On January 26th, 25 states and four state environmental agencies asked Chief Justice John Roberts to issue a stay of EPA’s Clean Power Plan while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit considers their legal challenges to it. On January 21 the D.C. Circuit denied the states’ request for a stay. The Chief Justice asked EPA to file a response to the motion by Thursday February 4 at 3pm. Sixty electric utilities filed a separate stay application with the Chief Justice, who handles emergency requests originating in the D.C. Circuit. When it denied the stay request, the D.C. Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration of the legal challenges and scheduled oral argument for June 2.
Last week a court in Veszprem, Hungary acquitted 15 employees of a Hungarian aluminum company that owned a dam that collapsed in 2010, spilling toxic sludge into the Tisza River and killing 10 people. The court found that the collapse of the reservoir wall could not have been foreseen by the defendants because it was caused by “loss of stability originating in the subsoil.” Greenpeace condemned the verdict, which resolves all criminal charges brought in the wake of the spill, including reckless endangerment and violations of waste management regulations. Civil suits still remain against the company. Hungary’s governing Fidesz party and opposition parties condemned the verdicts and urged prosecutors to appeal them.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Yale University released its 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which seeks to rank countries on how well they protect the environment. The report found overall improvements in reducing the health impacts of pollution and improving access to drinking water and sanitation, but “troubling declines” in global fisheries and air quality. Finland topped the list, while the United States ranked #26, China #109, and India #141. A copy of the report is available online at: http://issuu.com/2016yaleepi/docs/epi2016_final/1?e=23270481/32968129
Several media outlets have been questioning whether the plunge in global oil prices will undercut the pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made in Paris last December. Several countries have taken advantage of the oil price decline by reducing or eliminating energy subsidies. The New York Times reports that China has adopted what appears to be the most progressive policy of all by essentially adopting a petroleum price stabilization tax, a measure I have long recommended. China has placed a floor under the price of gasoline and diesel as though the world price of oil still was at $40 a barrel. The extra profits from this price floor go to a fund to finance energy conservation and pollution control. Clifford Krauss & Diane Cardwell, Climate Deal’s First Big Hurdle: The Draw of Cheap Oil, N.Y. Times, Jan. 25, 2016. Professor Zhao Huiyu of Shanghai Jiatong University notes that the Ministry of Finance’s State Administration of Taxation has issued a series of decrees to implement the new policy whose purpose is described by them as “to promote environmental governance, energy conservation, and emission reduction.”
On Wednesday January 27 Commander Mark P. Nevitt and I gave a luncheon talk to the Maryland faculty on “Polar Opposites: Should Arctic Environmental Governance Follow the Antarctic Model?” Mark, who formerly was the regional counsel responsible for environmental compliance by the U.S. Navy in the Mid-Atlantic region, now is a Pentagon official. We presented the preliminary results of our research, which will become a law review article, comparing environmental protection of Antarctica with the Arctic model. The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 and entered into force in 1961, and its Madrid Protocol, which was signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1998, suspend claims of sovereignty over Antarctica and strictly protect its environment. The Arctic is not governed by a similar treaty, but the eight nations with sovereignty over it use the Arctic Council seeking to coordinate policy, another example of the growth of “global environmental law.” In the afternoon Mark and I gave a lecture on the same topic to my Global Environmental Law seminar and then we were joined by several students for a happy hour near campus.
On Thursday January 28 I was interviewed by Jeremy Tordjman from the Agence France-Presse about whether Volkswagen’s emissions test cheating and lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan were the result of budget cutbacks and gaps in U.S. environmental law. Instead I argued that they both illustrate the wisdom of encouraging civil society groups to serve as a backstop when government agencies fail to protect the public. See “Volkswagen, Flint Point to Weakness in U.S. Environmental Protections,” Agence France-Presse, January 31, 2016, online at: http://news.yahoo.com/volkswagen-flint-point-weakness-us-environmental-protections-081901452.html.