10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Monday, October 20, 2014

ACOEL Annual Meeting, Islanders Protest Australian Coal, India Ends Diesel Subsidy as Global Oil Prices Plummet, Exxon & Shell Increase Carbon Footprint Despite Production Drop, Beijing Marathon (by Bob Percival)

On Thursday October 16 I flew to Austin, Texas to participate in the annual meeting of the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL).  The group is an organization of environmental lawyers whose membership is elected and capped at 250.  The vast majority of the members work for law firms, but there are some academics and lawyers for government agencies or NGOs as well.  On Friday October 17 EPA General Counsel Avi Garbow gave the keynote address to the group.  He noted that he had recently visited China where he had the honor of presenting a medal to the U.S. Foreign Service officer in the Beijing Embassy who had been responsible for creating a Twitter feed providing real time data on levels of particulate matter (PM).  The public interest generated by this development helped spur the Chinese government to establish an air quality standard for PM 2.5. Garbow also stated that he had visited Ma Jun whose Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs has launched an app that allows the Chinese public to obtain pollution data on their smart phones.  Garbow noted that EPA’s has a “My Green Apps” webpage (http://www.epa.gov/mygreenapps/), though a quick visit to it indicates that EPA is no longer updating the page to list new environmental information apps.

On Saturday October 18 John Cruden, the president of ELI, and I gave a presentation to ACOEL on “Cases of the Year: Environmental Law in the Supreme Court.”  We reviewed the Court’s three major environmental decisions last year: EME Homer City, which upheld EPA’s air transport rule to control interstate air pollution, Utility Air Regulatory Group, which largely upheld EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases for sources that require PSD permits, and CTS v. Waldburger, which held that CERCLA § 309 imposes a federal discovery rule that tolls only state statutes of limitations and not statutes of repose.  The Supreme Court has not yet agreed to hear any significant environmental cases this Term, but we discussed four cases the Court will hear that may have some implications for environmental law.  We also reviewed some cert petitions that are before the Court and agreed that EPA’s mercury and air toxics (MATS) rule is the most likely candidate for Supreme Court review this Term.

On October 17 a group of protesters from South Pacific islands blocked the port of Newcastle, Australia to protest coal exports that contribute to climate change.  The protest, organized by the group 350.org, targeted Austrlian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to expand Australian coal exports. The Australian government has repealed coal and carbon taxes while approving new ports for coal exports.  Last week the Australian government criticized a decision by Australian National University to divest assets held in fossil fuel companies.  The Australian think tank Australian Institute responded with an open letter signed by prominent Australians, including former conservative prime minister Malcolm Fraser defending the university.   Jamie Smyth, Green Groups Take Aim at Champions of Australia’s Burgeoning Coal Industry, Financial Times, Oct. 18-19, 2014, at 4.

During the past month there has been a sharp decline in oil prices from over $100 per barrel to nearly $80.  Taking advantage of this surprising drop, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just ordered an end to government subsidies on the price of diesel fuel, while raising the regulated price of natural gas by one-third. The diesel oil subsidies cost the Indian government $23 billion last year. James Crabtree, Modi Ends Diesel Subsidy and Continues Reform Drive, Financial Times, Oct. 20, 2014, at 4. Another benefit from the plunge in global oil prices is that it has intensified the economic pain of sanctions on the Russian government.  Thomas Friedman, A Pump War, New York Times, Oct. 15, 2014. A critic of green energy who has a regular column on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal expressed glee that lower oil prices would reduce investments in renewable energy. Holman Jenkins, Cheap Oil Pops the Green Policy Bubble, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2014.  


The Carbon Disclosure Project reported last week that both Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell increased their greenhouse gas emissions last year despite producing less oil. Daniel Gilbert, Wall Street Journal.  The carbon intensity of their oil production (GHG emissions per barrel of oil produced) has increased ten percent since 2011. The increased carbon intensity of their production is attributed to the increasing difficulty of extracting oil from more remote sources. By contrast, Chevron and BP have slightly reduced the carbon intensity of their production since 2011.

On Sunday October 19 the 34th Beijing International Marathon was run despite severe air pollution in China’s capital.  Chinese authorities rated Beijing’s air as “heavily polluted,” a level that comes with a warning to avoid outdoor activity.  Many runners wore masks or used wet sponges in the race.  Girmay Birhanu Gebru of Ethiopia won the men’s race, while his fellow countryman Fatuma Sado won the women’s.

The midterm elections are rapidly approaching in the U.S. with control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance.  One candidate who currently is leading in the polls in my home state of Iowa wants to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an issue that was front and center during a candidates’ debate on Oct. 11.  Republican candidate Joni Ernst argued that the state of Iowa could do a better job of protecting the environment if EPA were abolished.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Modi and Obama Agree on Climate Initiatives, Half of Planet's Wildlife Lost in 40 Years, ELI Program on Supreme Court and the Environment, China Presentation (by Bob Percival)

Among the many issues discussed last week at the first meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the importance of working together to combat global warming and climate change.  Following their meeting at the White House on September 30, Premier Modi stated that climate change was a priority for both the U.S. and Indian governments. In a joint statement released by the leaders after their meetings,they announced agreement “a new and enhanced strategic partnership on energy security, clean energy, and climate change.”  This agreement includes expanding the U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) through “a new Energy Smart Cities Partnership to promote efficient urban energy infrastructure, a new program to scale-up renewable energy integration into India’s power grid, cooperation to support India’s efforts to upgrade its alternative energy institutes and to develop new innovation centers, an expansion of the Promoting Energy Access through Clean Energy (PEACE) program to unlock additional private sector investment and accelerate the deployment of cost-effective, super-efficient appliances, and the formation of a new Clean Energy Finance Forum to promote investment and trade in clean energy projects.“ They agreed to work together toward reducing production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent greenhouse gases, under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The leaders also expressed their commitment to concluding a successful new global agreement on climate change at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention in Paris in December 2015.

In its 2014 Living Planet Report released on September 30, the World Wildlife Fund estimated that the total population of vertebrates on the planet has declined by 52 percent between 1970 and 2010.  Two years ago WWF reported a 28 percent decline in the numbers of these animals had occurred between 1970 and 2008.  The new numbers in the report, which is available online at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/, are based in part on a recalculation of the previous data.  The WWF report also estimates that current resource consumption by humans exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet by approximately 50 percent so that it would take one and one-half earth’s to make current human consumption patterns sustainable.

On October 1 I was a panelist on a “Supreme Court Review and Preview” program at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington.  The other panelist was former EPA general counsel E. Donald Elliott, a private practitioner who teaches environmental law at Yale Law School.  We reviewed the three major environmental decisions by the Supreme Court last term - EME Homer City (upholding EPA’s transport rule for controlling interstate air pollution), Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (upholding a major part of EPA’s program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions), and CTS v. Waldburger (holding that §309 of CERCLA’s preemption of state statutes of limitations does not preempt state statutes of repose).  We then discussed the upcoming Supreme Court Term, which officially opened today.  As I predicted during the program, the Court announced today that it will not hear a challenge to EPA’s national ambient air quality standard for ozone.  The Court has not yet agreed to hear any major environmental cases during its OT 2014 Term.  Don and I agreed that the most likely candidate for such a case is a challenge to EPA’s mercury and air toxics (MATS) regulation.

A tape of the program can be downloaded by ELI Associates at: http://www.eli.org/events/supreme-court-review-preview

On October 2 I gave a presentation on “China and Climate Change” as part of a new campus-wide "Be Informed" series on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus where our law school is located.  I discussed China’s statement at the recent UN Climate Summit that it would agree to an eventual cap on its greenhouse gas emissions and the country’s efforts to expand its pilot cap-and-trade programs for carbon to a national scale.