Cities in eastern China, including Shanghai, were engulfed in severe air pollution last week. One friend in Shanghai described the “smell of burning coal” pervading the city. On December 6 pollution became so severe that sporting events were canceled, schoolchildren were sent indoors and construction was halted. Thirty percent of government vehicles were taken off the roads as PM2.5 levels reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic meter, far above the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended limit of 25.
The government of Ecuador shocked environmentalists on December 4 when it raided and closed the Quito offices of the Pachamama Foundation, a nonprofit group that opposes oil drilling in the Amazon. The group, whose name means “Mother Earth” in Quechua, worked with the Achuar indigenous population to protest an auction last week of 13 oil drilling concessions in Ecuador near the Peruvian border. Ecuador President Rafael Correa denounced the group as a threat to public order. The group has vowed to challenge its closure in the courts of Ecuador and to file a complaint with the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.
Last week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held a three-day policy summit in Washington, D.C. The group, heavily funded by contributions from the Koch brothers and other corporations, has been losing members and corporate sponsors after it was exposed as the driving force behind the widespread enactment of state “stand your ground” laws. Some of its opponents claim that ALEC actually stands for “A Legislator for Every Corporation” because it is pushing a host of right wing initiatives to benefit corporate interests. In 2014 ALEC plans to push state legislatures to adopt measures to gut state renewable energy standards, hand public lands over to oil and gas companies, preempt state and local laws requiring labeling of genetically modified products, and oppose EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. Mariah Blake, What Kind of Crazy Anti-Environment Bills Is ALEC Pushing Now?, Grist, Dec. 6, 2013. ALEC’s policy summit generated protests and a few scathing reviews, particularly after the press was barred from some of its meetings. See Dana Milbank, ALEC Stands Its Ground, Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2013.
On Wednesday December 4 I gave a lecture on recent developments in administrative law at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Rockville. The lecture, part of a series sponsored by the NRC’s Office of General Counsel, reviewed judicial decisions addressing the level of deference agencies should receive during judicial review, and questions of preemption and standing. It was a fun experience for me because several of my former students are attorneys at the NRC and Margaret Doane, the agency’s general counsel, also is a Maryland Law graduate. She previously served as the Director of the NRC's Office of International Programs and she emphasized the considerable efforts that are being made to improve global cooperation in ensuring the safety of nuclear power. Among the other Maryland grads at the NRC who attended my lecture were Michelle Albert, Lisa Clark, Marcia Simon, Andrea (Curatola) Silvia, Esther Houseman and Tracey Stokes. Several administrative law judges from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board also attended the lecture. Some of these are considered “science judges” because of their scientific or technical backgrounds, which is particularly useful considering the nature of the NRC’s work. When I again teach Administrative Law next fall I am hoping to arrange a field trip to the NRC so that the class can observe how adjudicatory hearings are conducted.
The world is celebrating the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela, who passed away on December 5 at the age of 95. In 1997 Mandela co-founded the Peace Parks Foundation that seeks to protect wildlife by creating protected areas along borders to allow animals to traverse national boundaries. When South Africa hosted the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Mandela delivered a speech entitled “No Water, No Future” arguing that the nations of the world should make access to clean water a human right. In 2007 Mandela founded the Elders, a group of independent global leaders, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who have made climate justice one of their top priorities.
One of the great blessings of my life has been to have the kind of mother-in-law that one could only dream of. Yesterday afternoon Mary Louise (Baldwin) Price, my mother-in-law, passed away in Towson, Maryland at the age of 88. “Wesi” Price was the daughter of the late H. Streett Baldwin, a major political figure in Baltimore County during the 1930s and 1940s when he served as chair of the Baltimore County Commissioners and as a member of the U.S. Congress. Wesi had a keen sense of social justice and always made me feel like a most welcome member of the family. The world is a much better place as a result of her life.