A Chinese court has imposed a fee of 1.89 million yuan ($275,000) on two environmental NGOs for an unsuccessful public interest lawsuit. The Changzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province imposed the fee on Friends of Nature and the China Biodiversity Conservation & Green Development Foundation. They sued three chemical companies for polluting land that later was sold in 2011 to build the Changzhou Foreign Language School, which opened in 2015. The pollution was discovered after hundreds of students at the school became sick. The court found that soil and groundwater pollution was “now under control” at the site and rejected the plaintiffs claims that the companies should be required to do further remediation. The fee imposed on the NGOs includes not only legal fees, but a percentage of the amount the groups were seeking be devoted to additional cleanup. Michael Standaert, Chinese Ruling Threatens Environmental Public Interest Suits, International Environment Reporter, Feb. 24, 2017. In the U.S. plaintiffs in public interest litigation are not required to pay legal fees unless their lawsuits are found to be frivolous in order to avoid discouraging such litigation. The NGOs are appealing the court’s decision to the Jiangsu Supreme People’s Court. A copy of the court’s decision is available in Chinese at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/legal/2017-02/08/c_129470823.htm
On Thursday March 2 the Pretoria High Court will begin to hear South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit. The Center for Environmental Rights, representing Earthlife Africa Johannesburg in a lawsuit challenging the Ministry of Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power plant. The plaintiffs are arguing that the plant should not have been approved without having completed an assessment of its impact on climate change. The defendants argue that there is no specific requirement that climate impacts be assessed in the process of environmental impact assessment.
On Friday February 24 I delivered the keynote address at the 18th Northeast Florida Environmental Summit. The summit was held at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida. The theme of the summit was “Protecting Communities from Harm: The Economic and Environmental Implications of Managing Harmful Waste.” The subject of my keynote was “The Future of Environmental Law in the Trump Administration.” I noted that newly-confirmed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has emphasized two principal themes: keeping EPA from exceeding its legal authority and respecting state prerogatives. Noting that Pruitt lost most of his lawsuits against EPA when he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, I argued that it would be best for him to let the courts decide what the law is with respect to the Clean Power Plan and the “waters of the U.S.” rule. If Pruitt seeks to stop California from implementing more stringent environmental controls on greenhouse gas emissions, he would be indicating that he is mor interested in weakening environmental protections than promoting cooperative federalism.
On February 15 the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Program held its annual Golden Tree award ceremony. Awards were given to environmental law films made by students in my Environmental Law class last fall. Based on voting by judges, the two top films were “Glass Half Full: Sustainable Vineyards” and “A World in Retreat.” The former film examines how wineries are trying to shrink their carbon footprints. The latter film examines how coastal communities are responding to rising sea levels. Chris Remavege and Taylor Lilley will be showing these films at NYU Shanghai on March 21.
On February 21, I presented two guest lectures to officials from Anhui Province in China who are in the U.S. to learn about U.S. environmental law deals with soil contamination. China has a huge problem of soil contaminated by pollutants and it is in the process of developing new laws and policies for responding to it. The lectures were held at the University of Maryland College Park under the auspices of its Office of China Affairs.
Last week a massive landslide of waste from an open pit coal mine blocked the flow of a river near the town of Kakanj in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The landslide created a lake that has now flooded a major highway connecting the cities of Sarajevo and Zenica. Two smaller villages, Ribnica and Mramor have been largely destroyed by the landslide.