Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award

Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award
Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun receives the Prince Claus Award at the Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam on Dec. 6, 2017

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, January 21, 2018


NASA reported last week that the year 2017 was the second hottest year on record, bested only by 2016 when El NiƱo temporarily helped boost temperatures slightly.  Global average temperatures were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1951-1980 average. The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010. Seventeen of the 18 hottest years have occurred since the year 2000.

Last month the World Bank announced that it no longer would provide funding for fossil fuel projects. This week the Conversation published an article by Professor Jason Kirk of Elon University noting that this decision represents the Bank showing a new found sense of independence from the United States, its largest funder, at a time when the Trump administration is promoting greater use of oil and gas.

Several sources report that there has been a noticeable improvement in air quality this winter in Beijing. The improvement in levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) is confirmed by data from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  Te-Ping Chen, Air Quality Improves in Beijing, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 18, 2018, at A6. PM2.5 levels in Beijing during the last quarter of 2017 dropped to 58 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a substantial drop from the year before, but still several times above the level the World Health Organization deems to be safe.  The improvement is attributed to stepped up inspections and fines against polluting factories in the provinces near Beijing, and cutbacks in coal use and steel production designed to meet environmental goals in the 5-year plan that expired at the end of 2017.

Egypt is protesting Ethiopia’s plans to fill the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River within three years of the project’s completion in 2019.  Egypt maintains that this will reduce the flow of the river to Egypt to levels that will cause it harm.  Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo last week to discuss the conflict.  When completed, the da will be the largest in Africa.  Matina Stevis-Gridneff & Dahlia Kholaif, Egypt, Ethiopia Wrangle Over Nile Dam, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 18, 2018, at A9.

A Ukrainian firm, Rodina Energy Group, and a German company, Enerparc Ag, are building a solar energy farm in the exclusion zone around the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor.  They are expected to install 100 MW of solar generating capacity.  The site is seemingly ideal because it has easy access to the transmission lines that formerly carried power from the nuclear power plant that was irrevocably damaged in the 1986 accident.

Last week Coca Cola launched a “World Without Waste” campaign.  The company pledged that it will recycle all of its packaging by the year 2030. Chief executive James Quincey stated that “the world has a packaging problem - and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it.” Greenpeace was not impressed,

Authorities in Bangkok arrested Boonchai Bach, who they allege is the mastermind of an international ring that smuggles endangered wildlife, including rhino horns.  The authorities allege than Bach operated the ring for more than a decades, reaping millions of dollars in revenue. Bach is alleged to have ties to Vixay Keosavang of Laos, who has been described as “the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.” Keosavang is still at large with a $1 million reward being offered by U.S. authorities for his capture.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Top Developments in 2017, Tax Cut Opens ANWR to Drilling, Prince Claus Awards (by Bob Percival)

Happy 2018.  I rang in the New Year while traveling on a plane to Israel.  On January 2 & 3 I participated in a Forum on Water Reuse, Food and Health at the Hotel Tzuba outside of Jerusalem.  The forum was part of the runup to the launching of a new joint Center on Water Reuse, Food & Health between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland.  The other U.S. participants included faculty from the School of Public Health, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, and the College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Resources. The participants from Hebrew University included faculty from the School of Agriculture, Food & Environment, the School of Public Health and the Department of Geography.  The Center will help coordinate multidisciplinary research on how to use water more efficiently in a similar fashion to the multidisciplinary

For the last several years I have sought to highlight in my first post of the year some of the top developments in Global Environmental Law during the previous year.  This year they include the following.  On June 1 Donald Trump announced that he intends to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate Agreement.  With both Nicaragua and Syria deciding to join the agreement, the U.S. will become the only country in the world not participating in it.  Under the terms of the Paris Agreement the U.S. withdrawal cannot officially become effective until November 4, 2020, the day after the next U.S. presidential election.   Several states, cities, universities and companies responded by announcing that they were redoubling efforts to reduce their GHG emissions to signal the world that the U.S. could meet its initial Paris pledge even without the Trump administration.

The Trump administration also moved to shrink the size of national monuments, repeal the “waters of the U.S.” rule and EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  However, because it did not move to reverse EPA’s finding that GHG emissions endanger public health and welfare, EPA will remain under a legal obligation to control them. Overall the U.S. federal  government is moving sharply backwards on environmental protection, while the rest of the world continues to move forward.

Volkswagen pled guilty to criminal charges in the U.S. for its emissions testing scandal.  One VW executive was sent to jail, while several others are under indictment but unlikely to be extradited by Germany.   Sea Shepherd abandoned its annual efforts to harass the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica.  The Minimata Mercury Convention entered into force on August 16, 2017.  Both New Zealand and India granted legal personality to rivers. Climate litigation increased around the world, including lawsuits by Greenpeace against Statoil in Norway, the Juliana case in Oregon, a suit challenging construction of a coal-fired power plant in South Africa, and lawsuits in India, Australia, Colombia and Germany.  The Philippine Commission on Human Rights also launched a climate investigation. 

Decades of efforts by environmentalists to keep the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge ANWR closed to oil drilling were dealt a blow by tax cut legislation. On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which contains a provision opening ANWR to oil drilling.  The provision was added at the behest of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a long-time supporter of drilling ANWR in order to increase royalties to be received by the state of Alaska.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 51-48 under a “reconciliation” procedure that avoided the need to obtain 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.  It was argued that because the measure would raise revenue from oil royalties it was germane to the tax bill.  At a White House celebration following passage of the tax cut legislation, President Trump boasted that he had been able to overcome more than 40 years of opposition to opening ANWR and he congratulated Alaska’s long-time Congressman Donald Young, though calling him “Dan” by mistake. It will take considerable time before any drilling is done in ANWR and with oil prices much lower than in decades past, it is unclear how keen oil companies will be to drill there.

On December 6 I visited the Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam for the annual Prince Claus Awards.  The Prince Claus Fund gave its highest award to Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun and they asked me to write a tribute to him, which was published in the annual awards book.  More information about this event is provided in a blog post I have done for the blog of the American College of Environmental Lawyers ( that will appear this week. 

On January 8 the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected efforts by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to require the provision of subsidies to coal-fired and nuclear power plants in the name of increasing the reliability of the electricity grid.