On October 15, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review a portion of the D.C. Circuit’s decision upholding EPA’s first regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA. The Court limited its review to a single question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” This means that the Court will not review EPA’s endangerment finding or tailpipe rule. The focus in the Supreme Court instead will be on whether EPA can use the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) program to regulate new sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a result, EPA’s basic decision to use the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases no longer will be subject to legal challenge. The question will be whether new and existing sources can be regulated in the absence of EPA promulgating a national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. The case will be argued in the Supreme Court in early 2014 and it is likely to be decided before the Court adjourns at the end of June 2014.
On Tuesday October 15 Chevron’s lawsuit against the plaintiffs and lawyers who successfully sued it for oil pollution in Ecuador opened in federal district court in New York. The case is being tried before Judge Lewis Kaplan after Chevron dropped its claim for $100 million in damages to avoid a jury trial. The case is the latest twist in decades of litigation initially brought in the same New York court nearly 20 years ago. The case was dismissed from the U.S. courts in 2002 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit accepted the oil company’s argument that the case instead should be heard in Ecuador. But the court conditioned the dismissal on the company’s promise that it would accept the jurisdiction of the Ecuadoran courts. After several years of legal proceedings in Ecuador, an Ecuadoran court ruled against Chevron in February 2011 and Chevron now is claiming that the judgment was a product of a fraudulent conspiracy between the plaintiffs, their lawyers, and the Ecuadoran judiciary.
Just as extreme heat and wildfires are about to return to Australia, new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on October 15 unveiled his promised legislation to repeal the country’s carbon tax. The carbon tax was a major campaign issue in last month’s national election in Australia that swept Abbott to power. Under the proposed legislation, the carbon tax would be repealed effective July 1, 2014. The Abbott government also plans to abolish the independent Climate Change Commission and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Its argues that emissions of greenhouse gases can be better controlled through a “direct action” program offering competitive government grants to reduce emissions.
On October 16 Loane Teitiota, a 37-year old resident of the island of Kiribati, asked the High Court of New Zealand to grant him asylum, claiming that rising sea levels have made it too dangerous for him to return to his home. Teitiota is appealing the rejection of his asylum request by a New Zealand immigration tribunal. The New Zealand High Court is expected to rule within a few weeks. Rising seas have damaged crops and contaminated drinking water supplies on Kiribati, one of the low-lying areas on earth. The government of Kiribati has purchased 6,000 acres of land on Fiji to provide a possible resettlement site for some of its 100,000 residents. Lucy Craymere, Asylum-Seeking Man Cites Rising Seas, Wall St. J., October 17, 2013, at A10.
At a meeting of European environment ministers in Luxembourg on October 14, Germany joined Poland and the UK in opposing an agreement with the European Parliament to require motor vehicles to meet tougher GHG emissions standards by 2020. The standards would require autos to emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. Acting at the behest of German luxury carmarkers, Germany succeeded in having the effective date of these standards postponed to 2024. France, the Netherlands and Spain opposed the proposal, while Portugal and some eastern European countries supported it. Matthew Dalton, EU Emissions Plan Hits Roadblock, Wall St. J., Oct. 15, 2013, at B3.
On October 14 the European Environmental Agency published an assessment of air quality in Europe. The study, Air Quality in Europe -- 2013 Report, found that 90% of urban residents are exposed to air pollution at levels deemed harmful to human health. The report noted that transboundary pollution remains a significant problem. For many EU countries more than half of the small particulates (PM 2.5) found in their air originate in other countries. Particulates and ozone pollution remain the most serious air pollution problems in Europe. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2013. The ten cities identified in the report as having the most serious air pollution problems are all located in Bulgaria and Poland. These cities exceeded EU targets between one-third and one-half of the time in 2011. Danny Hakim, Bulgaria’s Air Is Dirtiest in Europe, N.Y. Times, October 15, 2013, at B3.
On October 17 the Beijing city government announced a new strategy for responding to severe episodes of air pollution referred to as “Six Stops and One Wash.” Private vehicles will be banned from the roads on alternate days depending upon their license numbers and street washing will be increased to hold down dust pollution. If severe pollution continues for three days or more, factories will be shut down and construction halted and schools can be closed in certain circumstances. Public transportation will be expanded on days when restrictions on private vehicle use take effect. Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Beijing City Officials Issue Rules to Counter the Effects of Persistent Air Pollution, N.Y. Times, Oct. 19, 2013, at A4.
The shutdown of the U.S. federal government disrupted the plans of many visitors to Washington, D.C., including a high-level delegation of Chinese environmental enforcement officials who were expecting to spend last week at EPA headquarters. The delegation, hosted by the Beijing office of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), including top officials from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and enforcement officials from13 of China’s provinces. It was led by Wang Dongqing, Deputy Director General of the Department of Environmental Enforcement and Inspection of MEP. At EDF’s request, I agreed to speak to the group about environmental enforcement issues on October 15. They seem surprised at how heavily the U.S. relies on self-monitoring and self-reporting by permit holders and the fact that U.S. regulatory officials are not subject to prosecution when they fail to prevent violations. The officials also seemed fascinated by an automobile parked outside of EDF’s DC office. Several had taken photos of it on their cellphone cameras. It turned out to be my all-electric Tesla.