In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama declared that “climate change is not a hoax” and that “more droughts and floods and wildfires” are “a threat to our children’s future.” In online replies to questions from scientists published at http://www.sciencedebate.org/debate12/, Republican candidate Mitt Romney seemed to backtrack on his acceptance speech by stating that: "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences."
On September 5 the Justice Department filed a brief in connection with BP’s settlement of $7.8 billion in private civil claims. The brief argued that BP had engaged in gross negligence and willful misconduct in connection with the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The filing was designed to preserve the government’s ability to seek the maximum penalty of $21 billion against BP for gross negligence if settlement negotiations with the government fail.
Over the weekend Royal Dutch Shell began drilling the first pilot well in the Chukchi Sea off the northern coast of Alaska. It has taken Shell seven years and more than $4 billion to gain approval for the drilling. The well is in shallow water (only 130 feet deep), but it is estimated that any oil is 8,000 feet below the seabed. Shell will have to cease drilling for the season by September 24 when it will be only 1,400 feet down, but it expects to complete the well next summer. Shell has a second drill ship that will drill in the Beaufort Sea northeast of Alaska, but it has not been deployed yet in order to avoid interfering with whale migration. Environmentalists continue to maintain that Shell is ill-equipped to contain an oil spill int he arctic.
Last week the Arctic ice cap experienced more extensive melting this summer than ever previously recorded. Scientists attributed the unprecedented thaw to both natural weather variations and the impact of global warming. The ice cap shrunk from more than 9 million square miles in March 2012 to 1.54 million square miles. This was 70,000 square miles less than the previous record low recorded in September 2007. The six lowest Arctic ice cap levels recorded have occurred during the last six summers. Melting of the Arctic ice cap can have significant effects on weather patterns, but it does not raise sea levels because the ice is floating over sea water and displaces the same amount of water when frozen as it releases when melted. Robert Lee Hotz, Record Ice Thaw in Arctic, Greenland, Wall St. J., Sept. 7, 2012, at A2. Concern about sea level rise has focused on this summer’s commencement of dramatic melting over nearly the entire Greenland ice cap, including at the highest elevations of this land mass.
On September 7, 2012, the U.S. and Canada amended their bilateral agreement concerning environmental protection of the Great Lakes. This is the third time the 1978 agreement has been amended with the previous amendments being made in 1983 and 1987. EPA’s website describes the amendments in the following terms: “The updated Agreement facilitates United States and Canadian action on threats to Great Lakes water quality and includes measures to prevent ecological harm. New provisions address the nearshore environment, aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation, and the effects of climate change. It also supports continued work on existing threats to people's health and the environment in the Great Lakes basin such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.” A copy of the amended agreement is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/glwqa/20120907-Canada-USA_GLWQA_FINAL.pdf
In his new book The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health, which is being published this month by MIT Press, Professor Alan H. Lockwood of the University of Buffalo notes that the Clean Air Act has prevented more than 180,000 deaths per year, a number that may increase by 2020 to 230,000 avoided deaths per year. This will produce an estimated $22 trillion in net benefits, a number that is more than 40 times greater than estimates of compliance costs. Lockwood estimates that this has saved the federal government so much in federally-funded health costs that the feds could have paid for all compliance costs and still have come out ahead. A summary of the study is available online at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/how-the-clean-air-act-has-saved-22-trillion-in-health-care-costs/262071/
On Tuesday September 4 I presented a two and a half hour lecture to a group of twenty judges from the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanjing Province, China. The judges are in the U.S. on a training program sponsored by the Chinese government and the Maryland China Initiative that is based at the University of Maryland at College Park. The judges were a truly exceptional group who asked some of the best questions I have ever received from a visiting foreign delegation. We had a lively discussion of how China can improve its environmental laws, the importance of citizen suits, and political pressure as a defense tactic.
On Thursday September 6 I presented a paper on the common law of interstate nuisance in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2011 American Electric Power decision at the first Legal Theory Workshop of the year at Maryland. I greatly appreciated the comments of my colleagues on the paper. The paper, entitled “Of Coal, Climate and Carp: Reconsidering the Federal Common Law of Interstate Nuisance,” focuses on North Carolina’s state common law nuisance litigation against the TVA’s upwind coal-fired powerplants, the Supreme Court’s decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, and efforts to use federal common law to stop the spread of invasive species of Asian carp to the Great Lakes.
On Thursday night I went with Maryland Dean Phoebe Haddon, Maryland Professor Bob Condlin and Georgetown Professor Phil Schrag to a sold-out Camden Yards for the most important baseball game of the year for the Baltimore Orioles. Until baseball came to Washington, D.C. in 2005, I had been an Orioles season ticket holder for nearly 25 years and a Yankee fan for more than four decades. I then became a Washington Nationals season ticket holder (since I live in D.C.) and a passionate fan of the Nats. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 10-6 by hitting six home runs in the game (incredibly a feat the Nats accomplished at home for the first two times on Tuesday and Wednesday). The victory tied the Os with the Yankees for first place in the American League East. After seven years without a winning record, this has been a dream season in which the Nats currently have the best record in all baseball with less than four weeks left in the season. A beltway World Series next month between the Nats and the Orioles would be a cherished dream to baseball fans in the Baltimore/Washington area.