A week after the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted, environmentalists are still enjoying the afterglow that comes from having the entire world now participating in efforts to respond to climate change. On Monday the New Republic published my article “Can Obama’s Climate Pledges Survive Republican Opposition?” as the lead story on their website at: https://newrepublic.com/article/125735/can-obamas-climate-pledges-survive-republican-opposition. As noted last week, it is widely agreed that a major factor in reaching the agreement was diplomacy between the U.S. and China that in November 2014 had produced China’s first pledge to cap and reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Those who participated in the negotiations also had nothing but high praise for the role France played in bringing the parties together.
On December 17 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed that EPA can keep its regulations controlling mercury emissions from power plants intact while it complies with the Supreme Court’s Michigan v. EPA decision. Last June the Supreme Court in Michigan v. EPA held that EPA should have considered costs when it initially decided to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. The mercury rule had not been stayed, however, and virtually all power plants that were not planning to shut down had complied with it. This confirms what I said in my blog post of July 5, 2015 where I wrote: “While any defeat for EPA involving the Clean Air Act is significant, this actually proved to be a very narrow decision. EPA is not required to do cost-benefit analysis and the Court did not invalidate EPA’s regulations controlling emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants, contrary to what several news outlets erroneously reported. Because EPA did prepare extensive analyses of costs and benefits when it issued the regulations, as Justice Kagan stressed in her dissent, it should be relatively easy for EPA to comply with the decision without the regulations being vacated.”
On December 18 the Kellingley Colliery, the last deep coal mine in Britain, closed. In 1981 Britain produced more than 125 million tons of coal each year, but coal production has been steadily declining since then. In the early days of the 20th century more than 1 million people worked in the UK coal industry, but by the 1970s only 250,000 people were employed there. Some surface coal mines still remain in Britain, but a fall in global demand for coal led to a precipitous decline in the coal industry’s fortunes there.
Government authorities in Iran’s capital of Tehran closed schools for two days beginning on Sunday December 20 because of extraordinarily high levels of air pollution. (Sundays are a working day in Iran with Friday being the only official weekend day). Schools also were closed in the Iranian cities of Isfahan and Arak. On December 16 the Supreme Court of India responded to high levels of air pollution by banning registration of large (over 2000 cc) diesel vehicles in Delhi until March 31. The Court also prohibited vehicles transporting goods whose final destination is not Delhi from transiting through the city. The Court’s order partially reverses an order by the National Green Tribunal banning registration of all diesel vehicles until January 6. The Court explained that it wanted the wealthier classes who typically own the larger diesel vehicles to bear the brunt of its orders.
An article published last week in the New York Times questions whether the companies responsible for the November toxic sludge spill at an iron ore mine in Brazil will ultimately be held to account for all the damage they have caused. Vanessa Barbera, Brazil’s Toxic Sludge, N.Y. Times, Dec. 17, 2015, at A35. The article notes that Brazil collects only 3% of the fines it imposes in environmental cases. “According to government statistics, environmental lawbreakers in Brazil paid less than 3 percent of fines levied against them over the past five years. Many people suspect that Vale and BHP will go unpunished and that safety regulations for the mining industry won’t be updated in light of the disaster.”