People around the world today staged massive demonstrations to demand action from world leaders who will gather at the United Nations on Tuesday September 23 to discuss climate change. The largest demonstration occurred in New York City where it covered a two-mile route south from Columbus Circle. The New York Times reported that so many demonstrators turned out that protesters still were waiting to be able to move two hours after the front of the group commenced the march. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “a sweeping plan to overhaul energy efficiency standards in all state-owned buildings.” Lisa W. Foderaro, At Climate March in New York, A Clarion Call to Action, N.Y. Times, Sept. 21, 2014.
Last week the Australian and Queensland governments announced a 35-year plan for management of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was widely reported to be an effort to forestall the UNESCO from classifying this World Heritage site as “in danger” due to climate change and coastal development. The reef has lost approximately half of its coral. The plan, which is open to public comment until October 27, 2014, is available online at: http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/great-barrier-reef/long-term-sustainability-plan. Environmentalists had hoped that it would ban the disposal of dredge spoil on the reef, but it does not. However, the Queensland government has announced a new plan to dispose of 3 million cubic feet of dredged spoil from the Abbot Point port expansion on land, instead of in reef waters, as previously had been planned.
Last week China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) banned the burning of low quality coal near populated areas that are fighting severe air pollution. The NDRC prohibited the use of coal with an ash content greater than 16 percent or a sulphur content of greater than one percent. The ban will take effect in 2015. The NDRC also has banned all mining or importation of particularly dirty coal with an ash content greater than 40 percent or a sulphur content greater than 3 percent. Lucy Hornby & Jamie Smyth, China Ban on Low-Grade Coal Set to Hit Global Miners, Financial Times, Sept. 15, 2014.
Last week Lazard Ltd. relesed its annual comparative analysis of the cost of various fuel sources. The report “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis - Version 8.0,” which is available online at: http://www.lazard.com/PDF/Levelized%20Cost%20of%20Energy%20-%20Version%208.0.pdf, found that the cost of solar and wind energy projects has continued to decline rapidly. In the last five years the cost of wind energy has declined 58 percent while solar photovoltaics have declined 78 percent in cost. This has occurred because of significant declines in the prices of materials used in these projects along with dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which these projects generate energy. In many parts of the U.S. large wind farms and solar projects now may be cheaper than gas-fired power even without subsidies.
The U.S. Treasury granted ExxonMobil a short-term extension of its previous September 26 deadline to halt its drilling operations in the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic. The extension was granted to enable Exxon to safely wind down its drilling operations. Exxon’s joint venture with Russia’s Rosnoft must be halted because of U.S. sanctions that were tightened due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Previous sanctions imposed in July only prohibited the export of U.S. of U.S. technology. These sanctions were broadened earlier this month to prohibit U.S. companies from providing services or technology. Ed Crooks, Russia Arctic Drilling on Hold at Exxon, Financial Times, Sept. 20, 2014, at 12.
September 17 was the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The University of Maryland Carey School of Law celebrated Constitution Day with a wonderful program on “The Supreme Court Justice as Constitutional Scholar.” Three former Supreme Court law clerks whose Justices have written books about theories of constitutional interpretation spoke at the law school event. Decades before they clerked, I clerked for Justice Byron White who eschewed such theories and declared that the job of the Supreme Court Justice is “to decide cases”. I took the clerks to lunch and enjoyed exchanging stories about the life of a law clerk.
Yesterday I spoke about the Environmental Law Program’s activities and future plans at a meeting of the Maryland Carey Law Board of Visitors who celebrated my Senior Education Award from the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law.