On February 17 I returned to the U.S. after spending six days in Berlin and Warsaw. After class on February 11 I flew to Berlin, arriving on the afternoon of February 12. Just a few hours after I arrived, I served as a member of a committee at Freie University of Berlin which heard the defense by Lisa Elges of her dissertation on “Stratospheric Ozone Damage and Tort Liability: An Analysis of Public Policy and Tort Litigation to Protect the Ozone Layer.” The defense was successful and the committee voted to award Ms. Elges the Ph.D. degree.
On Friday February 13 I met with a group of professors who are advising the German government about the potential environmental implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. The TTIP negotiations are seeking to reduce trade barriers between the U.S. and the EU. Because the EU has higher environmental standards than the U.S. in some areas, such as chemical regulation, there is concern that TTIP might enhance the ability of U.S. companies to challenge regulations imposed by the EU’s REACH program. I discussed the current debate in Congress over fast track authority for both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and TTIP. These include the unusual politics of trade liberalization in the U.S. with both President Obama and the Republican leadership supporting fast-track authority while the Tea Party and many Democrats oppose it.
I spent last weekend visiting Warsaw, Poland. This was my first visit to Poland, the 83rd country I have visited. I stayed in downtown Warsaw in an historic hotel right next to the Presidential Palace. On Monday I flew back to Berlin and met with some prospective law students prior to flying back to the U.S. on Tuesday.
Air pollution in India has become so severe that it has begun to attract worldwide attention. It is estimated that 1.5 million people in India die every year due to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution. During the last two years New Delhi has had higher levels of air pollution than Beijing in two out of every three months. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, which provides real time data online concerning particulate levels, has purchased 1,800 air purifiers for its staff. Gardiner Harris, “Delhi Wakes Up to an Air Pollution Problem it Cannot Ignore,” N.Y. Times, Feb 15, 2015, at A6. On February 21, a group of economists led by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago published a study estimating that 660 million people in India have their lives cut short by an average of 3.2 years each due to exposure to air pollution. Michael Greenstone, et al., “Lower Pollution, Longer Lives: Life Expectancy Gains if India Reduced Particulate Matter Pollution,” Economic and Political Weekly, Feb. 21, 2015 (http://www.epw.in/special-articles/lower-pollution-longer-lives.html). Gardiner Harris, “Polluted Air Cuts Years Off Lives of Millions in India, Study Finds,” Feb. 21, 2015. There are some signs that India may be approaching a tipping point where public concern over pollution may force the government to act. When President Obama visited India recently, Indian government officials were more receptive to discussing pollution problems and measures that would be needed to control them. One Indian journalist calculated that President Obama may have shortened his expected lifespan by six hours by spending three days breathing the air in India.
The latest development in the decades-long saga of litigation between Chevron and villagers in Ecuador affected by oil pollution is that the owner of a Gibraltar-based hedge fund reached a settlement with Chevron. Chevron had sued James Russell DeLeon for providing $23 million to help fund the villagers’ lawsuit in return for a 7% stake in what is now a $9.5 billion judgment. DeLeon agreed to turn over to Chevron his 7% stake in the judgment and his interest in the documentary film Crude for which he had provided the majority of the funding. He stated that New York district judge Lewis Kaplan’s ruling for Chevron in its RICO litigation against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and lawyer Steven Donziger convinced him that he had been misled. Representatives of the villagers stated that DeLeon had simply caved into pressure from Chevron’s scorched-earth litigation tactics and that the settlement will have no impact on their ongoing efforts to collect the judgment.