The Russian environmental group Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus has published an 84-page report, “Sochi 2014: Ten Years Without Respect for Law,” that details environmental damage caused by the Sochi Olympics. The report discusses the various environmental mitigation measures promised to offset the damage to protected forests and marshlands caused by construction of the Olympic facilities and it concludes that the mitigation promises have not been fulfilled. The principal author of the report is Dr. Suren Ghazaryan, who has fled Russia for exile in Estonia. For more information see the website of Environmental Watch at http://www.ewnc.org/node/13583 (in Russian). Last week a Russian court ordered environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to spend three years in a prison labor colony on what are viewed as trumped up charges of vandalism. Last week plans for an environmental protest at the Sochi Olympics were dropped when Russian officials agreed on Thursday to meet with members of Environmental Watch on condition that the group withdraw its request for a permit to conduct a demonstration at a protest zone seven miles away from the Olympic venues.
Last Tuesday China automaker BYD launched a fleet of 20 all-electric taxis in London. The taxis, which will be operated by taxi company Thriev, have a range of 186 miles between charges. London Mayor Boris Johnson has decreed that all taxis in the city must be zero-emission vehicles by 2018. Two months ago BYD, which is 10% owned by U.S. investor Warren Buffet, delivered London’s first all-electric buses. Nissan and the London Taxi Company, which operates the city’s iconic fleet of “black cabs,” also are developing electric vehicles to meet the 2018 deadline. Henry Foy, Buffet-Backed BYD Behind First All-Electric London Cab Fleet, Financial Times, Feb. 10, 2014.
Last Monday the U.S. filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over regulations that require that components used in solar energy projects in India be produced locally. The U.S. argues that the regulations are unfair trade practices. Indian officials argue that because the power is supplied to state-owned distributors of electricity the regulations are permissible government procurement rules. India is seeking to expand its solar capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2022, which would increase solar’s share of the country’s energy production from from 1% today
to 5%. On Thursday the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, the world’s largest solar energy project, opened in California’s Mojave Desert. The project, which is partially owned by Google, uses 350,000 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on boilers atop towers, creating steam to drive turbines designed to generate 377MW of electricity. It has raised some concerns among bird lovers because the intense heat it generates has caused bird deaths. Cassandra Sweet, The $2.2 billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project, Wall St. J., Feb. 12, 2014. The project is the world’s largest solar energy project currently under construction.
The government of China is setting up a 10 billion RMB ($1.6 billion) fund to help Chinese companies reduce their emissions of air pollutants. Chinese premier Li Keqiang warned other government officials last Wednesday that it will take considerable time to tackle China’s formidable air pollution problems. “China’s air pollution accumulated over the long-term, so we must be fully aware of the grim task of prevention work and persevere without flagging,” Li said. Lucy Hornby, China Offers Financial Incentives to Clean Up Pollution, Financial Times, Feb. 13, 2014. It is likely that China will have to reduce dramatically its use of coal if it is to make substantial strides in reducing air pollution.
On February 11 the European Union (EU) failed to block approval of a genetically modified corn product called Pioneer 1507 that U.S. companies Dupont Pioneer and Dow Chemical have been seeking approval to market in the EU since 2001. Despite a European Parliament resolution opposing approval that was adopted last month and the opposition of 19 of the 28 EU members, Spain and Britain were able to muster enough votes in the weighted voting formula to stop the disapproval effort. If the European Commission now approves the product as expected, it will be only the third genetically modified crop approved for cultivation in the EU. European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg is pushing for new rules to allow EU member states to decide individually on whether or not to approve cultivation of GMO products approved by the EU. Stephen Castle, Modified Corn A Step Closer to Approval in Europe, N.Y. Times, Feb. 12, 2014, at B3.
The U.S. company Chik-fil-A announced on February 11 that it no longer will use meat from chickens raised with antibiotics. This confirms a trend of major U.S. companies eschewing meat products raised with antibiotics. Restaurants chains Chipolte and Panera previously made similar commitments. Subway and Kraft recently announced that they would no longer use certain chemicals in their products in order to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Stephanie Strom, Chick-fil-A Commits to Stop Sales of Poultry Raised with Antibiotics, N.Y. Times, Feb. 12, 2014, at B3.
Bruce Rich, former director of international programs for the Environmental Defense Fund, was a guest speaker in my Global Environmental Law seminar on February 12. Bruce, who has long been the leading environmental critic of the World Bank, discussed his new book Foreclosing the Future that updates his previous classic work Mortgaging the Earth. Both books are highly critical of the World Bank’s funding of development projects that damage the environment. While his latest book acknowledges that the Bank has made some improvements in its policies, Bruce expressed disappointment that bank president Jim Yong Kim had not lived up to the high expectations that greeted his appointment. After class a group of students joined Bruce and I for drinks and dinner.
This week I wrote a letter urging the Senate to confirm ELI President John Cruden, President Obama’s nominee to become Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. I circulated a draft of the letter on Tuesday that has now attracted a remarkable 94 signatures from environmental law professors. The letter will be delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. John Cruden’s hearing has been set for February 25.