On July 16 five Arctic nations - the U.S., Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark - agreed to a moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic. While commercial fishing does not currently occur in the Arctic, the nations emphasized the importance of taking a precautionary approach as global warming makes Arctic waters more accessible. Greenpeace argued that high seas in the Arctic should be declared a marine sanctuary where oil extraction, commercial fishing, and other commercial activities should be banned. They also advocated that other countries with large global fishing fleets should endorse the agreement. Announcement of the agreement, which was largely completed last year, was delayed by controversy over Russia’s intrusion into Ukraine.
Last week a federal district court in Washington unsealed an opinion by Judge Royce Lamberth allowing a lawsuit to go forward against ExxonMobil charging human rights abuses in connection with the development of natural gas facilities in Aceh Province Indonesia in 2000 and 2001. The plaintiffs allege that Exxon was complicit in the murder of villagers opposed to the project by Indonesian security forces. Judge Lamberth distinguished the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013), which dismissed a lawsuit alleging similar abuses by Shell Oil in Nigeria, because Shell is a foreign company while ExxonMobil is headquartered in the United States. Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Civil No. 01-1357 (D.D.C. July 6, 2015). The lawsuit initially was filed in 2001alleging claims arising under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Plaintiffs allege that Exxon violated five norms of international law: norms against torture, extrajudicial killing, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, and disappearance. The court concluded that jurisdiction is available under the ATS for “claims that sufficiently touch and concern the United States to displace the presumption against extraterritoriality.” The court noted that plaintiffs allege that Exxon executives in the U.S. received regular reports about human rights abuses by their security forces and planned and authorized their actions.
On Tuesday July 14 an oped I wrote was published in the Washington Times. The oped is entitled “National Standards Are Essential to the Success of U.S. Environmental Law.” It is available online at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/14/celebrate-liberty-month-national-standards-are-ess/ I wrote the oped at the request of the Federalist Society, which had invited top legal scholars (most with a conservative bent - they allowed as how I was being included to add “balance”) to celebrate Liberty Month with a series of opeds. The oped contrasts environmental considtions in China with those in the U.S. and argues that strict and enforceable federal standards is the key to the success of U.S. environmental law
Last Saturday July 11 I went to the world premier of an opera written by Derrick Wang, one of my former students. Four years ago when Derrick was a student in my class he was intrigued that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were almost always on the opposite sides of the Court’s decisions he studied. Knowing that both Justices are huge fans of the opera, Wang, a talented composer before entering law school, approached me with a seemingly crazy idea – to write an opera using the words of both Justices. I then introduced him to Mike Walker, an adjunct environmental law professor at Maryland who is a member of the Washington Opera Company. Walker helped facilitate Wang’s efforts, which I agreed to supervise as an independent study project. The result was an impressive score that includes detailed footnotes documenting the sources of its passages.
Wang’s opera Scalia/Ginsburg was enthusiastically received at its world premier on July 11 at the Castleton Festival. Walker and I and Justice Ginsburg were part of a wildly enthusiastic audience attending the performance. A reviewer from the Washington Post called the opera “charming, clever, and amusing,” while noting that it is loaded with insider references appealing to lawyers who follow the Court. Justice Scalia was out of the country and unable to attend the premier. However, when excerpts from the opera previously were performed at the Court, Scalia was so impressed that he urged Wang to “quit the law and devote yourself to music.”
In a few hours I leave for Vermont where I will be co-teaching a course in Comparative U.S./China Environmental Law at Vermont Law School during the next two weeks. This is the fourth year I have taught the course and the second year Professor Zhao Huiyu of Shanghai Jiaotong University KoGuan School of Law has co-taught it with me.