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.