Facing conflicting recommendations from top advisers, President Donald Trump has decided to postpone a decision concerning whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement until after he hears the opinion of other world leaders at the G-8 Summit meeting in Taormina, Italy on May 26-27, 2017.
Melting permafrost on the Norweigan island of Spitsbergen has caused seepage into the entrance tunnel of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The vault is located inside a mountain in an abandoned Arctic coal mine, far below the permafrost. It is designed to help preserve the world’s crops and plants in the event of a global disaster. Global warming has caused some of the permafrost unexpectedly to melt, permitting seepage to breach the entrance tunnel where it froze as the seeds are kept at below freezing temperatures. Trenches are being dug to divert seepage away from the facility, which is owned by the government of Norway. Pumps are being installed in the event of further flooding.
Although challenges to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan were argued last September before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, no decision has been issued. On April 28 the court issued an order suspending the litigation for 60 days while asking for briefing on whether to return the rule to EPA. Environmental groups want the court to decide the case because the legal issues it
In April the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the Obama administration to halt consideration of a case involving the question whether challenges to the “waters of the U.S.” rule should be heard first in federal district court or in the U.S. Courts of Appeal. The Court announced in January that it would grant a petition for review in National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense, No. 16-299. Environmentalists argued that even if the Trump administration repeals the rule, the same legal issues concerning the appropriate venue to challenge that action will be presented. Twenty-two petitions for review of the rule were filed in the U.S. Courts of Appeal while 18 lawsuits challenging the rule were filed in federal district courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued a nationwide stay of the rule, but it has suspended its consideration of the merits of the legal challenges until after the Supreme Court rules on the appropriate venue.
On May 10 the U.S. Senate by a vote of 51-49 rejected an effort to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to veto a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulation limiting emissions of methane from oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Three Republican Senators - Lindsay Graham (SC), Susan Collins (ME), and John McCain (AZ) - joined all 48 Democrats in voting against the resolution. Vice President Mike Pence had been on hand to break a potential tie, but Senator McCain surprised observers by providing the decisive vote against the resolution. He cited the fact that a CRA veto would bar BLM from regulating methane emissions in the future. This is a significant, symbolic victory for environmentalists, though it remains possible that the Trump administration will suspend or alter the regulations.
On April 24 the recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize for 2017 were announced at a ceremony in San Francisco. They include Uroš Maceri from Slovenia, Prafulla Samantara from India, mark Lopez! from the U.S., Rodrigo Tot from Guatemala, Rodrigue Mugarka Katembo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Wendy Bowman from Australia. Maceri stopped a cement kiln from being allowed to co-incinerate petcoke and hazardous waste. Samantara helped protect the Niyamgiri Hills from a proposed open-pit aluminum mine. Lopez persuaded the state of California to clean up pollution from a battery smelter in East Los Angeles. Tot won a lawsuit requiring the government of Guatemala to issue land titles to his Q’eqchi community and to halt the expansion of nickel mining. Katembo exposed bribery and corruption by proponents of oil drilling in Virunga National Park. Bowman stopped a multinational mining company from taking her family farm and subjecting other residents of the Hunter Valley from further coal pollution. More detailed descriptions of their accomplishments are available online at: http://www.goldmanprize.org/prize-recipients/current-recipients/
The global shift toward renewable energy sources continues. On April 21, for the first time since the 1800s, Great Britain went a full day without burning any coal to generate electricity. Several other countries previously have eliminated the use of coal-fired powerplants, including Belgium, Norway, and Switzerland. Britain has not closed all its coal-fired power plants, but the few remaining ones did not operate on April 21 due to reduced demand for electricity then. Katrin Bennhold, For First Time Since 1800s, Britain Goes a Day Without Burning Coal for Electricity, N.Y. Times, April 22, 2017, at A6.
On Thursday May 25 I leave for Cebu, Philippines to participate in the 15th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which will be held from May 31-June 3. On May 29 & 30 there will be pre-colloquium programs on environmental law teaching and research. This will be the first colloquium with the Maryland/Pace Partnership in Environmental Law serving as the Secretariat for the Academy. We are particularly excited about welcoming participants from several law schools in Vietnam who participated in the Academy’s Training the Trainers program funded by the Asian Development Bank. Our Maryland delegation will include Managing Director William Piermattei and two students who have just completed their second year of law school - Shannon Himes and Kerri Morrison. The theme of the colloquium is “Stories of the World We Want - and Law as a Pathway.” I will be addressing the successful global effort to phase out leaded gasoline. Shannon will be presenting a paper on marine protected areas and Kerri will be presenting a paper comparing various countries’ efforts to dispose of high-level radioactive waste. Kerri’s paper on “National and Multinational Strategies for Radioactive Waste Disposal” was published in April by the Environmental Law Reporter (47 ELR 47300).