Three days of sometimes violent protests have convinced Chinese authorities to halt the $8.8 billion expansion of a Sinopec petrochemical plant in Ningbo, China. The protests began last week with farmers blocking roads leading to the existing chemical plant. Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, stated that “We’ve seen the same pattern over and over again. Ignoring public concerns leads to confrontation. We can’t resolve all our environmental issues through street action. The cost is just too high.” Andrew Jacobs, Protests Over Chemical Plant Force Chinese Officials to Back Down, N.Y. Times, Oct. 28, 2012.
In a white paper released last week, the Chinese government revealed that it is reducing the pace of its expansion of nuclear power. The government now forecasts that it will have 40 gigawatts of installed nuclear power capacity by 2015, instead of the previous target of 50 gigawatts. That still represents an ambitious expansion from the 12.54 gigawatts of nuclear power installed at the end of 2011. Following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March 2010, China imposed a six-month moratorium on nuclear power construction, which has now resumed. But international and Chinese regulators had expressed concern that China was expanding the use of nuclear power so rapidly that there would not be enough qualified personnel to operate the plants safely. China’s decision to delay construction of some of the reactors in seven inland provinces may be a response to these concerns. Keith Bradshear, China Slows Development of Nuclear Power Plants, N.Y. Times, Oct. 25, 2012, at B9.
Dominion Corporation announced last week that it will decommission its 556 MW Kewaunee nuclear power plant located in Wisconsin. The decision was surprising because the plant received a 20-year extension of its operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February 2011. Dominion tried to sell the plant, but was unsuccessful, an indication of how the plunging price of natural gas and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster have reduced interest in nuclear power in the U.S. Kewaunee will be the first U.S. nuclear reactor retired since Connecticut’s Millstone 1 was shut down in July 1998. Matthew L. Wald, Wisconsin Nuclear Reactor to Be Closed, N.Y. Times, Oct. 23, 2012, at B1.
An article published in Science magazine on Friday reports that 40 percent of the fish caught off the Japanese coast where the Fukushiima Daichii nuclear disaster occurred in March 2010 still have levels of cesium in excess of what the Japanese government considers to be safe. Ken O. Buessler, Fishing for Answers Off Fukushima, 338 Science 480 (2012). The contamination is believed to be the result of cesium in the seabed that could contaminate fish for decades even though radioactivity readings in the water column are now at safe levels. Approximately 80 percent of of the radioactivity released in the nuclear accident is believed to have entered the sea. Hiroko Tabuchi, Fish Off Japan’s Coast Said to Contain Elevated Levels of Cesium, N.Y. Times, Oct. 26, 2012, at A4.
On Friday October 26 China’s Supreme People’s Court heard a lawsuit brought by an American wind energy company, American Superconductor (AMSC), alleging that China’s largest vendor of wind turbines, Sinovel Wind Group, Ltd., stole its intellectual property. Sinovel is appealing two lower courts’ refusal to dismiss AMSC’s lawsuit. AMSC alleges that a former employee stole its software secrets and gave them to Sinovel, which quickly stopped paying AMSC for access to it. Keith Johnson, China to Weigh Corporate-Spy Case, Wall St. J., Oct. 26, 2012, at B3.
A trash haulers strike in Bangalore, India, has left the home of many of the country’s high-tech industries drowning in garbage Trash has not been collected for several weeks in what was once known as India’s Garden City. The crisis has exposed India’s poor regulation of landfills and extensive midnight dumping that has contaminated many sites where garbage is dumped in the country. Gardiner Harris, India’s Plague, Trash, Drowns Its Garden City During Strike, N.Y. Times, Oct. 27, 2012, at A4.
At the November 6 election California voters will decide whether to adopt Proposition 37, which would require labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Proponents of the measure argue that the public should have a right to know whether products contain GMOs, while opponent argue that GMOs are safe and labeling will stoke unreasonable public fears. Companies opposing Proposition 37 have raised $40.9 million, while companies supporting it have raised $6.4 million. It is estimated that 94% of the cotton, 93% of soybeans, 90% of canola, and 88% of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Julie Jargon & Ian Berry, Dough Rolls Out to Fight ‘Engineered’ Label on Foods, Wall St. J., Oct. 26, 2012, at B1.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money to influence elections has released of flood of corporate money in this year’s election campaign. In addition to funding political action ads, the decision also has allowed companies to tell their employees how they think they should vote to preserve their jobs. Most companies are buying into the false mantra that Obama is anti-business and that if Mitt Romney is not elected capitalism will be at risk. Brody Mullins, Oil Firms Fund Political Outreach to Employees, Wall St. J., Oct. 26, 2012, at A6. But see, Bradley A. Smith, The Dangers of an Informed Electorate, Wall St. J., Oct. 26, 2012, at A11. Last week the New York Times reported that a piece of climate change artwork so offended corporate contributors to the University of Wyoming that they forced its removal and got the university to agree to give them veto power over future art displays. Dan Frosh, Art That Irked Energy Executives Is Gone, but Wyoming Dispute Whirls On, N.Y. Times, Oct. 27, 2012, at A13.
I previously have criticized both presidential campaigns for deliberately ignoring climate change issues. New York Times reporter John Broder reports that foreigners are astonished at the lack of any serious discussion of climate change by the U.S. presidential candidates. He notes that President Obama, while campaigning in Iowa recently, did state that “climate change isn’t a hoax, The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires, those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it.” John M, Broder, Candidates Agree World Is Warming, but Talk Stops There, N.Y. Times, Oct. 26, 2012, at A16.
Last week the testimonial phase was completed in the trial where our Environmental Law Clinic is representing the Riverkeepers against the Perdue Corporation for polluting the Chesapeake Bay with chicken waste. The trial judge has asked the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and he has scheduled final oral arguments for November 30.
Hundreds of photos of last summer’s 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which was held at Maryland, have been posted online at: (http://www.law.umaryland.edu/faculty/conferences/detail.html?conf=115).