The U.S. environmental law community lost a giant in the field last Monday October 29 when John R. Quarles, Jr. passed away. Quarles was the first general counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1970 to 1973. He then served as Deputy Administrator of the agency under both William Ruckelhaus and Russell Train until 1977. Quarles’s book Cleaning Up America, which was published in 1976, provides invaluable information about the early days of EPA. In my work on presidential oversight of agencies, I have extensively cited his tales about how he and Ruckelshaus resisted pressure from the Nixon White House and the Commerce Department, which led Nixon’s Quality of Life review program (the precursor of OMB review), to weaken EPA regulations and enforcement initiatives. His story about EPA’s resistance to pressure to weaken the agency’s initial limits on the amount of lead additives in gasoline is particularly enlightening. In 2005 Quarles received the Environmental Law Institute’s annual award for Achievement in Environmental Law, Policy and Management and he also received the Award for Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy from the American Bar Association’s Section on Environment, Energy and Resources.
Much of Washington, D.C., where I live, was shut down last Monday and Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy. Classes at the law school also were canceled, but the Baltimore/Washington area escaped the enormous damage the hurricane caused to the north. Several of my friends and colleagues in Baltimore lost power, but on Capital Hill it was mostly lots of rain and downed tree branches. Because the hurricane made landfall further north in New Jersey, its winds, which were revolving counter-clockwise, blew the storm surge seaward in the Chesapeake Bay area. However, had the storm made landfall in Virginia, the storm surge would have flooded much of D.C. around the tidal basin, including the national mall, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, the Department of Justice and the FBI. Jason Samenow, If Hurricane Sandy Had Come South: the Dramatic Storm Surge Scenario for Washington, D.C., Washington Post, Nov. 1, 2012 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/if-hurricane-sandy-had-come-south-worst-case-storm-surge-scenario-for-washington-dc/2012/11/01/d1381248-2434-11e2-ac85-e669876c6a24_blog.html).
The scenes of flooding and devastation in New Jersey and New York are horrifying, though scientists had long predicted that this could happen due to climate change and sea level rise intensifying the power of hurricanes and increasing the scope of coastal flooding. One of my former students from China emailed me to express her concern about the hurricane. Noting that President Obama has received favorable reviews for his quick response to this tragedy just a week before the election, she observed: “I think the hurricane Sandy seems helping Obama. Maybe the climate want to choose a president more environmental friendly, so Sandy vote in its own way.” As I noted in my September 2 blog post, near the conclusion of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney stated: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” which produced widespread laughter from the delegates. Romney then declared that: “MY promise is to help you and your family.” I commented then that now that the deleterious effects of global warming and climate change already have become manifest, it is hard to see why beginning to slow the rise of the oceans and healing the planet does not also help families. This sentiment has now been echoed by several commentators in the wake of the disastrous flooding and coastal destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
There are increasing signs that the surge in U.S. domestic oil production and uncertainty concerning future global oil prices is diminishing interest in extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands. On November 1 Canada’s largest producer of tar sands oil, Suncor Energy, Inc., said it would delay a decision about pursuing three multi-billion dollar projects to expand tar sands oil production. The most expensive tar sands extraction techniques, involving extraction of bitumen to produce synthetic crude, require oil prices above $100/barrel to guarantee profitability. West Texas Intermediate crude is currently selling for less than $85/barrel. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers continues to forecast that oil production from Canadian tar sands will more than double by 2020 from 2011’s 1.6 million barrels/day. Chip Cummins, Mining Canada’s Oil Sands: Suddenly, Not a Sure Thing, Wall St. J., Nov. 2, 2012, at B1.
On Thursday I was in San Francisco for a reception for alumni and prospective students of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. It was wonderful to get to see so many of my former students at the reception. On Friday I made a quick trip to Napa Valley before returning to D.C. on Saturday.