Faced with lawsuits for the chemical spill that shut down water supplies for more than 300,000 people in the Charleston, West Virginia area, Freedom Industries, the company that owned the ruptured tank that caused the spill, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 17. The bankruptcy filing makes it unlikely that the company that was the source of the spill will be required to fully compensate victims of its harm. Lawsuits also have been filed against West Virginia-American Water Co. for failure to prevent the chemicals from entering its water supply. An article in today’s New York Times explores the lax state of environmental regulation in West Virginia that permitted hazardous chemicals to be stored in a poorly monitored tank employing ancient technology (rivets instead of welds) located in close proximity to the main water intake for Charleston. Trip Gabriel, Michael Wines & Coral Davenport, Chemical Spill Muddies Picture In a State Wary of Regulations, N.Y. Times, Jan. 19, 2014, at A1. The article notes that the spill has not tempered anti-EPA rhetoric by West Virginia’s elected officials, who continued to rail last week against overzealous federal regulators. It notes that Randy C. Huffman, West Virginia’s secretary of environmental protection, boasted in May 2009 that his department had brought an enforcement action against PPG Industries for illegally dumping mercury only in order to bar two environmental groups from bringing citizen suits against the company.
Last week U.S. House and Senate negotiators unveiled a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill that won bipartisan support to avoid another budget crisis. The 1,582-page bill was unveiled on Monday night, passed the House by a vote of 359-67 on Wednesday, and the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 72-26. President Obama then signed the measure into law. The legislation contains some anti-environmental provisions inserted at the insistence of House Republicans. It temporarily blocks EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from spending money on the development of new rules related to mountaintop mining, and it temporarily bars expenditures on the enforcement of existing enhanced efficiency standards for light bulbs that effectively ban incandescents. The latter may have little effect because most major suppliers already have discontinued the manufacture of incandescents and retailers are likely to continue to phase them out of their supply chains. The budget legislation also tries to revive support by the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for construction of coal-fired power plants in countries such as India and Vietnam, a policy the Bank previously had repudiated.
A leaked draft of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that 15 more years of failure to control emissions of greenhouse gases will make the climate change problem impossible to combat with current technologies. The report finds that technologies would have to be developed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them underground in order to preserve the livability of the planet. It decried the fact that despite increasingly alarming evidence of climate change more money still is spent each year to subsidize the use of fossil fuels than to promote a shift to cleaner energy sources. Justin Gillis, U.N. Says Lag in Confronting Climate Woes Will Be Costly, New York Times, Jan. 16, 2014.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, head of Iran’s Department of Environment who is the country’s leading female politician, had planned to speak at the country’s Friday Prayers on why environmental protection is a religious imperative under Islam. The speech would have represented a major breakthrough at the Friday Prayers for women, moderates and the environment, who are disfavored by the fierce conservatives who run the weekly event. However, Ebtekar reported on her Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/ebtekarm) that at the last minute the speech “was canceled for reasons that [I} do not know.“ The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) subsequently has published a text of the speech Ebtekar had planned to deliver (see http://isna.ir/fa/news/92102816069/متن-سخنرانی-لغو-شده-ابتکار-در-پیش-خطبه-نمازجمعه). In 1979, at the age of 19, Ebtekar served as the spokesperson for Iranian students who stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held its personnel hostages for 444 days. She now is considered a leading moderate and reformer in the Rouhani administration.
Our spring semester classes started on Monday January 13. This semester I am teaching my Global Environmental Law seminar and first year Constitutional Law. I have 30 students in my seminar and 66 students in my Constitutional Law class. Last Monday a group of 15 first-year students from my Con Law class joined me at the U.S. Supreme Court to watch the oral argument in NLRB v. Canning, the case involving the constitutionality of President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The argument was one of the most interesting that I have seen with the Justices struggling with basic issues of constitutional law that they had not previously addressed. After the argument, the students joined me for lunch at my home on Capital Hill. Next weekend I am traveling to Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, before delivering a World Issues Forum Lecture at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies in Bellingham, Washington (http://www.wwu.edu/Fairhaven/news/worldissuesforum/14winter.shtml).