The Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Eighth Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP8) are underway in Doha, Qatar. It seems ironic that the conference is being held in Qatar, the country that is the world’s leader in per capita emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). As host of the 2022 football/soccer World Cup Qatar has pledged to air condition the outdoor stadiums that will be used for soccer’s premier event, though the electricity running the air conditioning supposedly will be generated by solar power. COP18 will run through next Friday December 7 and, as is usual with these events, most of the important decisions are likely to be made at the very end. There are 195 nations who are parties to the UNFCCC. On the agenda are a second round of commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, whose existing commitment period expires at the end of this year, and efforts to flesh out the outlines of a new global climate agreement to be finalized by 2015.
On November 29 government security forces in Myanmar violently attacked citizens protesting the expansion of a copper mine near the city of Monywa. The mine is owned jointly by a Chinese company and the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. The security forces fired explosive devices and severely injured many of the protesters who included numerous monks. According to the protesters, expansion of the mine would displace the residents of more than twenty villages and cause severe environmental damage. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived at the site after the crackdown and agreed to participate in an investigation of what happened.
Last Wednesday I attended a farewell party in U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s office for my casebook co-author Chris Schroeder who is stepping down as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. It was a wonderful event with warm remarks from Chris, Attorney General Holder, Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger and others. Chris will return to teaching at Duke next semester when we will be publishing the new seventh edition of our Environmental Regulation: Law, Science & Policy casebook.
On Friday I attended closing arguments in federal district court in Baltimore in the Waterkeeper Alliance’s landmark lawsuit against Hudson Farms and Perdue for poultry waste pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. The arguments followed briefing of proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law after a trial that spanned parts of three weeks. The basic issue in the case is whether a poultry CAFO with 40,000 birds violated the Clean Water Act by discharging poultry waste into a tributary of a river flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The lawsuit was filed in March 2010. The University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic is representing the Waterkeepers. In an important early victory for the Clinic Judge Nickerson denied Perdue’s motion to dismiss it as a defendant, holding that poultry integrators can be held liable for Clean Water Act violations by their contractor’s CAFO if they exercise sufficient control over their contractor’s chicken operations. Assateague Coastkeeper v. Hudson Farm, 727 F. Supp. 2d 433 (D.Md. 2010). The focus of the trial is now on whether the defendant’s CAFO did in fact discharge pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Last week was the end of classes for the fall semester at Maryland. Every year I have students in my Environmental Law class form small groups to make short documentary films about an environmental issue they are concerned about. Last Monday on the last day of class the students showed the first cut of their films. There are nine films this year. The topics of the films include: invasive species and ballast water, the impact of climate change on the wine industry, hydraulic fracturing, the work of the Baltimore Harbor Riverkeeper, offshore wind in Maryland, the impact of methamphetamine labs on the environment, oysters and the Chesapeake Bay, urban composting, and municipal climate action. The students have until February 1 to submit the final cuts of their films that will be submitted to a panel of judges. On March 27 we will be holding the annual “Golden Tree” award ceremony for the films. The films will then be made available for viewing online.