I am now back in the U.S. after my latest trip to China. On Monday August 10 I was a speaker at a conference on “Chemical Regulation in China and the U.S. “ at Shanghai Jiaotong University’s KoGuan School of Law. I made an hour-long presentation about the history of chemical regulation in the U.S. and the progress of legislation to update the Toxic Substances Control Act. Wu Jian, who is responsible for chemical regulation for Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Board, then discussed the state of chemical regulation in China. Participants in the conference included regulatory affairs managers from 22 chemical companies, including multinational companies such as Dow, Corning, BASF, Fuji and Syngenta. Following our presentations, there was a frank and lively discussion session that focused on enforcement problems in China (e.g., a typical complaint was that MEP was enforcing the regulations - one company official asked Mr. Wu what a company should do when it becomes convinced that a competitor is using a chemical that has been imported illegally).
After the Q & A at the conference brought home how poorly Chinese chemical control regulations were enforced in practice, I was not surprised on Thursday morning to learn of the explosions caused by illegally stored chemicals that killed more than 100 people in Tianjin. All the regulations requiring listing and reporting of chemicals proved ineffective because the companies storing extremely toxic chemicals did not comply with them. Chinese friends suspect that corruption is the main explanation for the disaster. Ironically, the disaster occurred the day after China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection had proudly reported that the number of environmental emergencies in China had fallen from 63 in the first six months of 2014 to 48 in the first six months of 2015.
In yet another depressing indication that China’s upgrade of its environmental laws has not had its intended effects, the Chinese government has ordered restrictions on vehicle use and factory shutdowns beginning on August 20 to reduce pollutants that will be in the air on September 3 when Chinese President Xi Jinping presides over a parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. One would hope that as environmental law matures in China, the expedient of temporary closings polluting factors would no longer serve as a major pollution control strategy.
Despite strong local opposition, Japan last week restarted the first nuclear powerplant in the country since the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011. The Kyushu Electric Power Company restarted one reactor at its Sendai nuclear powerplant in southwestern Japan. For the last two years all of Japan’s nuclear powerplants have been shut down as the government trieda to absorb lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Among the protesters at the Sendai site was Naoto Kan, prime minister at the time of the disaster, who now has become an anti-nuclear activist.
Last week Australia announced its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the runup to COP-21 in Paris in December. The government promised to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28% from 2005 level by the year 2030. The government announced thtat it plans to meet this goal without reinstating the carbon tax that it repealed.
Last week Lord Browne, former CEO of BP, harshly criticized Shell Oil for its risky Arctic oil drilling activities. In an interview with the BBC, he argued that drilling in the Arctic was too risky and too costly and would damage Shell’s long-term reputation. Lord Browne noted that the Arctic environment is “much more fragile than other environments.” As the price of oil plunged to just above $40/barrel last week, Shell’s Arctic drilling looks increasingly foolish.
Last week a coalition of red states filed suit against EPA’s Clean Power Plan, even though it had not yet appeared in the Federal Register, rendering their lawsuits once again premature. The petitioners asked the panel of the D.C. Circuit that dismissed their initial lawsuits as premature to issue an order staying the EPA regulations. If such an order were granted, it would create a huge incentive for filing frivolous, premature lawsuits in an effort to forum shop for a sympathetic panel of judges. olous, premature lawsuits in an effort to forum shop for a sympathetic panel of judges.