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, March 12, 2017

VW Guilty Plea, Pruitt on Climate, IBWC Investigating Sewage Spill, Beijing Taxis to Go Electric, Human Rights Lawsuits Against Canadian Mining Companies (by Bob Percival)

I just returned from Guadalajara, Mexico where my son and I attended World Baseball Classic (WBC) games on Friday and Saturday.  The WBC is an international baseball tournament that is held every four years.  We attended games between Puerto Rico and Venezuela and Mexico versus Puerto Rico.  The 16,000-seat Estadio de Baseball de los Charros de Jalisco was filled to capacity and the atmosphere was more like at the World Cup than a regular MLB game.  Puerto Rico won both games and will advance to the next round next weekend in San Diego.  I also checked another item off my bucket list by touring tequila distilleries around the town of Tequila, just north of Guadalajara.

On March 10 Volkswagen AG pled guilty in federal district court in Detroit to criminal charges for intentionally violating the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice in connection with its cheating on vehicle emissions testing.  As announced earlier when its plea agreement was disclosed, the company will pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine.  It also was disclosed that VW will pay an added $1.5 billion civil penalty.  When the company is formally sentenced on April 21 the court is expected to appoint independent monitor to track its regulatory compliance for the next three years.  Seven VW executives have been indicted for their role in this deliberate fraud.  Only one has been arrested when he was caught trying to leave the U.S.  The others are in Germany and it is unclear whether that country will permit their extradition to the U.S. to face the criminal charges.  If no high-level VW executives go to jail, it will be a severe indictment of the effectiveness of criminal sanctions against corporations for environmental violations.

Last week during an interview on CNBC, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated that he did not believe CO2 was a primary contributor to climate change.  Critics of Pruitt immediately pointed out that this contradicts what EPA's own website says.  Pruitt subsequently stated that he thinks Congress should decide whether EPA has the authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases, an issue that already has been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago in Massachusetts v. EPA, a decision the Court has twice reaffirmed.  For someone who claims to want to adhere strictly to the law, Pruitt has some unusual ideas.  In an editorial on March 12, the Houston Chronicle stated that "The Environmental Protection Agency serves a a pollution referee in the competition between industry and nature."  But it said that "everyone should start to worry" because Pruitt was acting as a referee who "runs out on the field, grabs the ball and stiff arms his way into the end zone." Carbon Referee, Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2017 at A29. The editorial noted that at an oil industry conference in Houston last week the Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih emphasized the importance of investments to help shrink the carbon footprint of fossil fuels. "Petroleum is an international business, and whether Pruitt likes it or not, the world is moving ahead on carbon regulations.  The Trump administration cannot keep reality at bay.  The industry is already preparing itself for inevitable global warming rules.  Pruitt's refusal to get on they level has started to hurt long-term plans."

The U.S./Mexico International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) announced that it will investigate a massive spill of raw sewage that fouled beaches from Tijuana to San Diego.  The spill which was first spotted in early February, is estimated to have included more than 143 million gallons of raw sewage that spilled into the Tijuana River.  Although it originated in Mexico, the precise source and cause of the spill are unclear.

Municipal authorities in Beijing announced that the city taxi fleet will be replaced with electric vehicles.  Approximately 67,000 existing taxis in the city will be replaced with electric vehicles and all new taxis will be electric.  The move is being undertaken as a response to severe air pollution that has plagued the city this winter.  It also would be nice if the city prosecuted taxi drivers who disable seat belts in their vehicles and require taxi drivers and passengers to use them.

Friday March 3 was the one-month anniversary of the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres.  Eight suspects remain in custody, two of whom were arrested in the last two months.  The U.S. Embassy in Honduras released a statement marking the anniversary of the murder stating that the U.S. government “remains committed to helping Hondurans build a future in which the underlying causes of impunity are resolved, and in which the guilty are held to account for their actions.”

In the last several months two Canadian courts have allowed lawsuits to proceed against Canadian mining companies for harmed caused in their operations abroad.  In late January the British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed a human rights lawsuit to proceed against Tahoe Resources Inc.  Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seven Guatemalan protesters who were shot in April 2013 while protesting the Escobel mine owned by a subsidiary of Tahoe in southeastern Guatemala.  The court unanimously held that a lower court had erred in finding that Guatemala was a better forum for hearing the case. Garcia v. Tahoe Resources, Inc.  In October 2016 the British Columbia Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit alleging human rights violations by a Canadian company at a mine in Eritrea to proceed. Araya v. Nevsun Resources Ltd.


On February 28, 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider EPA’s “waters of the United States” rule.  This rule, which was promulgated in 2015, is a product of EPA’s long-time efforts to clarify the reach of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.  The rule was necessary because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s bizarre decision in Rapanos v. U.S., where the Court split 4-1-4.  Four Justices, led by Justice Scalia, stated that the Clean Water Act did not apply to wetlands that are adjacent to the non-navigable tributaries of navigable waters. Four Justices stated that the Act did apply.  Justice Kennedy, however, announced his own “significant nexus” test.  Although Kennedy’s test was rejected by all eight other Justices, it became the deciding factor and EPA’s rule was intended to determine when such waters have a significant nexus to navigable waters.  The new executive order directs EPA to consider adopting Justice Scalia’s “continuous surface connection” test that would radically restrict federal jurisdiction.  However, since this test was rejected by a majority of the Court (Kennedy and the four dissenters), EPA would be on shaky legal grounds if it adopts it.

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