[This is a post I wrote in China on March 17, but because Blogspot if blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall I was only able to post it upon arriving back in the U.S. today]:
Just two days after the death of Joe Sax, the environmental law field lost another one of its founding fathers when David Sive passed away on March 11. I first met David shortly after I began work with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in the early 1980s. I was at an environmental conference at a resort in the Adirondack Mountains. As a new lawyer with EDF I probably knew fewer people at the conference than anyone else. David took me under his wing, introduced me to people, and gave me excellent tips of where to go hiking in the Adirondacks with my wife when she joined me after the conference ended. David exuded passion for the environment and for the use of law to preserve it for future generations. His passion and his kindness to me is something I will never forget.
I arrived in Beijing on Friday with a group of 39 Maryland law students, alums and colleagues on our biennial environmental law field trip to China. On Saturday we visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace. On Sunday we hiked the Great Wall and then had dinner with a host family in a hutong. This morning we visited the Beijing offices of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) where we heard about EDF’s work promoting carbon trading. China is launching seven pilot carbon trading programs in cities and provinces and it is hoped these will lead to the adoption of a nationwide trading system by 2015. Professor Cao Mingde of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) hosted us for a terrific luncheon banquet. Then I gave a lecture at CUPL on “Forging a U.S./China Partnership to Save the Planet.” I focused on the prospects for bilateral action between the two countries that have the largest impact on the world’s environment, emphasizing the agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to support a phaseout of HFCs.
After my lecture we visited Wang Canfa, the director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, which for 15 years has operated a hotline to field complaints about environmental conditions in China. Professor Wang updated us on his work, including a recent project in which he used media publicity to get a company to clean up shoddy hazardous waste disposal practices without having to file a lawsuit. We then visited the law firm that Wang Canfa has established. An attorney there compared notes with Maryland Environmental Clinic Fellow Andrew Kier on attempted political interference in environmental lawsuits. Professor Wang noted that the Chinese Supreme Court is considering establishing a specialized environmental division that he thinks would enhance the willingness of lower Chinese courts to hear environmental cases.
The group left this morning for Qingdao, but I stayed behind in Beijing at the request of China’s Ministry of Environment and the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council to participate in an important meeting tomorrow on amendments to China’s basic environmental law to strengthen penalties for violations. I will fly to Shanghai on Thursday to rejoin the group. Student blog posts reacting to the trip and an album of photos will be posted on this website in the near future.
Japanese electronic company Panasonic announced last week that due to the extreme levels of pollution in China it would pay a premium to its staff who are located there. This is not an uncommon practice. For some time the U.S. State Department has considered China postings to be hardship posts due to pollution problems. Panasonic appears to be the first major company to acknowledge such a policy publicly. Jennifer Thompson, Panasonic to Offer Staff Extra Pay for Working in Polluted China, Financial Times, March 13, 2014, at 13.
Slash and burn farming practices on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have caused thick air pollution that has sickened tens of thousands of people. A spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Agency of Indonesia estimated that there were 330 hotspots of such burning, which has caused respiratory problems for more than 30,000 people. Thirty people have been arrested for starting the fires, which are being battled by airborne firefighters.
Due to high winds, levels of air pollution during our visit to Beijing have been remarkably low. CNN noted that air pollution was worse in Paris this week than in Beijing due to an atmospheric inversion that has prompted authorities to restrict the use of automobiles in the French capital.
On Friday March 14 the Wall Street Journal published a letter that I wrote responding to the paper’s editorial declaring the decades-old lawsuit against Chevron for oil pollution in Ecuador to be the “Legal Fraud of the Century.” Robert Percival, “What About Those Who Were Hurt?” Wall St. J., March 14, 2014. I made the point that the litigation could hardly have been a fraudulent conspiracy from the start since it initially was filed by the plaintiffs in New York and only ended up in Ecuador at the insistence of the oil company.