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, December 1, 2013

Greening the Paper Industry, China Coal Consolidation, Methane Emissions Underestimated, NZ Offshore Drilling Protests, Student E-Law Films (by Bob Percival)

An unusual project by the European paper industry reportedly has developed breakthrough technology to reduce the industry’s environmental impact.  In 2012 the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), a trade association, launched the Two Team Project that brought together two teams of scientists and businesspeople, each of which developed four competing proposals for changing the way paper is made.  On November 27 a jury at the annual European Paper Week conference in Brussels chose as the winning proposal a method of using deep eutectic solvents to dissolve wood and separate lignins without the water- and energy-intensive processes currently used by the industry.  The new technology would reduce energy use by paper companies by 40%, slash the industry’s water use, and generate valuable raw materials for the production of high-value chemicals.  Much more work needs to be done to implement the technology, but industry executives described it as the greatest industrial breakthrough in decades.  “Roll on the Green Revolution,” The Economist, Nov. 30, 2013, at 66.

On November 28 China’s State Council proposed to encourage further consolidation of China’s coal industry by increasing the importance of large, state-owned coal companies.  The proposal reaffirmed the government’s edict gradually to shut down small coal mines producing less than 90,000 metric tons per year and to prohibit new projects with annual production of less than 300,000 tons per year. China currently uses 3.5 billion tons of coal per year - nearly half of all the world’s coal production - and it is expected to increase annual coal consumption to 4.8 billion tons by 2020.  In September 2013 the State Council conceded that it only will be able to reduce the country’s reliance on coal for energy production from the current 70% to 65% by 2017 (it previously had pledged to cut coal use to 60% of energy production by then).  The State Council also directed other agencies to stop local governments from imposing “haphazard” fees and taxes on coal production that may take 25-35% of the coal industry’s revenues.  Chuin-Wei Yap, Beijing Aims to Enlarge Role of State-Owned Coal Giants, Wall St. J., Nov. 29, 2013, at A12.

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that current EPA estimates of methane emissions from agriculture and oil and gas drilling in the U.S. are substantially below actual levels. Scott M. Miller, et al., Anthropogenic Emissions of Methane in the United States, at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/20/1314392110.abstract.  The study is significant because it relied on more than 12,000 actual measurements of methane emissions.  It found that emissions from fossil fuel extraction operations in Texas and Oklahoma may be 2.7 times higher than estimated.  Overall the study found that actual emissions of methane were approximately 1.5 times greater than EPA’s latest estimates.  This is particularly worrisome because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.                

New Zealand environmentalists are protesting the government’s expansion of offshore oil drilling.  Thousands of protesters gathered on 45 New Zealand beaches on November 23 and an Oil Free Seas Flotilla of protest vessels sailed 100 miles off the coast where Anadarko is about to conduct exploratory drilling.  In an effort to limit protests, the New Zealand Parliament in April 2013 passed a law banning protests that interfere with oil exploration and it banned protest vessels from coming within 500 meters of drilling vessels or offshore platforms.  In September 2013 the New Zealand government expanded the areas offered for offshore oil drilling, despite public concern raised by an October 2011 oil spill on a North Island beach caused by the grounding of a cargo vessel.  Environmentalists are concerned that the government and oil industry are not capable of containing a major oil spill, citing the scant efforts that were made to contain the 2011 spill.   

The U.S. Supreme Court has set a date for oral argument in its review of a portion of EPA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations.  The consolidated cases challenging part of the D.C. Circuit’s June 2012 decision unanimously upholding the regulations will be heard at 10AM on Monday February 24, 2014.  The Court is expected to issue a decision in the cases before it adjourns for the summer at the end of June 2014.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Continuing an annual tradition that began in 2002, students in my Environmental Law class have made short documentary films on environmental topics.  This year eight groups of students made films that were shown for the first time on November 25 in the University of Maryland Carey School of Law’s Ceremonial Moot Courtroom.  Two films focused on redevelopment of Baltimore brownfields sites.  Another examined the campaign to demonize Maryland’s stormwater remediation fee as a “rain tax.” Other films examined the silt buildup behind the Conowingo Dam, efforts to ban shark finning, Maryland’s community energy future and the lead poisoning problem.

Routledge has just published the book Trade, Health, and the Environment: The European Union Put to the Test as part of its Explorations in Environmental Studies series.  The book is edited by Professor Marjolein B.A. van Asselt, Chair in Risk Governance at Maastricht University, Michelle Everson, Professor of European Law at the University of London, and Ellen Vos, Professor of Euroepan Union Law at Maastricht University.  I contributed a chapter to the book on “Risk, Uncertainty and Precaution: Lessons from the History of U.S. Environmental Law.”  The book is a product of a conference held at the University of Maastricht in April 2010.

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