Category: Environmental Law


What I Want for Christmas (Sort of)

Popular Mechanics has a fun piece about a car company called Aptera. It looks cool and is made here in the U.S.A. In fact it is made up the road from me in Carlsbad, CA. The hybrd prototype will cost $30K according to the company. It can get a claimed 300 mpg. The available all electric gets, well it is not mpg, but has a 120 mile range. That one seems like the same problem all electrics had before: short range and need to plug in. Still the vehicle looks like fun. Apparently it handles well too. Why do I want it? Well honestly I love the idea that such a cool car is designed and built in the U.S. The price seems right too. If the company does well I hope some massive U.S. automaker buys them (making the Aptera people as rich as they may deserve to be) and regains some leadership in the car market. In addition, the company and the approach reminds me of the small, dedicated aerospace companies of California’s past. They went on to greatness. Maybe these folks or others like them will enjoy that type of success too. So that is what I really want for Christmas and having the car is just a proxy for the idea. Then again if someone wanted to give me one, I wouldn’t object.

Here’s the video:


Cherry Pies, Candy Bars, and Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Nobel Peace Prize Concert

Nobel_Prize_Medal_2.jpgAl Gore and Rajendra Pachauri, the head of and representing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change. Yes, it is an important issue. Here are Gore’s speech and Pauchari’s speech on behalf of the IPCC. Gore pulled out the stops and invoked Churchill and Hitler. The IPCC speech detailed many problems including one I recall from years ago when I took a class called the Water Planet at Berkeley. The professor had a few lectures on the science and then hammered water policy. This was around 1990 and I remember thinking his points about wars and conflicts turning on water policy were quite persuasive. Today they seem prescient. Gore’s and others’ calls for legislation and ways to address an event that will shape our future pose numerous fascinating and complex questions that require much thought. Maybe that is why I was distracted by the gala aspect of the Prize. I had always thought of the Nobel ceremony as a somber event when I read some of the speeches in high school. Apparently things are bit more festive than I realized.

First there is a banquet, “an event many would pay a fortune to attend.” (seriously right there at the home page) The banquet page details all the themes and history behind the dinner. As if that were not enough there is a big show that was almost thwarted until Kevin Spacey stepped in to cover for Tommy Lee Jones as co-host with Uma Thurman at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Yes, folks, the Nobel Peace Prize concert. The Web site looks more like an Academy Awards event than I expected. Alicia Keys, Annie Lennox, Kylie Minogue, Earth Wind & Fire, Melissa Etheridge, Morten Harket, KT Tunstall, Juanes, Junoon, Nick Davies (conductor) and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra perform. Wikipedia has a nice entry about the history of the concert which dates from 1994. Take a look there are some impressive names in there not to mention some Nobel Prize winners. (Sinead O’Connor singing in front of Arafat, Peres, and Rabin must have been surreal. Boyz II Men performed one year. The list is fascinating.)

Now although I do think that the issue is important I think that the committee erred. Maybe Earth Wind & Fire were a nod to the elements and the environment or maybe people miss that fat horn section (I do). Regardless the obvious choice should have been a reunion of Talking Heads and the song has to have been (Nothing But) Flowers. It was 1988 and environmental commentary with intelligent, witty satire flew. (Here are some choice lines but listen to the whole thing. “The highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture … We used to microwave, now we just eat nuts and berrries. This was a discount store now it’s turned into a corn field”). Not to mention the world music aspect of the song seems to fit with the Nobel Prizes. The album is Naked (I also recommend Remain In Light arguably a masterpiece). You ask where is this song? As Talking Heads might say you got it.

image: Wikicommons

cross-posted at Madisonian


Law Talk: Linda Malone on Litigating Global Warming

In this episode we hear from my colleague Linda Malone, at William & Mary Law School. Linda is an expert on international law, national security law, and the legal issues surrounding global warming. In this episode Linda discusses new litigation strategies that are using domestic courts as a way of enforcing international norms on global warming, as well as forcing action by domestic regulators. Her remarks were originally delivered as the St. George Tucker Lecture at William & Mary, which is given each year to honor the scholarlly accomplishments of a senior member of the law faculty.

You can subscribe to “Law Talk” using iTunes or Feedburner. You can also visit the “Law Talk” page at the iTunes store. For previous episodes of Law Talk at Co-Op click here.

Why did the US try to Undermine EU Safety Regulation?

As a website relates, “Mark Schapiro’s new book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products investigates how corporations intent on thwarting stricter environmental and health guidelines here in the U.S. are forced to meet new demands by the European Union.” An excerpt from the book compares the U.S.’s oft-toothless Toxic Substances Control Act to the EU’s scheme for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH). Schapiro notes that “REACH amounts to a revolution in how chemicals are managed, and in how production decisions around the world will be made from now on.”

As REACH was being crafted, the U.S. decided to intervene decisively:

[A]s REACH was being debated in the European Parliament from 2003 to 2006, the U.S. government and the nation’s industries teamed up to undertake an unprecedented international lobbying effort to kill or

radically weaken the proposal. The assault came from an assortment of government and industry offices.

A memo that circulated at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs denounced REACH as too “costly, burdensome, and complex” for industry to follow. . . [A] Commerce Department brief warned, “hundreds of thousands of Americans could be thrown out of their jobs.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick submitted a protest to the World Trade Organization asserting that REACH amounted to a “non-tariff” barrier to foreign exporters.

Though REACH promises to become a world standard, the U.S. may soon see itself in the position that Larry Summers recommended for LDC’s: “our nation’s steady retreat from environmental leadership means it may soon become a dumping ground for chemicals deemed too hazardous by more progressive countries.” Schapiro suggests that the bottom line will be an relative increase in European power and quality of life: “American consumers are more at risk than their European counterparts[;] the European Union is . . . gaining the upper hand in regulating the behavior of multinational corporations; and [the EU] is thus amassing more economic power.”

Yoshida Battles the Pink Jellyfish

pinkjellyfish.jpgThe WSJ has a great story on a jellyfish invasion in Japanese waters:

Fisherman Ryoichi Yoshida pulled in his nets before dawn one morning, hoping for lots of yellowtail and mackerel. But the fish were overwhelmed by a heaving mass of living pink slime. The creatures, called Nomura jellyfish, can measure six feet across and weigh up to about 450 pounds.

Fish poisoned by jellyfish tentacles die with their mouths agape. That mars their appearance and reduces their value by as much as 20%. “When their mouths are wide open, it means they’ve died going, ‘I’m in pain! I’m in pain!’ ” explains Mr. Yoshida.

The jellyfish could lead to an international incident–either over Chinese industrialization, or global warming:

[A] computer model of ocean currents suggests the jellyfish are breeding off the Chinese coast near the mouth of the Yangtze River. One theory is that pollution, perhaps linked to industrialization in China, is helping create more algae in the sea. The algae are food for plankton, which is food for jellyfish. . . . [But the] dean of the Ocean University of China [says] “Floating jellyfish are mostly in the Sea of Japan….That’s Japan and Korea’s problem.”

One fear among scientists is that the creatures are multiplying in a “jellyfish spiral.” Shinichi Uye, a leading jellyfish researcher at Hiroshima University in western Japan, thinks overfishing off China has led to fewer plankton-eating fish, leaving more plankton for the jellyfish to suck up. This growing army of jellyfish then also eats fish eggs, resulting in even fewer fish.

If China is helping to generate giant pink jellyfish, it will be interesting to see if any international body can do anything to control the problem. On the other hand, the new popularity of “vanilla-and-jellyfish ice cream” shows that the industrious can turn even the most noxious pests into a blessing in disguise.

Photo Credit: Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Whom The SUV’s Help

chavez.jpgI was recently listening to a podcast of Peter Singer at the University of Chicago Law School. He recounted a story about a 2001 press conference with Ari Fleischer, where the President’s spokesman was asked if the administration would ask Americans to “change lifestyles” in order to conserve. Here’s the answer:

That’s a big no. The President believes that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.

Now the blessings of our liberty are subsidizing some of the most repressive regimes on the planet:

[About] $700 billion a year are flowing to the world’s oil-exporting countries [due to recent price rises]. Two of those nations — Iran and Venezuela — may be better able to defy the Bush administration because of swelling oil revenue. . . . .Russia, the world’s No. 2 oil exporter . . . . is trying to reclaim former Soviet republics as part of its sphere of influence. Freed of the need to curry favor with foreign oil companies and Western bankers, Russia can resist what it views as American expansionism.

Might the great oil wealth redistribution lead to the end of knee-jerk libertarian defenses of SUV’s? Or is there some Schumpeterian “creative destruction” story to be told here, whereby the short-run costs speed the development of transformational energy technologies? I’ll believe the latter story when I see real venture capital money behind it.

Photo Credit: Hugo Chavez, Dictator of the Month.


Suing the EPA to Act

AirPollutionSource.jpgSeveral states including California and a block of states in the Northeast are preparing to sue the EPA to act. The issue is the EPA’s delay in granting waivers so that states can use their power under the Clean Air Act to regulate automobile emissions. California has been waiting two years for the waiver. The idea is to ensure that the agency acts, but it appears that the agency could rule that the state action is not authorized. As David Doniger, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, put it “The real issue is, will [the EPA’s administrator] block the states or let the states go forward?” In addition, a group of 10 states are issuing regulations regarding power plants under a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. New York is part of that group. Its regulations are to take effect next year. That strategy helps wind and solar power producers and will make it harder for coal-based producers. The Times article noted that the largest investor-owned energy producer in New York backs the idea and does not operate coal plants in the state. In contrast the Independent Power Producers of New York, a trade group that includes coal-based power producers, opposes the state regulations. This quote from the group’s CEO is interesting for its use of fear and the idea that some other state would gain from the regulations.

“We don’t want to put more burden on the rate payers of New York, and the last thing I would think this governor wants to do is send the message that investment should go in other states,” said Gavin J. Donohue, the group’s chief executive. “You can build plants in other states and send the electricity back into New York.”

If one wanted to study a simple way to try and hit the people this quote offers a decent, albeit transparent, example. First claim that costs will go up for individuals. That may be true, but the long-term as opposed to short-term cost question is lost in this framing not to mention that these are elected officials who just might have accounted for the perception of near-term rate increases. Second, indicate that investment will flee. Sure, coal-based and other methods of power production that generate greenhouse gases may leave. Then again, those companies interested in areas favorable to other energy production may rush in and invest more. Furthermore, they will have to build new plants just to be able to offer their energy; that may require investment. Third, suggest that one’s business is impervious because there is always a market and others will take in the producers only to allow them to sell back to New York. This last point raises an issue of whether some states lack the ability, will, or interest to stop the coal producers and thus they will allow the energy producers to generate negative effects in any event. If so, then the argument seems to be let us produce in your state and at least get the investment benefit, because we will pollute elsewhere, further global warming, and still sell our energy so nyah (imagine a tongue sticking out here). It is unlikely that the last analysis is exactly what the group wanted to say, but it seems to be a possible interpretation.

Last, I am not an environmental law person so any thoughts about the issue from the regulation to the implications of suing the EPA to act to the negative externality issues in this context are appreciated.

Hat Tip: Slashdot

(Image Source: Wikicommons)

Charismatic Mini-Fauna

Anyone interested in the Endangered Species Act might enjoy reading D.T. Max’s story on Squirrel Wars in England. The gray squirrel is rapidly displacing the red squirrel because it carries a virus–squirrelpox–to which it is immune (but which kills the reds in a gruesome manner). Given the virulence of squirrelpox, I’m sympathetic with a quarantine effort, but some members of the House of Lords believe something more is at stake:

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, the 21st to hold that title in Scotland, [has] point[ed] out the inherent superiority of the red over the gray squirrel: “Red squirrels,” she said, “are rather like quiet, well-behaved people who do not make a nuisance or an exhibition of themselves or commit crimes and so do not get themselves into the papers in the vulgar way gray squirrels do.”

And who brought these vulgarians to England’s green and pleasant land? The “first gray squirrels came to Britain to amuse the rich, probably in the early 19th century,” having been imported from America. As Max quotes one Oxford squirrel authority, “I know of more than one patriotic Englishman who has been embittered against the whole American nation on account of the presence of their squirrels in his garden.”


Saving the Earth, 24 Hours at a Time

Bauer.bmpThe New Republic, a serious magazine for right thinking people not noted for its humor, has a very funny article up on their website that confirms all of your suspicions about the possibilities of combining Jack Bauer, Al Gore, environmentalist jokes, and a Simpson’s writer It begins:

EPISODE 1: 12:00 AM – 1:00 AM

Int. CTU – day



Our source tells us that the terrorists’ plan is blow up Broward Dam. This would create mass flooding, cut power to the entire state, and destroy the habitat of the tidewater goby.


Dammit! Without that goby, what will our local heron population eat?


Try not to think about that.


I can’t help it! Every link in the food chain matters!

Jack punches his hand through a wall.

And so on. I cried during the Al Gore part…


Carbon Offsets, Contract, and Complicity

CarbonEmissions.jpgThe Washington Post ran a front page story earlier this week on the wild and unregulated world of carbon offset markets. The basic idea is that one purchases some off set — either in the form of technological development or contracts not to emit — for one’s own carbon emissions so that one’s over all carbon footprint is zero. This is just the sort of environmentalism that makes my free-market-contracts-prof’s heart go pitter patter. The regulators, however, are now snooping around. As The Post reports:

Critics say that offset sellers usually have good motives. But the market is confusing enough that, this month, the Federal Trade Commission said it would look into whether consumers are being adequately protected.

“It’s just like the Wild West,” said Frank O’Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch. “There are no controls, no standards.”

Having grown-up in the West, I object to “Wild West” as a term of regulatory derision, but it strikes me that there is a deeper problem here, namely what exactly is it that a person is trying to get when they do a carbon offset.

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