On February 17 the Share the Road movement led by environmental activist Tony Oposa marched to the Supreme Court of the Philippines to file a petition. The petition asks the Court to issue a writ of kalikasan requiring “road-sharing.” The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy for situations where the constitutional right to “a balanced and health ecology” is violated. The petitioners ask that the country’s roads be split down the middle with half made available for non-motorized transportation, sidewalks, edible gardens, and all-weather bike lanes and the other half made available for organized motor transport. The petition argues that it is unfair that roads currently are used by only the 2 percent of the population that owns motor vehicles. It also asks for a 50% reduction in fuel use by the Philippine government as well as an order requiring government officials to use public transport half of the time.
Last week Singapore’s environment minister proposed a new law that would authorize the government to fine foreign firms whose activities generate toxic haze that reaches the island nation. Eight months ago smoke from illegal slash and burn operations in Indonesia to clear land for palm oil plantations caused record air pollution in Singapore. Singapore officials previously had promised to crack down on any Singapore firms involved in actions that generated the toxic haze. The new legislation, however, also would apply to foreign firms. It would authorize criminal fines of up to S$300,000 ($230,000 U.S.) as well as citizen suits to enable recoveries by private individuals harmed by such pollution. Jeremy Grant & Ben Bland, Singapore Eyes Fines for Toxic Haze from Abroad, Financial Times, Feb. 20, 2014. It is unclear how Singapore could enforce such sanctions against firms located outside its jurisdiction.
On February 18 President Obama directed federal agencies to develop new fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty commercial trucks. The standards, which are to be issued by March 2016, are part of the President’s Climate Initiative to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Representatives of large truck manufacturers said that they should be able to build trucks that will meet tougher fuel-economy standards, though a trade association of independent truckers expressed concern that the standards will raise the costs of trucks. The American Trucking Associations, a trade association for the trucking industry, expressed cautious support for the measures.
On February 19 more than one hundred cubic meters of highly radioactive wastewater leaked from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. The leak, which came from a wastewater storage tank, spilled the water onto the ground. It was plugged six hours after it was discovered. Japan reported the leak to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) whose experts concluded that it posed no danger to the public. The IAEA advised that the soil contaminated by the leak should be removed to prevent further migration through rainwater and groundwater.
Nissan has agreed to supply the government of Bhutan with hundreds of its Leaf electric vehicles and to build a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the country. The government of Bhutan has pledged to make the country a “zero-emissions pioneer” as part of its pursuit of “gross national happiness.” Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also has contacted Tesla Motors about selling its electric vehicles to Bhutan. Henry Foy, Nissan Deal to Supply Electric Cars to Bhutan, Financial Times, Feb. 22/23, 2014, at 13.
On February 17 the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law hosted the first system-wide Environmental Summit. The Summit brought together scores of professors who work on environmental issues at multiple schools throughout the University of Maryland System. Organized by Maryland law professors Mike Pappas and Rena Steinzor, the Summit featured “lightning rounds” where professors described their research interests and potential projects for multi-disciplinary collaboration. Jay Perman, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore, endorsed greater collaboration among campuses, as reflected in the new masters of law program to be offered in College Park with environmental law as one of four focus areas. Maryland Chancellor “Brit” Kirwin gave a keynote address where he described his system-wide sustainability initiative and called for more joint appointments and cross-listed courses in the environmental area. Kirwin also praised the law school’s new masters program and proposed that system-wide Environmental Summits be held every year.
On February 18 I gave a lecture to a class at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park. The lecture focused on four case studies of how the administrative process addressed public health problems - the removal of lead additives from gasoline, efforts to phase out the remaining uses of asbestos, regulation of ground-level ozone, and regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases.