It has been two months since my last blog entry because I have been incredibly busy with both vacation and work. In August my wife and I spent ten days in Iceland, including a week on a Wilderness Travel hiking expedition. A slideshow of photos of our trip can be accessed online at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/d9288ispds64s3o/Iceland_August_2017_copy.m4v?dl=0. The day after we returned from Iceland my son and I traveled to Oregon where we observed the total solar eclipse on August 21 from a hillside on a historic farm in the wine country south of Portland. In September I have been working non-stop to prepare for fall classes (teaching Environmental Law to undergrads in College Park and to law students in Baltimore) and to finish some long-time research projects. I have completed the manuscript for the new 8th edition of my casebook Environmental Regulation: Law, Science and Policy. It has been four years since the seventh edition came out in 2013. My editors report that I will be receiving page proofs shortly and the bound book should be in bookstores by early January 2018.
Three hurricanes have caused significant damage in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. At the end of August Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. In early September Hurrican Irma hit the west coast of Florida, and in late Sepatember Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. The hurricanes left substantial environmental damage in their wake, flooding oil refineries, chemical plants, and Superfund sites in Houston. An Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, texas caught fire and released toxic air pollutants. ExxonMobil’s Baytown oi refinery, the second largest in the country, also was damaged, causing environmental releases of chemicals. Compiling regulatory filings from oil refineries, chemical plants, and shale drilling sites, the Center for Biological diversity found that there had been releases of at least 1 million pounds of extra pollutants in the Houston area. Chemicals released included benzene, 1,3 butadiene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, tolulene and xylene. Air monitors from the Environmental Defense Fund in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston found up to 324 parts per billion of benzene, well above levels that require workers to wear breathing apparatus.
Scores of sewage treatment plants in the Houston area flooded and released raw sewage. Sheila Kaplan and Jack Healy, Houston’s Floodwaters Are Tainted, Tests Show, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2017. Testing of some floodwaters found “astonishing levels of E.coli in standing water in one family’s living room – levels 135 times those considered sage – as well as elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from floodwaters in the kitchen.” A few weeks before Harvey hit Houston, President Donald Trump has issued an executive order revoking an Obama administration directive that infrastructure projects receiving federal funds should conduct flood planning that takes into account rising sea levels from climate change.
On August 16, 2017, the Minimata Convention on Mercury entered into force. A total of 83 countries, including the U.S., have deposited their instruments of acceptance of the convention that seeks to lower global environmental releases of mercury. The first Conference of Parties to the Convention has just concluded in Geneva, Switzerland.
President Daniel Ortega told Nicaraguan state media that his government will join the Paris climate accord. Originally Nicaragua did not join the agreement concluded in December 2015 because Ortega said it did not require enough sacrifice from wealthy countries. Syria is now the only country that failed to join the agreement. Rumors reported by EU climate negotiators that the Trump administration may reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord were forcefully denied on September 17 by Trump administration officials. States iare now taking the lead in the U.S. in promoting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California is hanging tough even as the Trump administration considers relaxing fuel efficiency standards. Northeastern states have strengthened their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI).
In late August the NGO Sea Shepherd announced that it will no longer shadow the Japanese whaling fleet because the Japanese military was providing the fleet with data on the location of Sea SHepherd’s boats that made it easy for the whaling fleet to elude them.
The final report of the Australian Panel of Experts in Environmental Law (APEEL) is now online at: http://apeel.org.au It consists of a Blueprint and eight technical reports sketching an ambitious vision for a new generation of environmental laws.
Even as the first Volwkswagen employees start to receive criminal sentences, a group of scientists has estimated that 38,000 people die prematurely each year due to diesel exhaust in excess of emission limits, see: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/15/diesel-emissions-test-scandal-causes-38000-early-deaths-year-study
In late August a judge in Ecuador sentenced 20 Chinese fishermen to up to four years in jail for illegally catching 6,600 endangered sharks in Ecuador waters.
Kenya has passed the world’s toughest ban on the production, sale or use of plastic bags to reduce environmental pollution. Penalties can range up to a $40,000 fine and four years in jail. See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/28/kenya-brings-in-worlds-toughest-plastic-bag-ban-four-years-jail-or-40000-fine
At the end of August a Brazilian judge suspended a decree From Brazilian President Michel Temer that would have opened up a vast nature reserve in the amazon to mining. Judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo concluded thaqt the decree exceeded the President’s powers because only the Brazilian Congress could lift the protected status of the reserve.
U.S. Interior Department officials are moving to open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to seismic exploration to get a better idea of the size of the oil reserves contained there. Interior is also moving to shorten environmental impact assessments. An August 31 memo from Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said EISs normally should not be more than 150 pages and take more than a year to prepare.