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, March 3, 2013

BP Trial, Shell "Pauses" Arctic Drilling, Keystone XL SEIS Released, Will on Alar, Russia Smoking Ban, Gore's "The Future" (by Bob Percival)

On February 25 the civil trial of claims against BP, Transocean and Halliburton for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill began in federal district court in New Orleans (see Feb. 24, 2012 blog post).  While conceding that it was negligent, BP claims that it was not grossly negligent and that much of the fault lies with the other defendants.  Plaintiffs argue that the spill could have been prevented, but that BP was under enormous pressure to cut corners in order to reduce costs and speed up production.  Further details surfaced about a reported $16 billion settlement offer from the governmental plaintiffs which would involve a $6 billion civil penalty (not tax deductible), $9 billion in tax deductible natural resources damages (effective after-tax cost of $5.9 billion), and a $1 billion contigency fund. Professor Percival gave an interview about the trial to BBC News (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21548117).  He also was interviewed live on the BBC’s “Up All Night” program on February 26 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b01qx3rz - the interview begins at 1:36:54).

On February 27 Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced that it will postpone oil drilling in Arctic waters until at least the summer of 2014.  Although Shell has spent more than $5 billion over six years to obtain the permits that would allow it to drill, it has encountered severe problems in conducting the drilling in the face of horrendous weather and equipment failures.  Its Noble Discoverer drilling ship experienced an engine fire in December and on January 1 Shell’s drilling ship Kullak ran aground.  Environmentalists argue that Shell’s problems simply illustrate that it is too risky to drill in the harsh Arctic environment. 

On March 1 the U.S. State Department released its draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.  The SEIS concludes that the project will have no impact on climate change because the carbon-intensive tar sands oil will be extracted even if the pipeline is not approved because the oil will be transported by rail or by a new pipeline through Canada to the Pacific Ocean.  Environmentalists argue that if President Obama vetoes the Keystone XL it will make it much more difficult for the tar sands to be developed. 


Last week Washington Post columnist George Will wrote a column decrying “The Manufactured Crisis of Sequester” that repeated what in some quarters has become an urban legend.  Citing public reaction to the discovery in 1989 that the apple supply was contaminated with the chemical Alar, Will claims that “Alar, was not, after all, a risk.”  Yet subsequent EPA testing revealed that Alar, also known as daminozide, was indeed carcinogenic and posed an “unacceptably high” risk that warranted its swift removal from the food supply.  Kimm, Alar’s Risks, 254 Science 1276 (1991).  Rather than trying to demonize the messenger, Will should be grateful that an alert public forced this chemical off the market.

Last week the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin had signed a law than bans smoking in most public places.  This could be particularly significant because the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 40 percent of Russian adults smoke.  The law will be phased in beginning on June 1, 2013.  It also raises taxes on tobacco products and restricts advertising of them.  David M. Herszenhorn, Putin Signs Law to Ban Most Public Smoking, N.Y. Times, Feb. 26, 2013.

This weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Florida for Washington Nationals spring training.  I made it a little earlier than usual because I will be out of the country for the next two weeks, taking a group of my students to Israel to study Middle Eastern water resources issues and then speaking at an environmental enforcement conference in Kolkata, India.  Beginning on Friday night, my son and I watched the Nats sweep the weekend, beating the Braves on Friday and the Cardinals on both Saturday and Sunday.  While on the trip I have been reading Al Gore’s new book The Future.  The book outlines what Gore describes as six important trends that are shaping the future of the planetary environment - globalization of the world’s economy, globalization of communication technology, a new balance of power in the world, rapid unsustainable growth in resource consumption, new technologies that enable humans to redesign the molecular structure of all solid matter, and climate change.   While arguing that the democratic process has been “hacked” by monied interests, Gore argues that the internet offers hope for mobilizing citizens to combat these worrisome trends. 

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