris Nuttall, Apple Agrees to China Pollution Audit, Financial Times, April 16, 2012. Last week Ma Jun and five other environmental activists received the Goldman Prize for Environmental Excellence. Ma Jun’s work has been mentioned frequently in this blog. The other recipients included Ikal Angelei from Kenya (who is fighting against construction of the Gibe 3 Dam), Evgenia Chirikova of Russia (whose work to protect the Khimki Forest has been discussed in this blog), Edwin Gariguez of the Philippines (a Catholic priest fighting a nickel mine on Mindoro Island), Caroline Cannon from Alaska (a member of the Inupiat community who is seeking to protect Arctic waters from oil drilling), and Sofia Gatica of Argentina (who has organized local women to oppose indiscriminate spraying of pesticides in soy fields). For more information about the prize and it recipients see http://goldmanprize.org/recipients/current
. On April 19 China’s Friends of Nature released their 2012 Environmental Green Paper. Using data from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, the group ranked air quality in Beijing and the country’s 31 provincial capitals. The three most polluted of these cities were Lanzhou in Gansu province, which has long been among the world’s most polluted cities, Urumqi in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Beijing. The three cities with the best air quality were Haikou, the capital of Hainan province (known for Hainan Island), Kunming, the capital of mountainous Yunan province, and Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Tianjin, a direct-controlled municipality administered by the central government, showed the greatest improvement, moving from 25th to 17th on the list.
Last week marked the second anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The anniversary was marked by several events. On April 17 members of the President’s Commission that investigated the spill lambasted Congress for failing to adopt any legislation to prevent future spills and for failing to provide adequate funding for regulatory oversight of offshore drilling. Former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly did praise the oil industry for establishing a safety institute, but argued that it should not be housed at the American Petroleum Institute. He also noted that recent oil spills off the coasts of China and Brazil and in the North Sea indicated that problems continue in the industry. John M. Broder, Panel Faults Congress for Inaction on Drilling, N.Y. Times, April 18, 2012, at A19. On April 18 lawyers for BP and the private parties suing the company jointly submitted their previously announced settlement agreement to the New Orleans federal district court hearing the lawsuits. BP continues to estimate that the settlement will cost it $7.8 billion though it includes no specific limit on the compensation to be paid. Plaintiffs will be paid for their demonstrated losses plus a “risk transfer premium” that reflects possible future losses, inconvenience, aggravation and emotional distress. Tourist businesses can collect premiums of 2.5 times demonstrated losses, while seafood processors can receive up to three times these losses, and fishing boat owners up to 8.75 times. Lawyers for the plaintiffs can receive up to $600 million in attorneys fees. Ed Crooks BP Agrees to $7.8bn Gulf Spill Payments, Financial Times, April 19, 2012.
April 22 was the 42nd anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. The Earth Day Network was hoping that one billion people around the world would participate in celebrations of this event with the theme “The Earth Won’t Wait” for action to protect the environment. The Network states that 800 million people have registered for its “Billion Acts of Green” Campaign (see http://www.earthday.org/2012). The event was marked by concerts and rallies around the world including one at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
On April 18 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first regulations to control air emissions from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) that produces natural gas. Although EPA is barred by a 2005 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act from regulating water emissions from the injection of fluids into the earth to fracture shale formations and release gas, the agency has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate air emissions. The EPA regulations require companies to trap air emissions from fracking operations and to use special equipment to separate the gas and toxins in it. In the face of industry claims that it would not be possible to comply immediately with the regulations, EPA delayed the compliance deadline until January 2015. Prior to this deadline, companies will be required to burn off the air emissions through flaring gas releases. The regulations will reduce smog-forming emissions and control emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Tennille Tracy, First Fracking Rules Unveiled, Wall St. J., April 18, 2012, at A3. The United Kingdom’s Department of Energy released a report last week giving cautious support for allowing fracking in the UK, despite small earthquakes it has caused in Lancashire. While France and Bulgaria have banned fracking, Poland already has approved it over vast areas of its country.
On April 18 the Brookings Institution, the World Resources Institute and the Breakthrough Institute released a joint report “Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech on a Path to Subsidy Independence,” calling for a more rational approach to providing and eventually phasing out subsidies for renewable energy projects. The report, which can be obtained online at: http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/Beyond_Boom_and_Bust.pdf, notes the dramatic drop in subsidies for such projects in the U.S. from $44.3 billion in 2009 after the surge in oil prices the year before, to $30.7 billion in 2011 and $16.1 billion in 2012.
On Wednesday I finished my final Global Environmental Law class of the spring semester at Maryland. On Thursday I flew to China. After a short stay in Beijing, yesterday I arrived in Jinan where I will be spending the week as a visiting professor teaching a course in Principles of Environmental Law at Shandong University. Shandong University has 60,000 students on four campuses, making it one of the largest universities in China. Approximately 2,000 of the students are enrolled in the Law School. This is my second trip to Shandong University where I gave a guest lecture last May as part of a whirlwind one-day visit. Several Chinese universities now are seeking foreign environmental law scholars to teach courses in their law schools. This will be my first teaching stint in China since my semester-long visit to the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing during my sabbatical in 2008.