On Wednesday December 12, Professor Zhao Huiyu, Maryland’s visiting environmental law scholar from Shanghai Jiaotong Law School, and I visited the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) in Washington, D.C. The FMC is an independent agency responsible for regulating maritime shipping to and from the United States. We observed a meeting of the five-member Commission, which is chaired by Richard Lidinsky, Jr. The Commission voted on a number of matters, including extending an existing exemption on filings of negotiated rate agreements by non-vessel-operating common carriers to foreign carriers, and its staff provided a briefing on the use of alternative dispute resolution in enforcement proceedings. Professor Zhao was quite impressed by the openness of the process, noting that in China one would never see government officials openly airing policy disagreements in public. Following the commission meeting Professor Zhao and I met with Chairman Lidinsky in his offices and we then joined him and his staff for lunch.
The vast majority of imports into the U.S. arrive by ship and China is the leading country of origin of such shipments. As a result, FMC officials regularly consult with their Chinese counterparts and they rotate holding annual meetings in one country or the other. The shipping industry has become much more environmentally conscious in recent years, something that Chairman Lidinsky has sought to encourage by giving the Chairman’s Earth Day Award annually to recognize outstanding leadership and innovation in sustainable ocean transport practices. Nike won the award this year for reducing the carbon footprint of its shipping. Previous award winners have included the Maersk Line for environmental leadership in vessel operation, vessel design, and efforts to increase carbon emissions transparency and the Port of Los Angeles for air quality improvements from its Clean Truck program.
On Friday December 14 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to impose a historic limit on the catch of menhaden. These small fish, which are a critical part of the food chain in the Chesapeake Bay region, have declined to less than one-fifth of the population that existed during the 1960s. An excellent film about the menhaden, which was made by my Environmental Law students last year, can be seen online at: http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/envirofilms/42. At a raucous public meeting in Baltimore, the Commission voted 13-3 to limit next year’s menhaden catch to 170,800 metric tons, a 20 percent reduction below average levels during the past three years. While this reduction was less than what had been recommended by environmental groups, Virginia officials protested that it would devastate the state’s fishing industry, which is responsible for 80 percent of the menhaden catch. Much of the Virginia catch is for Omega Protein, a corporation that processes the fish for fish oil and fishmeal.
In order to meet a court-ordered deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Friday December 14 that it had strengthened its national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for fine particulates (PM 2.5) including soot. EPA set an annual standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The agency estimates that by 2030 the new standard will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions, and 4.7 million work days lost due to illness. EPA estimates that the new standard will produce net benefits ranging from $3.6 billion to $9 billion per year. While some industry groups criticized EPA for strengthening the standard, EPA noted that less than ten of the 30,000 counties in the U.S. will have to undertake new local regulations to meet the standard. A video of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson describing the new standards is online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEUrnDB2rF0&feature=youtu.be
While my students were taking their Administrative Law and Environmental Law exams last week, my wife and I made our annual pre-Christmas pilgrimage to Manhattan. On Monday December 10 we went to Greenwich Village to see the opening run of “Happy New Year,” a powerful film about the plight of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, for which my nephew is one of the executive producers. Prior to arriving at The Quad where the film was showing, we stumbled upon the MLB Fan Cave where Cobie Caillat was giving a free concert. On December 11 we had lunch at Le Bernardin to celebrate the second anniversary of my wife’s cancer being in total remission and that evening we attended the performance of “The Messiah” by the St. Thomas Men and Boys Choir and Concert Royal. On December 12 I took the 6AM Acela back to D.C. and met Professor Zhao at Union Station just in time for our visit to the Federal Maritime Commission, whose offices are just a few blocks away.