On January 22 the European Commission unveiled a new set of energy and climate goals through the year 2030. The goals mandate a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over 1990 levels with 27% of energy coming from renewables. However, in a victory for industry groups and the UK, the targets leave it up to individual countries to decide how to achieve them rather than specifying increases in particular renewables. The Commission also expressed concern over high energy prices in the EU, citing the need to maintain “mainstream competitiveness.” It also rejected calls for EU-wide regulation of hydraulic fracturing in favor of voluntary guidelines. Christian Oliver & Pilita Clark, EU Sets Out New Climate Change Goals, Financial Times, Jan. 22, 2014.
Efforts to roll back state renewable energy measures in the U.S. are meeting fierce pushback from an unusual coalition of libertarian conservatives and pro-environment liberals. These groups are opposing efforts by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to get state legislatures to enact measures requiring special charges for those who install solar panels. In Arizona former Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr. worked with environmentalists to help reduce a planned $100/month charge for those using rooftop solar panels to $5/month. In Georgia the Sierra Club has teamed up with a Tea Party activist to form the “Green Tea Coalition”. The Virginia General Assembly is moving to repeal a special charge on those who use hybrid vehicles. John Schwartz, Fissures Emerge in G.O.P. as Some Conservatives Embrace Renewable Energy, N.Y. Times, Jan. 26, 2014, at A13.
On January 22 a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a decision that had rejected challenges to the environmental impact statement (EIS) for oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea off the northern coast of Alaska. The court’s decision is available online at: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/01/24/12-35287%20web%20corrected%202.pdf. The court held that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Interior Department to rely on an estimate of only one billion barrels of recoverable oil in assessing the likely environmental impact of leasing 30 million acres of the continental shelf. The groups challenging the EIS now may move for an order canceling the existing leases, which would be a huge setback to efforts by Shell Oil to begin drilling in Alaskan Arctic waters.
Last week the Ninth Circuit also rejected a petition for rehearing en banc of its Rocky Mountain Farmers Union decision upholding California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard against claims that it discriminates against interstate commerce. See http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/01/22/12-15131.pdf. Six judges dissented from the decision not to rehear the case. It is likely that the plaintiffs will now seek review of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A study recent published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds transboundary air pollution caused by Chinese production of goods for export contributes between 12% and 24% of sulfate pollution in the western U.S. The study finds that outsourcing of manufacturing to China may have improved air quality in the eastern U.S., while actually reducing air quality in the western U.S. A copy of the study, Jintai Lin, et al., China’s International Trade and Air Pollution in the United States, is available online at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/01/16/1312860111. Fours years ago, China’s representatives at global climate change negotiations argued that countries importing goods from China should bear responsibility for the greenhouse emissions their production generates, but they quickly abandoned that argument fearing it could be used to support climate tariffs.
Tesla announced last week that it has adopted a policy of charging the same pre-tax price for its all-electric vehicles in every country of the world. This should provide a huge boost to Tesla sales in China, where luxury auto imports often cost more than twice the price in the U.S. While China imposes heavy taxes on vehicle imports, most auto manufacturers still charge much higher pre-tax prices in China. In a press release Tesla stated: “"If we were to follow standard industry practice, we could get away with charging twice as much for the Model S in China as we do in the US," but it announced that it would not do so. Due to taxes of $36,700 per vehicle imposed by the Chinese government and transportation costs of $3,600, Tesla’s lowest price model still will sell for $121,370 in China, compared with $81,070 in the U.S.
Last Thursday I presented a Legal Theory Workshop at Maryland on “The Role of Civil Society in Environmental Governance in the U.S. and China.” I based the presentation on an article I have co-authored with Professor Zhao Huiyu of Shanghai Jiaotong University. The article will be published in a symposium issue of the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum. Today I am in Vancouver, B.C., en route to Bellingham, Washington. On Wednesday I will deliver a World Issues Forum lecture on “The Global Environmental Challenge of China” at the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies of Western Washington University. An abstract of my lecture is available online at: http://www.wwu.edu/Fairhaven/news/worldissuesforum/14winter.shtml