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, February 24, 2013

BP Trial to Open, Brazilian Court Drops Chevron Criminal Charges, EC Refers Sweden & Greece to ECJ, EU Reduces Carbon Allowances (by Bob Percival)


Tomorrow morning a trial to determine civil penalties and natural resource assessment damages for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is expected to open in federal district court in New Orleans.  Judge Carl J. Barbier will preside over the bench trial.  The first phase of the trial will focus on whether BP, Transocean or Halliburton were simply negligent or grossly negligent in their actions that resulted in the spill. If they were simply negligent, the Clean Water Act specifies a civil penalty of $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled.  If they were grossly negligent the penalty can be up to $4,300/barrel.  The second phase of the trial, scheduled to begin in September, will focus on how much oil was spilled.  The U.S. government argues that 4.9 million barrels were spilled, but BP claims that only 3.1 million barrels were spilled.  Last week the federal government agreed that BP will not be penalized for the 810,000 barrels of oil it recovered.  Thus, potential civil penalties now range from $4.5 billion to $17.6 billion.  The states of Louisiana and Alabama also are participating in the trial as plaintiffs and three other Gulf states are seeking additional damages, which has complicated settlement talks.  It was reported over the weekend that the federal government and the states have offered BP a $16 billion settlement.   

Last week a Brazilian court dropped criminal charges against Chevron and Transocean for the November 2011 oil spill in the Frade field off the coast of Brazil.  As discussed previously in this blog (see, e.g., August 5, 2012 blog post), the spill released only 3,700 barrels of oil from the seabed, but Brazilian authorities reacted harshly, threatening criminal prosecution against the companies and several of their executives whose passports were confiscated by Brazilian authorities.  A civil suit seeking up to $20 billion in damages for this spill, which was less than one thousandth the size of the BP spill, is still pending.

Last week it was announced that six of the 177 underground tanks containing radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington state are leaking.  The U.S. Department of Energy previously had revealed that one of the tanks was leaking between 150 and 300 gallons of radioactive waste per year.  Hanford was built by the federal government during the 1940s and was operated for decades to support nuclear weapons production.

On February 21 the European Commission (EC) announced that it had referred Sweden and Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to comply with previous environmental judgments. Sweden was referred for failing to comply with a 2012 order requiring it to issue licenses to control pollution from a steel mill and an iron ore mine.  Greece was referred for failing to shut down 78 landfills that allegedly continue to operate in violation of EU legislation.  The EC proposed a daily penalty of more than 71,000 Euros for each day the landfills continue to operate following a second ruling against Greece.

On February 19, by a vote of 38-25, the environmental committee of the European Parliament approved, as expected, a plan to reduce the supply of carbon allowances to be offered at auction during the next three years (see Feb. 18, 2013 blog post).  A total of 900 million tons of allowances that would have been auctioned from 2013 to 2015 now would be auctioned in 2019 and 2020.  The plan is designed to shore up the price of the allowances in the EU’s cap-and-trade program.  It still needs approval from the full Parliament and EU member states. With allowances currently selling for less than 5 Euros per ton the EU cap-and-trade program for carbon currently provides little incentive for industries to switch to cleaner fuels. Stanley Reed, Europe Is Poised to Bolster Carbon Trading, N.Y. Times, Feb. 20, 2013, at B7.

Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appointed longtime tobacco control advocate Mitch Zeller to be director of its Center for Tobacco Products. Zeller, who previously had worked in the FDA’s Office of Tobacco Program, was an executive at the American Legacy Foundation from 2000 to 2002.  When I co-taught a seminar on tobacco control in 2001, Zeller was one of our guest speakers. His appointment hopefully signifies that the FDA will be more aggressive in implementing its authority under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in June 2009.

On President's Day (February 18) the Library of Congress opened to the public the historic reading room in its Jefferson Building.  For a slideshow of photos I took of this awesome building during the open house go to:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJHd7hNVrxY.

No comments: