10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Paris Agreement Signed at UN, ELI Oral History Project, Goldman Prizes, Thank You Abdelrahman Hammad (by Bob Percival)

In a ceremony at the United Nations on Earth Day (April 22), representatives of 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement that had been reached on December 12, 2015.  The agreement contains new commitments from the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. The representatives were accompanied by 197 children from various nations, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s granddaughter.  Kerry signed the agreement while holding his granddaughter.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated: "These young people are our future. Our covenant is with them. Today is a day for our children and grandchildren and all generations to come."

On Earth Day the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) unveiled its long-awaited environmental law oral history project. ELI President Scott Fulton stated the the project “provide[s] first-hand interviews of men and women from a variety of career backgrounds who were instrumental in catalyzing the environmental laws of the 1970s that have served as the bedrock of environmental protection in the decades since.”  These include: John Adams, Michael Bean, Fran Beinecke, Leon Bills and Tom Jorling, Leslie Carothers, Henry Diamond, Bill Eichbaum, J. William Futrell, Kinnan Golemon, Denis Hayes, George Mitchell, Jim Moorman, Mary Nichols, William Reilly, William Rodgers, William Ruckelshaus, George Shultz, David Sive, Gus Speth, Robert Stanton, Russell Train, Henry Waxman, and Nick Yost.  The interviews can be viewed online at: http://www.eli.org/celebrating-pioneers-in-environmental-law.

Last week six environmental heroes were honored as recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize.  They included a Baltimore high school student, Destiny Watford, Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, Leng Ouch of Cambodia, Máxima Acuña of Costa Rica, Luis Jorge Rivera Herrerra of Puerto Rico, and Edward Loure of Tanzania.  Ms. Watford helped organize her fellow students to protest the siting of what would have been the nation’s largest incinerator less than a mile from her school.  Having blocked the project, they now hope to turn the site into a solar farm.  Information about all of the 2016 recipients is available online at: http://www.goldmanprize.org/prize-recipients/current-recipients/

Having finished spring classes last week, this week was a very active one for me.  I gave four presentations in four cities in four days.  After finishing my first guest lecture on Chinese environmental law in College Park on April 19, I had a near disaster.  While returning to the parking garage, I placed my laptop (in its Twelve South Hardback leather book case) on the trunk of my car.  Distracted by a call on my car’s phone, I forgot about the laptop and it fell off my trunk as I pulled away.  After returning to Capital Hill I found an email message from Abdelrahman Hammad, a UM-College Park student, telling me that he had retrieved the laptop after it fell off my trunk.  Fortunately its case cushioned the fall and it was working fine.  I immediately returned to College Park’s Student Union where Mr. Hammad returned the laptop to me.  He refused to accept a reward, saying that he would hope that a stranger would do the same for him if he lost his laptop.  Mr. Hammad, thank you for saving my week, which would have been hard to face without my laptop. 

On April 20 I gave a guest lecture on climate change to a seminar on “Critical Issues in Global Health,” which is taught in the UM-Baltimore Nursing School.  On April 21 I was invited to comment on Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett’s new book “Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People” at a book launch event at the Cato Institute. Video of the program is online at: http://www.cato.org/events/our-republican-constitution-securing-liberty-sovereignty-we-people  In my comments I decried the politicization of the courts, which has been taken to unprecedented levels by the right’s insistence that Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court is not even worthy of a hearing because he probably would not decide cases to reach their preferred results.

On April 22 I was a speaker on a program on “Emerging Theories of Climate Liability and Enforcement” at the University of Houston.  Also speaking on the program were former EPA general counsel Roger Martella and Professor Clara Poffenberger.  We discussed lawsuits seeking to hold large polluters or governments responsible for the harmful impacts of climate change and the effort by attorneys general to investigate potential RICO liability by ExxonMobil for alleged efforts to deliberately deceive the public about climate change. Video of the program will be posted in the near future at: http://www.law.uh.edu/eenrcenter/speaker-series.asp 

More student blog posts have been added today that can be viewed on my parallel blog at: www.globalenvironmentallaw.com by clicking on the “Students” tab at the top of the opening page.  These include Nicholas Warren’s discussion of the difficulties of enforcing foreign environmental judgments, analysis by Zhang Zhouxian of litigation by NGOs under China’s new public interest litigation law, and Jinxin Sui’s discussion of environmental law in India.

Tomorrow I leave for Rio de Janeiro to participate in the first World Congress on Environmental Rule of Law at the Supreme Court of Rio de Janeiro.  The Congress also will feature the launch of the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment, an organization designed to assist judges around the world in developing greater capacity to handle environmental cases.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jakarta Traffic, Wild Tigers Increase, Mumbai Trash, Chinese Groundwater, Chinese "Love Canal," Golden Trees, Student Posts (by Bob Percival)

In September I was able to experience first hand the horrendous traffic congestion in Jakarta, Indonesia, one of the few cities in the world without a rapid transit system.  Last week an order by Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama went into effect that suspended regulations prohibiting vehicles with less than three passengers from using major highways during rush hour.  The justification for the one-week suspension was that the rules had encouraged exploitation of children who were hired out to enable cars to meet the three-person requirement.  Predictably, traffic became even worse during the one-week suspension.  Governor Basuki has proposed an electronic congestion pricing system like those used in SIngapore and central London, but he has not been given the authority to impose it. Joe Cochrane, And Indonesians Thought the Traffic Was Bad Before, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2016, at A4. 
The World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum announced that the global population of tigers in the wild has increased for the first time since 1900.  There are now an estimated 3,890 tigers in the wild, a huge decline from the estimated 100,000 present in 1900, but an increase from the 3,200 estimated in 2010. In a Christine Hauser, Number of Tigers in the Wild Rises for the First Time in a Century, Conservationists Say, N.Y. Times, April 12, 2016, at A8.

For the first time since 1996 the acreage of crops planted with genetically modified seeds (GMOs) declined in 2015. The decline was slight, only 1%, and due largely to falling commodity prices that  encouraged less planting.  The U.S., Brazil and Argentina account for more than three-quarters of worldwide use of GMOs, which are found largely in corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. Andrew Pollack, Planting of Genetically Modified Crops Declined in 2015, N.Y. Times, April 13, 2016, at B1.

A mountain of trash the size of the national mall in Washington, D.C., has been burning in the Indian city of Mumbai.  More than half of Mumbai’s garbage is dumped untreated each day in this Deonar garbage dump.  Public outrage over the stench and pollution from the burning has spurred what some are calling a middle class environmental awakening as citizens demand that the government shut the dump down.  The city government is considering moving its garbage disposal to a site in a rural area outside of Mumbai, but it is not moving fast enough to satisfy residents near the current dump. Rama Lakshmi, In Mumbai, Fury Over a Burning Trash Mountain, Washington Post, April 16, 2016, at A6.

Last week the Chinese media reported that a survey of 2,100 wells found that 80 percent of the groundwater used by farms, homes and factories is heavily polluted.  Most of the contaminated water was classified as Class 5, the worst category of contamination. Chris Buckley & Vanessa Piao, Rural Water, Not City Smog, May Be China’s Pollution Nightmare, N.Y. Times, April 12, 2016, at A4.  CCTV reports what Professor Zhao Huiyu describes as a “Chinese Love Canal” where a middle school in Changzhou was discovered to be located on the site of closed chemical plants.  The site was found to be heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals and 493 students were found to have health problems associate with toxic exposure.  An editorial about the incident is at:
http://m.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1457962?from=groupmessage&isappinstalled=0 (in Chinese, but written well enough to understand with Google translate).


On April 6 we held our annual Golden Tree awards ceremony for films produced by students in my Environmental Law class last fall.  The award for Best Picture went to the film “Perspectives on Electronic Waste and Recycling” by Christine Wang.  This film also received awards for Best Cinematography and Best Interviews.  “Tough Time to Be a Bee” by Renee Lani and Brieanah Schwartz won Golden Trees for Most Educational and Best Use of Humor.  It also won a Special Judge’s Award for “Best Alcohol Ad” based on a scene interviewing a winemaker who uses honey to make mead wine.   “Apple in China” by Jinxin Sui and Fangzhou Xie received awards for Best Sound Quality, Best Special Effects and Best Music.

Students in my Global Environmental Law seminar have made guest blog posts about their research that I will be posting in the “Students” section of my parallel blog that can be found at http://www.globalenvironmentallawcom.  The first group of posts includes: (1) 3L Alex Stern’s articulation of a strategy for getting Maryland to join the 22 other states that have environmental amendments in their state constitution, (2) 1L Sara DiBernardo’s discussion of the implications of rapid sea level rise caused by climate change, (3) 2L James McKittrick’s discussion of the challenge of pollution from the maritime cargo industry, and (4) 1L Kerri Morrison’s explanation of the global status of nuclear waste disposal.  Several more student blogs entries will be added to this parallel blog over the next week.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Catastrophic Sea Level Rise More Likely, Hawkes Argument, FTC Sues VW, Judge Hufstedler's Passing (by Bob Percival)

Catastrophic sea level rise rapidly is becoming a more realistic possibility.  A recent study has indicated that global warming may cause the west Antarctic ice shelf to break apart and melt, raising global sea levels by 12 feet or more.  Total sea level rise could be five to six feet by 2100, more than twice the worst case scenario recently forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IGPCC).  In the next century sea levels could rise by as much as a foot per decade.  Justin Gillis, Climate Model Predicts West Antarctica Ice Sheet Could Melt Rapidly, New York Times, March 30, 2016. Another indication of rapid global warming, though not one that will contribute to sea level rise, is that for the second year in a row Arctic sea ice was at a record low wintertime maximum last month.

On March 30 I took some of the students in my Global Environmental Law Seminar to the U.S. Supreme Court to watch the oral argument in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co.  The case involves a challenge by the federal government to a lower court ruling holding that landowners can immediately obtain judicial review of determinations that wetlands subject to §404 of the Clean Water Act are present on their property.  Based on the tenor of the argument, it seems unlikely that the federal government will win the case.  Justice Kennedy, the key swing vote, stated that “the Clean Water Act is unique in both being quite vague in its reach, arguably unconstitutionally vague, and certainly harsh in the civil and criminal sanctions it puts into practice.” Justice Sotomayor asked counsel for the Solicitor General, assuming that the government loses, “what’s the narrowest way to write this that the government would like?”

Last week the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Volkswagen (VW) for deceiving consumers by advertising its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis.  The FTC charged that these claims were false and that VW equipped the cars with illegal emission defeat devices to deceive government emission testing. The FTC asked the court to require Volkswagen to compensate American consumers who bought affected vehicles between late 2008 and late 2015.  The FTC also sought an injunction to bar VW from such wrongdoing in the future.  

Automakers reportedly are having trouble complying with U.S. fuel economy standards as plunging oi prices encourage consumers to buy less fuel-efficient vehicles. Bill Vlasic, Automakers Likely to Ask for Leniency in Fule Rule, N.Y. Times, March 23, 2016, at B1.  However, the extraordinary consumer response to last week’s unveiling of the Tesla 3 electric car suggests that the transition to green transportation is alive and well.  Tesla received more than 275,000 pre-orders for the vehicle in three days.

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice filed its brief defending EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which regulates emissions of greenhouse gases by existing powerplants.  There are so many parties and amici in the case that six pages of the 175-page brief are a single-spaced listing of them.  Oral argument in the case, which is being heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, will be held on June 2. While the CPP was stayed by the Supreme Court four days before the death of Justice Scalia, the prospect of a 4-4 split in that Court makes the D.C. Circuit’s decision potentially the final word on its legality.


On Wednesday March 30, pioneering former federal Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler passed away.  I had the enormous privilege of serving as a law clerk to her during 1978-79 when she was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In 1980, following my clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Byron White, I became a special assistant to Judge Hufstedler when she served as the first U.S. Secretary of Education.  It is widely believed that if a vacancy had arisen on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Carter would have nominated Judge Hufstedler to become the first female Justice on the Court. Judge Hufstedler had a formidable intellect and a truly inspiring personality.  She described her view of the role of a judge as to “do justice”. Carter would have nominated Judge Hufstedler to become the first female Justice on the Court.  Judge Hufstedler had a formidable intellect and a truly inspiring personality.  She described her view of the role of a judge as to “do justice”.