The Rio+20 Conference, the once every decade gathering of world leaders to focus on the environment, ended on Friday June 22. More than 100 world leaders attended, but prominent by their absence were U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Delegations worked feverishly until early Tuesday morning, the day before the conference officially opened, to agree on an outcome document that was endorsed at the conference. This document does not seem to represent any substantial breakthroughs. Some are questioning whether there even will be another global environmental conference in ten years. The event attracted more than 45,000 people and more than 600 side events were held, such as the Symposium that I spoke at on June 16 at the Supreme Court of Rio. Some are arguing that this illustrates the increasing importance of “bottom-up” approaches to environmental protection in line with my theory concerning the development of global environmental law.
On Wednesday June 20 the U.S. Senate by a vote of 53-46 refused to veto the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to control emissions of mercury and air toxics under the Clean Air Act. The effort to veto the rules was led by Senator James Inhofe, who invoked the provisions of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA a special fast-track procedure can be invoked to call for a vote over whether major regulations should be blocked by Congress. The White House had indicated that President Obama would likely have vetoed the resolution to block the regulations had it won approval in both houses of Congress. Five Republican Senators voted against blocking the regulations. These include New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Five Democrats voted to block the regulations including Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Warner and Jim Webb from Virginia, Mary Landrieu from Louisianna, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
With legal scholars and politicians anxiously awaiting it ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday June 21 decided its last environmental case of the Term. In Southern Union Co. v. United States, the Court vacated a multi-million fine for illegal storage of hazardous waste in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) because the jury that returned the conviction had not specified the number of days of the violation. RCRA authorizes criminal fines of up to $50,000 per day of the violation and the indictment had charged that the waste had been illegally stored for 762 days. However, the defendant maintained that the Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) required that the jury, rather than the judge, separately find every fact that may increase the maximum punishment for the crime. The result is unfortunate given the serious nature of the offense - storing mercury where children played in it and spread it around an apartment complex. But it is unlikely to have much long-term impact on environmental enforcement that cannot be cured with more specific jury instructions.
Featuring pre-colloquia workshops on ecosystem services on Saturday and global environmental law clinics on Sunday, the Tenth Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law is less than a week away. The official opening will occur on Sunday with a bullpen party and informal reception at Camden Yards followed by the Baltimore Orioles/Cleveland Indians major league baseball game. (I find that taking foreigners to a baseball game is a great way to expose them to U.S. culture). The Colloquium now has more than 300 people registered for it. It will feature presentations by people from nearly three dozen countries and nearly 100 universities. A Colloquium program is available online at http://www.iucnael.org/en/iucnaelorg-academy-events/220-the-10th-annual-colloquium-of-the-iucn-academy-of-environmental-law.html The Colloquium also will feature an opening dinner at the National Aquarium in Baltimore with a keynote address on “Global Environmental Law at a Crossroads” by Georgetown Professor Edie Brown Weiss. In addition the Colloquium will include an international environmental law film festival, a winetasting, a field trip to the Patuxent National WIldlife Refuge, a crab cruise on Baltimore Harbor during the 4th of July fireworks and a post-colloquium program at the World Bank in Washington.