On February 21 Beijing’s environmental protection board announced that it will raise the threshold for how much pollution triggers a “red alert” requiring schools to close and outdoor construction work to be suspended. Now such an alert will be triggered when the air quality index exceeds 500 for a day, 300 for two days in a row or 200 for four days. Previously a level of 200 would trigger a red alert. Last much Beijing authorities announced that they plan to close 2,500 small enterprises that are highly polluting.
A study released last week showed that sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 2,800 years due to rising global temperatures. Robert E. Kopp, et al., Temperature-driven Global See- Level Variability in the Common Era, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/02/17/1517056113). Another study found that coastal flooding is occurring twice as frequently as it did during the 1980s. Climate Central, Unnatural Flooding: Sea Level and the Human Fingerprint on U.S. Floods since 1950 (http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/uploads/research/Unnatural-Coastal-Floods-2016.pdf).
EPA reported last week that emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the U.S. increased slightly in 2014. U.S. GHG emissions rose 0.9% in 2014 after increasing 2.2% in 2013. EPA attributed the rise to increased use of fossil fuels in the energy and transportation sectors due in part to greater vehicle miles traveled. U.S. emissions still remain 7.5% below the level in 2005, which is used as a baseline for GHG reduction pledges.
The Republican leadership of the Senate hardened their position against giving any consideration to a nomination by President Obama of a new Supreme Court Justice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite considerable disinformation, this is truly an unprecedented move that looks ridiculous on its face because no nominee has been chosen yet. Apparently the Republican leadership is afraid that a nominee would gain considerable public support if hearings were held. While Republicans cite long ago statements by Democrats against election year confirmations, they fail to note that their position when such statements were made was that Republican nominees should be considered in election years. This is pure partisan politics which can only increase public perception that the Court has become another political branch of government.
If the U.S. Supreme Court remains with only eight members for a prolonged period, one of the areas of environmental law that may remain hopelessly confused is the reach of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. On February 22, a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that it had jurisdiction to consider challenges to EPA’s “waters of the U.S.” rule. The rule is designed to clarify the limits of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Because the Clean Water Act, unlike the Clean Air Act, does not give the D.C. Circuit exclusive venue to hear challenges to EPA actions, a circuit split may well develop that the Supreme Court will be unable to resolve.
On Friday a reporter for The Guardian called me to get my reaction to the pledge by some Republican presidential candidates to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I called it a “ridiculous” idea that would weaken air and water pollution controls in the U.S. and make our country more like China. Oliver Milman, Republican Candidates’ Call to Scrap EPA Met with Skepticism by Experts, The Guardian, Feb. 26, 2016 (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/26/republican-candidates-donald-trump-eliminate-epa-law-experts ). On his program Real Time on Friday night, Bill Maher said the following about Donald Trump’s pledges to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and EPA: “When you want to make America great again, stupid and poisoned is a great place to start.” The right seeks to portray EPA as radically out of control, but those who propose to abolish it are the true radicals.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last week that he has authorized police helicopter units to fire missiles at those suspected of illegal logging. The Prime Minister made the remarks while inaugurating the new headquarters of Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment. The World Resources Institute estimates that Cambodia had the highest increase in forest cover loss of any country in the world during the period 2001-2014.