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, December 18, 2016

Air Pollution Red Alerts in China, Gates Launches $1 Billion Clean Energy Fund, EPA Fracking Study, First U.S. Offshore Wind (by Bob Percival)

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection reported that 22 Chinese cities, including Beijing, had declared a “red alert” because of horrendous air pollution on Friday Dec. 16. Nurseries and primary schools were closed, road work was suspended, high-emission vehicles were banned from the roads, and some factories were required to slow or shut down production.  This was the first red alert for Beijing since December 2015.  Several days before, citizens protesting air pollution had been arrested in Chengdu after placing masks over statues.

Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced the launch of a $1 billion private fund to invest in new clean energy projects.  Called Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the fund will invest in “scientific breakthroughs that have the potential to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world.”  Other investors in the fund include former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.  A year ago Gates put together the Breakthrough Energy Coalition of 20 billionaires who committed to investing in new forms of energy.

Last week EPA issued the final version of its five-year study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater.   The draft report EPA had issued for public comment a year ago stated that fracking has not “led to widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States.”  The new final report deletes this conclusion and states that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” with effects that “can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances.  EPA finds that “significant data gaps and uncertainties” preclude it from “calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts.”  The report is being viewed by many observers as supporting better regulation of fracking, rather than an outright ban.

After four months of testing, the first offshore wind project in the U.S. became operational on December 12.  The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island consists of five turbines that generate 30MW of electricity.  The project, which took two years to complete, was completed on-time and on-budget.  It is the first offshore wind farm outside of Europe to become operational.

Last week I reported that president-elect Donald Trump had selected Cathy McMorris Rodgers to be his Secretary of Interior.  That report proved to be premature.  Reportedly, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric helped convince him instead to select Montana congressman Ryan Zinke.  Zinke, who is a former Navy Seal, is serving his first term in Congress. While Rodgers had a 5% voting rating from the League of Conservation Voters, Zinke’s rating from the group is 3%.  However, Zinke reportedly is not in favor of widespread transfers of federal land to states or private interests.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

World Bank Conference, Trump Picks Pruitt for EPA, HFC Phaseout, ICAO Airline Emissions Agreement (by Bob Percival)

On Monday I spoke on the opening day of the World Bank’s week-long conference on Law, Climate Change and Development.  The conference was part of the bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week.  It was held at the bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.  The conference opened with a keynote address by Achim Steiner, former head of the United Nations Environment Programme.  Both Steiner and bank president Jim Yong Kim expressed hope that global momentum to address climate change will not be derailed by political developments.  While they did not specifically mention the U.S. or the election of Donald Trump, it was clear that this was on the minds not only of the speakers but of most of the members of the audience.

I was on a panel on “Which Climate Change Regime Are You?”  Amir Sokolowksi from Legal Atlas presented his fascinating work comparing the framework laws that different countries are adopting to respond to climate change.  He examined the laws adopted by Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Guatemala.  I responded to his paper by explaining why the U.S. tried, but was unable, to adopt a framework law on climate change.  Searching the database I have compiled of the text of the major federal environmental statutes for my annual Statutory & Case Supplement, I found only one reference to “climate change” in the text of existing U.S. laws.  Yet the U.S. has managed to put together a robust program to control emissions of greenhouse gases.

It has been months since my last blog entry and the political earthquake that was the U.S. presidential election occurred during this period.  This week president-elect Donald Trump announced that he had selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be EPA Administrator and Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to lead the U.S. Department of Interior.  Pruitt is a climate change denier and he has been one of the harshest critics of EPA. Rodgers has a 5% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.  Both nominations, which must be confirmed by the Senate, indicate that Trump is planning aggressive attempts to roll back environmental protections.  

Much has happened in the last four months since my last blog entry.  In October the 28th Conference of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, adopted far-reaching measures to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent set of greenhouse gases that also are ozone-depleting substances, on a global basis. It is estimated that this measure alone may slow global warming by as much as 0.5C.  This is a tremendous achievement that is the product of years of meticulous diplomacy.

At the beginning of October the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), meeting in Montreal, adopted a plan to require airlines to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from their international flights beginning in 2020.  This also is a remarkable achievement for global environmental law.  It was spawned in large part by the EU’s efforts to require airlines flying to and from Europe to pay emissions charges.  Although Russia, India, China and the U.S. fiercely resisted the EU’s efforts, they were upheld by the European Court of Justice and suspended only after the ICAO agreed to convene negotiations for a global agreement.