On May 12 the World Health Organization released its latest update to its global urban air quality database. The study found that more than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution. In low- and middle-income countries a shocking 98% of people living in cities with populations of more than 100,000 breathe unhealthy air. In high-income countries only 56% of the urban population breathes unhealthy air. In the 795 cities in 67 countries studied by WHO, urban air pollution increased by 8% last year. Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, Air Pollution Getting Worse in World’s Cities, WHO Reports, Washington Post, May 13, at A9. WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database (update 2016) http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/cities/en/ WHO estimates that air polltion now causes more than 3 million deaths a year, a number expected to double by 2050 as urban pollutions and vehicle use grows rapidly.
On Tuesday May 10 D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland delivered a completed questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee even though the committee had not asked him to do so since it is refusing to consider his nomination. On the questionnaire Judge Garland lists one environmental case among his list of what he considers to be his ten most significant judicial decisions. That case is Rancho Viejo v. Norton, which upheld the power of Congress under the Constitution’s commerce clause to regulate to protect an endangered species of toad. This is the decision that became famous during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005. Roberts defended his vote to rehear the case not as indicating that he thought the Endangered Species Act was unconstitutional, but rather as spawned by a desire to develop a consistent rationale for upholding the Act’s constitutionality. I discussed this on Thursday during a “Supreme Court Update” that I presented at a program sponsored by the ABA’s Section on Litigation at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Washington, D.C. I learned that C-Span last week began airing the program I did last month at the Cato Foundation where I condemned the politicization of the Court’s by the Senate Leadership who are refusing to consider the Garland nomination. The program is available on C-Span’s website with a transcript keyed to the video at: http://www.c-span.org/video/?408513-1/book-discussion-republican-constitution
Environmental groups in China are mulling over the potential impact of a law approved by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress on April 28, 2016. The Law on the Administration of Activities by Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations within the People’s Republic of China imposes strict regulations on the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China. It requires annual reporting of planned NGO activities and authorizes local police and security forces to supervise and audit NGO activities. Student exchanges are exempted from the law and the activities of environmental NGOs are given favorable treatment. However, my sources in China indicate that the law is quite vague, and may give greater license to authorities to crack down on anything NGOs do that they do not like.
On May 2 Brazilian prosecutors filed a 359-page civil lawsuit seeking $44 billion in damages from mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton for the 2015 collapse of a tailings dam at their Samarco project, which killed 17 people and caused massive environmental damage. The size of the claim shocked many investors who had assumed that a $3 billion settlement reached by the companies by the government in March would encompass most of the companies’ liability. Many lawyers were skeptical of the prosecutors’ ability to recover anything like $44 billion, noting that an $11 billion claim brought against Chevron for a Brazilian oil spill in 2011 eventually was settled for only $42 million. However, the Brazilian government noted that the size of the most recent disaster was equivalent to the BP oil spill that has resulted in similarly large damages. Samantha Pearson & James Wilson, Vale and BHP Rocked by $44 Billion Dam Lawsuit, Financial Times, May 5, 2016, at 14.
On May 2 the Supreme Court of Colorado struck down two local laws - one that banned hydraulic fracturing and another imposing a moratorium on fracking operations. The rulings declared that local regulation of fracking was preempted by state law. The Texas Supreme Court previously struck down Houston’s air pollution control law holding that it was preempted by state law.
This week President Obama held a joint meeting at the White House with the leaders of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. While much of the “Nordic Summit” was focused on national security and immigration issues, the joint statement released by the leaders has a significant environmental component (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/05/13/us-nordic-leaders-summit-joint-statement). It does not adopt environmentalists’s call for a complete ban on oil drilling in the arctic, Nordic Summit, Juliet Eilperin, Drilling in Arctic Ebbs Amid Calls for Full Ban, Washington Post, May 11, 2016, at A6, but it emphasizes the importance of all countries carrying out the Paris Agreement on climate change and it pledges continuity as the leadership of the Arctic Council passes from the U.S. to Finland and then Iceland.