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 (www.acoel.org) 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.