10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Obama Inaugural, World Economic Forum, Ukraine Fracking, Apple Supplier Responsibility & Chinese Air Pollution (by Bob Percival)

In his Second Inaugural Address last Monday, President Obama surprised many observers by identifying efforts to combat climate change as one of his administration’s top priorities during his second term of office:
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

Since it appears virtually impossible that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will agree to new climate legislation, the President’s remarks apparently signal a willingness to take further executive action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Because EPA’s efforts to regulate GHG emissions under the existing Clean Air Act have been upheld in court, Obama’s remarks suggest that we will see more such action in the future.

The annual World Economic Forum opened in Davos, Switzerland last week. In an interview at Davos, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim described the need to combat climate change as a matter of “conscience” in light of the overwhelming (“97 percent”) scientific consensus concerning its dangers. He noted that “In the worst climate scenario, my kids will live in a world without coral reefs, with acid oceans and with wars fought over water.” The interview is available online at: http://www.weforum.org/sessions/summary/insight-idea-jim-yong-kim

At the Davos Forum on January 24 Peter E. Voser, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, signed an agreement with President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine enabling Shell to drill for natural gas in the Yuzivska field in eastern Ukraine. This agreement may be part of a wave of hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas reserves in Europe, where the practice has developed more slowly than in the U.S. Chevron currently is fracking in Poland, but its efforts to do so in Ukraine have been blocked by opposition from local governments. Stanley Reed, Royal Dutch Shell to Drill for Natural Gas in Ukraine, N.Y. Times, Jan. 25, 2013, at B7. China’s efforts to promote shale gas development are off to a slow start. Last week more than 80 percent of the bids in an auction of drilling licenses came from local firms with no specific expertise in shale gas production, leading some observers to characterize it as “more of a land grab than an effective policy to open up acreage.” Duncan Mavin, China’s Bid for Shale-Gas Riches in Doubt, Wall St. J., Jan. 24, 2013, at C10. In the U.S. natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corporation has agreed to let the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conduct extensive testing at one of its drilling sites to gather data for an EPA report on the environmental impact of fracking. The report is expected to be released next year. Tennile Tracy, Chesapeake to Host EPA In Study of Fracking Risk, Wall St. J., Jan. 24, 2013, at B3.

On January 24, Apple released its 2013 Supplier Responsibility Report. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/reports.html. A record 393 audits were conducted on Apple’s supply chain in 2012, a 72 percent increase over 2011. These included 55 focused environmental audits and 40 process safety assessments. The report notes that Apple has joined the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade to support supply chain solutions to the Congo’s conflict minerals problem. Apple is “one of the first electronics companies to map its supply chain for conflict minerals,” identifying “211 smelters and refiners from which [its] suppliers source tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold.” The report includes quotations from Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, and NRDC’s Linda Greer, praising Apple for its efforts to improve environmental compliance by its suppliers. Although 78 percent of Apple’s suppliers that were audited were found to comply with environmental standards, “147 facilities were not properly storing, moving, or handling chemicals, . . . 85 facilities failed to label hazardous waste storage locations and chemical containers, . . . 106 facilities were not recycling or disposing of hazardous waste as required by law, . . . 35 facilities did not have proper measures to prevent stormwater contamination, . . . 96 facilities failed to adequately monitor and control air emissions,” and 65 facilities failed to document their compliance with environmental impact assessment requirements. Based on an anonymous employee tip, Apple’s auditors discovered that one supplier was intentionally dumping waste cutting oil into a restroom receptacle. The auditors forced the supplier to stop this practice. Apple dropped one Chinese company, the Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronic Company, as a supplier after an audit found that the company employed 74 workers who were less than 16 years old.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that industrial interests in China are pushing back against proposals to crack down on air pollution. Brian Spegele & Wayne Ma, China Clean-Air Bid Faces Resistance, Wall St. J., Jan. 22, 2013. Although China has had some success reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants (particulate emissions from this source fell by 21 percent from 2005 to 2010), this progress is being partly undermined by increased emissions from industrial production (particulate emissions from iron and steel plants increased 39% from 2005 to 2010) and the rapid growth of China’s motor vehicle fleet. Last week Beijing’s acting mayor Wang Anshun announced plans to remove 180,000 old vehicles from the highways and to replace coal-burning boilers in Bejing residences.

On Thursday January 24, the University of Maryland Carey School of Law hosted a talk by Professor Isabella Alacañiz from the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland-College Park. She shared a chapter (“Expert Bureaucrats and the Skill Gap in the Developing World”) of a book she is writing on an important aspect of the growth of global law -- the development of transnational expert networks. Her talk focused in particular on how experts in nuclear science and technology are cooperating through networks established pursuant to the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA), the Regional Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific (RCA), and the Regional Cooperative Arrangement for the Promotion of Nuclear Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARCAL). After the talk Professor Alacañiz and I had dinner and discussed efforts for closer collaboration of environmental faculty in the University of Maryland System.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mercury Treaty, China Allows Media Focus on Pollution, Drones to Combat African Poaching, Inaugural Weekend (by Bob Percival)

On January 19, after all-night negotiations that concluded a week of talks in Geneva, representatives from more than 140 nations agreed on a new treaty to address mercury pollution. Negotiations were launched in 2009 after the new Obama administration reversed long-standing U.S. opposition to such a treaty and China and India quickly followed suit. While some environmentalists are disappointed that the provisions of the treaty are not stronger, officials from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) view it as a useful first step at a time when multilateral environmental agreements have been few and far between. The treaty does not require countries to develop national plans for controlling all mercury emissions, but it does call for restrictions or bans on the use of mercury in certain products. The treaty will be signed in a ceremony later this year in Minimata, Japan, the small fishing village where mercury discharges into water during the 1950s and 1960s caused severe neurological damage in children and led to more than 1,700 deaths. The treaty will be known as the Minimata Convention, even though it would not have prevented the Minimata tragedy because it does not limit mercury discharges to water. John Heilprin, More Than 140 Nations Adopt Treaty to Cut Mercury Emissions, Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2013, at A5. The treaty will enter into force when 50 nations have ratified it, which is expected to occur within three or four years. Within three years of the treaty entering into force nations will be required to have plans to reduce or eliminate mercury use in small-scale gold mining operations, a major source of mercury use. Environmentalists hope that future negotiations will strengthen the treaty.

Pollution problems in northern China have become so severe that the Chinese government has decided that it should not censor media and internet discussion of them. Edward Wong of the New York Times reports that on a single day last week there were 6.9 million mentions of “Beijing air” and 6.7 million mentions of “air quality” on a popular microblog. Edward Wong, In China, Widening Discontent Among the Communist Party Faithful, N.Y. Times, Jan. 20, 2013, at A6. Horrendous air pollution in Beijing (see Jan 14, 2013 blog post) led outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to criticize the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and its leader Zhou Shengxian. On January 15 incoming prime minister Li Keqiang stated that solving the country’s environmental problems would be a long process. Guangzhou’s Southern Weekend magazine, which sparked public protests earlier this year over attempted censorship of its New Year’s Day message, published an expose by two water safety officials revealing that they had not used tap water for decades because of the contaminants in it. This has sparked further public discussion of water quality issues, though it has been known for years that tap water is not safe to drink even in the poshest Chinese hotels.

To combat a surge of poaching Kenyan wildlife reserves plan to deploy drone aircraft to monitor animal herds. The drones are not armed but they are equipped with thermal imaging technology that allows them to monitor wildlife even after dark. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga reports that 360 elephants were killed in his country last year due to high demand for ivory that fetches $1,000 per pound in Asia. James Reini, Anti-Poaching Drones to Take Off in Africa, Aljazeera, Jan. 20, 2013. Several rangers and poachers have been killed in shootouts in Africa recently. Last month Google gave the World Wildlife Fund $5 million to purchase drone aircraft that will be used to combat poaching in two African and two Asian wildlife reserves. South African officials report that a record 668 rhinos were killed in that country in 2012. Rhino horns now sell for $30,000 per pound on the black market. Veterinarians in South Africa are now learning how to treat rhinos injured by poachers. Christopher Torchia, South Africa Vets Struggling to Treat Survivors of Rhino Poaching, Wash. Post, Jan. 20, 2013, at A19.

The spring semester at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law started last week. This semester I am teaching a seminar on Global Environmental Law. Student interest in the subject has been so great that I have nearly doubled the size of the seminar to 34, but it still has a wait list. For the first class on January 16 Julie Weisman, who works with the Water Resources Action Project (http://www.wrapdc.org) -- a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that works on water issues in the Middle East, conducted a roleplay involving a transboundary dispute over water resources.

As part of the inaugural weekend festivities in the nation’s capital, today my wife and I attended an excellent Executive Briefing sponsored by the law firm of Skadden Arps. It featured conversations with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007-2011, and investigative journalist Bob Woodward. Mullen, who helped direct the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, was asked whether he thought the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden had been living. While stating that he had seen no “smoking gun” proving that Pakistani government officials knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts, he noted that it was hard to believe none of them knew. Mullen noted that he made the call to inform General Ashfaq Kiyani, head of the Pakistani Army, that the raid had occurred. When told where bin Laden had been living for the last five years, “Kiyani seemed shocked.” But Mullen noted that it was not clear whether he was shocked that bin Laden lived there or that the U.S. had discovered it.

At lunch we sat with former Congressman Jim Oberstar, who had been chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when I testified before it in July 2007 on a bill to clarify federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Oberstar is now working on efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay. After lunch Bob Woodward stated that the Washington Post had approached the leaders of Google about forming a partnership to provide better news coverage of climate change, but that Google rejected the idea on the grounds that it did not want to become a content provider.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 Hottest Year Ever in U.S., LA County Decision, Canadian Tar Sands Pollution, Beijing Air Pollution, Greek Gold Mine Protests (by Bob Percival)

The National Climatic Data Center confirmed on January 8 that 2012 was the hottest year ever in the U.S. Average temperatures in the U.S. were more than one degree warmer (at 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit) than in 1998, the previous hottest year. Yet 2012 will only be the world’s 8th or 9th warmest on record due in part to a La Nina weather pattern that affected other parts of the world. But even if this proves true, the 10 warmest years on record for the planet will all have occurred within the past 15 years. While last year’s drought in the U.S. was not quite as severe as the 1930s drought that produced the Dust Bowl, it covered more than 60 percent of the nation and devastated soybean and corn crops. At least11 natural disasters occurred in 2012 that each caused more than $1 billion in damage with Hurricane Sandy’s damage likely to exceed $60 billion. Justin Gillis, It’s Official: 2012 Was Hottest Year Ever in the U.S., N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 2013. Last week record heat waves struck Australia fueling wildfires in Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria state and the Australian Capital Territory. Enda Curran, Record Heat Wave Fuels Wildfires Across Australia, Wall St. J., Jan. 8, 2013, at A11. The extreme heat in Australia convinced Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to add additional color codes for temperatures between 52 and 54 degrees Centigrade (125.6 to 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and above 54.

On January 8 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a very narrow decision ducking most of the issues raised in a very confusing case involving regulation of stormwater discharges under the Clean Water Act. In Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Court reversed a confusing Ninth Circuit decision finding Los Angeles County in violation of its permit by discharging polluted stormwater into the Los Angeles River. In a very brief opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg the Court concluded that “the flow of water from an improved portion of a navigable water into an unimproved portion of the very same waterway does not qualify as a discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act.” Justice Ginsburg noted that parties agreed that the Ninth Circuit had erroneously believed that the monitoring stations were placed outside the rivers receiving the stormwater instead of instream, requiring its decision to be reversed. She also noted that a new permit, which actually is under administrative appeal right now, will correct this problem by requiring end-of-pipe monitoring of the stormwater. The Court expressly refused to address NRDC’s claim that exceedances in the instream monitors could be sufficient to establish the District’s liability for its upstream discharges. The Court’s decision was unanimous except for Justice Alito who “concurred in the judgment” without explanation.

A study analyzing 50 years of sediments from six lakes in the province of Alberta, Canada has found steady increases in the presence of toxic pollutants since development of the Alberta Tar Sands began in 1978. The study, which was funded by the Canadian government, measured levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The study is significant because it debunks claims by some industry supporters that the pollutants were there prior to the development of the tar sands. Professor John P. Smol, one of the researchers who conducted the study, described the results as “the smoking gun” linking tar sands development with toxic pollution. Ian Austen, Toxic Risk Is Suggested in a Study of Oil Sands, N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 2013 at A4.

The U.S. Interior Department has launched a 60-day review of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling practices in the Arctic Ocean following the company’s Kulluk drilling rig briefly running aground in rocks near Sitkalidak Island off the coast of Alaska. After the accident environmentalists called on President Obama to suspend all Shell’s permits to drill in the Arctic. Tennille Tracy and Alison Sider, U.S. to Review Shell’s Arctic Drilling Practices, Wall St. J., Jan. 9, 2013, at B2.

Air pollution reached frightening levels in Beijing last week. The U.S. Embassy’s Twitter feed of air pollutant levels reached a “crazy bad” level of 755 on the evening of January 12. Edward Wong, On Scale of 0 to 500, Beijing’s Air Quality Tops ‘Crazy Bad’ at 755, N.Y Times, Jan. 13, 2013, at A16. Levels between 300 and 500 are considered “hazardous” enough to trigger emergency health warnings in the U.S. while levels between 200 and 300 are deemed “very unhealthy.” Visibility in Beijing was greatly diminished by the pollution even though there were no clouds in the sky. By Monday morning January 15 pollution had declined to 465 on the embassy’s Air Quality Index. Concentrations of small particulates (PM2.5) reached 886 micrograms per cubic meter on January 12, more than 12 times permissible levels in China and 25 times permissible levels in the U.S. Wayne Ma, Beijing Pollution Hits Highs, Jan. 14, 2013, at A10.

The French utility Electricité de France SA (EDF) reportedly is in talks with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co. to form a partnership to build nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom (UK). EDF wants to build four new nuclear reactors in the UK, but investors are shying away from nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. EDF’s first new nuclear power plant, the Hinkley Point project in southwest England, now is not projected to begin operation until 2020. Selina Williams & Géraldine Antîel, EDF Turns to Chinese Partner for U.K. Nuclear Plants, Wall St. J., Jan. 11, 2013, at B5. The Hanergy Holding Group of China, known for building hydroelectric projects, last week purchased the U.S. solar power start-up firm MiaSolé. The purchase allows the Chinese company to acquire significant patents for solar technology for a fraction of the cost venture capitalists initially poured into MiaSolé as the company struggled to compete with low-cost Chinese companies. In the last four years Chinese solar manufacturers have increased their production capacity by a factor of 17. Diane Caldwell & Keith Bradsher, Chinese Firm Buys U.S. Solar Start-Up, N.Y. Times, Jan. 10, 2013, at B1.

Greek environmentalists are claiming that their country’s financial woes are causing government officials to compromise environmental standards. Protests erupted last week over the Hellas gold mine being built by Canada’s Eldorado Gold Inc., a Canadian corporation. A decade ago Greece’s highest court vetoed the project on environmental grounds, but it now is expected to open in two years. Environmentalists argue that economic concerns have resulted in lax enforcement of environmental standards, mandatory environmental impact reviews have been sharply curtailed, coal use is increasing, and 95 percent of the country’s $1 billion environmental fund may be diverted to the general budget. Suzanne Daley, Greece Sees Gold Boom, But at a Price, N.Y. Times, Jan. 14, 2013, at A4.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

AALS Meeting, Transocean Settlement, Tehran Air Pollution, Chinese Chemical Spill, Keystone XL (by Bob Percival)

From January 4 to 7 the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) held its annual meeting in New Orleans. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Global Engagement and the Legal Academy” and there appeared to be many law professors from foreign countries in attendance, including many Chinese and Japanese professors. Among the sessions I attended were programs on the Law of the Sea Convention, Lawyering Goes Global, and the use of electronic casebooks in law schools. On January 6 the Section on Environmental Law sponsored a retrospective look on forty years of environmental law to celebrate the section’s 40th anniversary. Prof. Bill Rodgers discussed some of the key events in the history of U.S. environmental law. Prof. J.B. Ruhl discussed the history of the Endangered Species Act. Prof. Adam Babich discussed environmental law clinics and Prof. Brigham Daniels discussed Richard Nixon’s environmental legacy.

On January 7 I spoke on a panel that addressed a joint session of the Sections on Natural Resources and Property Law on “40 Years of Environmental Law and Natural Resources Law -- A Retrospective Look.” Also on the panel were John Cruden, president of the Environmental Law Institute, and Professors Kaylani Robbins, Jessica Owley, Peter Reich, and K.K. DuVivier. I reviewed some of the past forecasts concerning the future of the global environment, including those offered by Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, Gregg Easterbrook, Bjorn Lomborg, and Jorgen Randers. I noted that some problems that seemed daunting 40 years ago, such as population growth, now seemed to be less threatening, while unforeseen events such as nuclear accidents and major oil spills can have an immense influence on global energy policy. After presenting some data on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on U.S. energy use, I discussed how globalization and reverse globalization could affect the future development of environmental and natural resources law.

On January 3 the Swiss company Transocean, Inc. agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settlement civil and criminal charges brought by the U.S. government in connection with its involvement in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Transocean was the owner of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform that exploded and sank while drilling the Macondo well. The settlement includes a criminal fine of $100 million for negligently discharging oil in violation of the Clean Water Act with an additional $150 million to be paid to the National Academy of Sciences to research better means of preventing and remediating oil spills and $150 million paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore the Gulf ecosystem. It also includes $1 billion in civil penalties. BP previously has settled criminal charges with the U.S. government, but not civil charges which are likely to produce an additional penalty ranging between $5 billion and $21 billion. I was interviewed about the settlement on two Canadian television programs (http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/Lang+%26+O%27Leary+Exchange/ID/2322939115/?sort=MostRecent) and (http://watch.bnn.ca/business-day-pm/january-2013/business-day-pm-january-3-2013/#clip836751).

The Kulluk, a giant floating drilling barge Royal Dutch Shell PLC used in drilling in the Alaskan arctic, ran aground last week on Sitkalidick Island while en route to Seattle. Electrical equipment on the drilling barge reportedly was damaged, but there reportedly was no release of the fuel that was onboard. The Kulluk later was freed and towed to a more sheltered location on Kodiak Island.

High levels of air pollution have choked Tehran during the last week causing the government to order government offices, schools, and banks to be shut down for five days. On January 6 the government allowed them to reopen. The municipality of Tehran reports that the extreme air pollution includes high levels of particulates, sulfur dioxide, benzene, and lead. Inversions caused by cold weather and the nearby Alborz mountains occur each winter, trapping high levels of pollutants in the Tehran air. Thomas Erdbrink, Annual Buildup of Air Pollution Chokes Tehran, N.Y. Times, Jan. 7, 2013, at A6.

A chemical spill was reported last week in China’s Shanxi province. Approximately 39 tons of aniline leaked from a burst pipe owned by Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group in Changzhia. About a quarter of the chemical release made its way to the Zhouzhang River and flowed into Hebei province. Concerned citizens were upset that although the spill occurred on Dec. 31 it was not publicly reported until January 5, after it had spread to Hebei. James T. Areddy, Chemical Leak in China Spurs Alarm, Wall St. J., Jan. 7, 2013, at A9.

The editorial staff of the respected Guangzhou publication Southern Weekly launched a protest strike last week after a New Year’s message from the editors supporting greater freedom was quashed by local Communist Party censors. This has sparked considerable public protest. In July 2010 I published an article about the BP oil spill in the Southern Weekly, which has an excellent reputation in Chinese environmental circles. The reason why I publish this blog on two separate sites (the other site, which also includes weekly photographs, is at http://www.globalenvironmentallaw.com) is in order to increase its ability to be read in China as blogs often are blogged by the country’s firewall.

On Friday January 4 the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality released a report finding that the new route proposed for the Keystone XL pipeline poses “minimal” risks to the state’s environment. The new route avoids the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region, but it still crosses the Ogalalla Aquifer, an important source of drinking water and irrigation. Nebraska’s Governor Dave Heinemann will have 30 days to recommend to the U.S. government whether or not to approve the pipeline. Tennille Tracy, Keystone Pipline Clears A Big Hurdle in Nebraska, Wall St. J., Jan. 5-6, 2013, at A3.