December 18, 2008
Dear Readers and Friends:
It is so difficult this time of year to decide how to spend one's limited resources in a way consistent with our duty to reduce human suffering and make the world a better place. It is especially difficult now, when all of us are a bit uncertain about our financial future and have lost a considerable amount of our paper wealth. But, I am concentrating for now on Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere. Below I post a letter from a friend in Haiti, in the hope that some of you may help in the resurrection of Haiti after this fall's hurricane season. Obviously, my friend is a Christian (as I am), but human need knows no religion. Be assured that any money sent him through the church will be used to meet profound human need, not the promotion of a creed. And, if you are reluctant to send money to a faith-based organization, just let me know and I'll be happy to find a secular route for your gift.
[We] are writing you all with a great mix of emotions – sadness and frustration, great doubts, fear, but also some sense of hope. Many of you already know that in the past five weeks, Haiti was affected by four hurricanes – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, resulting in profound destruction throughout the entire country. Chavannes Jean Baptiste, the director of MPP (Mouvman Peyizan Papay–Farmer’s Movement of Papay) noted this past Monday that the situation is without precedent. MPP along with other national and international organizations are beginning to get a grasp of the level of havoc and devastation, but it seems impossible that anyone will ever be able to make a full accounting of the loss of life and property.
Many of the root causes of the poverty in Haiti–weak government, inadequate communication, lack of roads and other infrastructure, virtually non-existent social services–have always kept Haitind other countries with similar conditions, open to the full effects of disasters such as this. These same conditions now make it difficult and in some cases impossible for a quick response to those who need help the most. It is even nearly impossible to know who needs the help the most. In the last two days, I have received reports via e-mail of whole communities without food and water, with no help in sight. Lack of real roads have always been part of the isolation of many of these communities. Now, the serious damage to bridges and other weak points along the roads that do exist has increased the number of people who are isolated from any easy access, as well as deepening the level of isolation for those who have always lived at the limits.
Given all this, [our] sense of sadness is easy to understand. We live along side people who carry on their daily lives with grace, great generosity and wonderful senses of humor, despite the profound limitations. Now, these same people, some of whom are close personal friends, have lost homes and possessions and we know they have no real resources, or hope, for recuperating their losses. We have a great need to help, but we ourselves do not have the ability to provide any help that seems significant, even at the local level. Not even for just the families who are part of MPP – at least 52 families whose homes were flooded last week. Multiply the needs of the folks in Hinche by all of communities in nearly every part of Haiti, you can easily understand our frustration. What can we do? Within the sadness and frustration I also feel some guilt, because we ourselves are safe and suffered no damage at all to our home or even to the project where I work.
We also wonder whether the kind of help that is starting to come could possibly be adequate, given the enormous need. And will the assistance that comes be directed to address some of the root causes of poverty in Haiti? Will the funds help rebuild roads and bridges so that they are better than they were, or will the be used to make the highways and byways merely passable, subject as always to rapid degradation by even normal use? And will the international lending agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, encourage the Haitian government to create “safety nets” that can help families and communities recuperate losses? Or will they follow their standard policy, insisting on budgetary stringency, regardless of the needs of the most vulnerable–the poor in general, and women, children and the aged in particular?
It is impossible to write about the current catastrophe without mentioning as well the ongoing global wide crises of food prices which are spiraling out of US control. In the project that I help coordinate – the crew prepares and shares two meals a day. We produce all of the vegetables for these meals ourselves, but for the items we can’t produce (corn, rice, coffee, oil etc), we paid a total of around $100 in May. In August, we spent around $135 for the same supplies and in September we spent $175. In a country where over half the population earns less than $US 1.00 a day, the situation was devastating, before the flooding will now die from hunger, giving in at last to ongoing deprivation?
And the fear we feel, where does that come from? Haitians have a marvelous way of dealing with difficult situations that I have come to respect a great deal. They sing, they laugh, they joke and suddenly, the load lightens and the way forward opens up again. There is also a great deal of tolerance, or patience, with unjust conditions. But there are limits. The suffering from the food crisis was becoming nearly insufferable before the hurricanes. If there is not a rapid, reliable and comprehensive response to the current situation, especially by the Haitian government, there will almost surely be massive unrest, probably focused, as always, in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti.
At the end of such a letter, what could we say about hope that could balance the discouragement I’m sure you can sense in what I write? First and foremost is faith – [our] faith as well as the profound faith of Haitians in general. We do believe in a God who makes a way where there is no way – our God who sent our savior, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, not only to demonstrate God’s profound solidarity with his chosen people, but also to completely and finally put an end to despair. Because we are Christ followers, we hope, and there is nothing that can separate us from that hope, from the constant renewal of that hope. As [we] and several crew members were heading south, into Port au Prince,... we passed through an area just north of the city of Mirebelais (Mee be lay) where the farmers have access to irrigation. In field after field as we traveled down the road, farmers were out in those fields transplanting rice, hoeing rice, irrigating rice. Just one day after Hurricane Ike had passed through, the fields were already moving from devastation into abundance, farmers moving from being victims to being the agents of their own resurrection. What a miracle. What a God.
Please be part of Haiti’s resurrection. Contributions for the crisis in Haiti may be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). Please write on the check “DR-000064 Haiti Emergency.” Mail it to:
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Individual Remittance Processing
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh PA 15264-3700
December 18, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack
December 17, 2008
OMB's attack on risk assessment
Those of you who remember OMB's ill-fated revision of risk assessment methods (torpedoed by the NRC) may want to consider OMB's recent adventure into the scientific findings underlying risk assessments. One of the axioms of proper risk assessment/management has been to insulate as far as possible the science from the risk management decision. Obviously, OMB didn't get the memo!
OMB Watch published this report:
In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was changing its process for studying the risks of toxic chemicals under its Integrated Risk Information System program. The changes give the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — an office with little scientific knowledge — a greater role in the risk assessment process. EPA will now involve OMB at every stage of the IRIS assessment process. OMB already reviews — and often edits — agencies' proposed and final regulations. The office will now have several opportunities to review and alter the scientific findings that serve as the basis for chemical exposure standards. OMB and EPA have stuck by the changes despite criticism from Congress, a critical report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and objections of EPA staff over the role of OMB in agency science.
The Interior IG Doesn't Pull Punches
I can't do the Interior IG's most recent report on Julie McDonald justice, so I thought I'd just quote it:
As you know, in previous investigations we determined that MacDonald injected herself personally and profoundly in a number of ESA issues. We determined that MacDonald’s management style was abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive, and that her conduct demoralized and frustrated her staff as well as her subordinate managers.
Our findings from this investigation are much the same, although we found that the nature and extent of MacDonald’s influence varied dramatically from one decision to another. For example, in one instance we found that MacDonald went to extraordinary efforts to influence a particular decision, but her efforts ultimately had no effect on the outcome. In other instances, her involvement clearly caused a particular result. Ironically, in several instances, she played no role in the decision-making process, but because of her reputation, FW personnel believed that she had, in fact, been exronically, in several instances, she played no role in the decision-making process, but because of her reputation, FW personnel believed that she had, in fact, been exting influence, as did members of Congress and the public.
Overall, however, MacDonald’s zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and to the morale and reputation of the FW, as well as potential harm to individual species. Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure; of the 20 decisions we reviewed, her influence potentially jeopardized 13 ESA decisions. MacDonald’s conduct was backed by the seemingly blind support of former Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Judge Craig Manson. Judge Manson so thoroughly supported MacDonald that even when a known error in a Federal Register notice, which was caused by MacDonald’s calculations, was brought to Manson’s attention, he directed that the notice be published regardless of the error. MacDonald was also ably abetted in her attempts to interfere with the science by Special Assistant Randal Bowman, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, who held the position and authority to advance the unwritten policy to exclude as many areas as practicable from Critical Habitat Determinations, as well as Attorney Thomas Graf, Office of the Solicitor, whose remarkable lack of recollection leaves one to speculate whether he was doing MacDonald’s bidding or was a rogue actor simply emulating her policy style.
In the end, the cloud of MacDonald’s overreaching, and the actions of those who enable and assisted her, have caused the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-issue decisions and litigation costs to defend decisions that, in at least two instances, courts found to be arbitrary and capricious. (Ironically, in many of the decisions that ended up in litigation, advice from the Office of the Solicitor (SOL) had been ignored, yet the SOL subsequently had to suffer the indignity of defending decisions that it had deemed legally flawed.) These costs are in addition to the monies expended by the OIG on three separate investigations into MacDonald’s influence over ESA decisions.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that our investigation revealed an enormous policy void, which MacDonald was able to readily exploit.
The report goes on to suggest that Interior ought to fill that policy void with policy and regulations so that this sort of abuse cannot occur again.
IEA touts price floors and ceilings
IEA released a new paper IEA paper link on price caps and price floors in climate policy, assessing long-term economic and environmental effects of introducing price caps and price floors in hypothetical climate change mitigation architecture, which aims to reduce global energy-related CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050. Based on abatement costs in IPCC and IEA reports, this quantitative analysis confirms what qualitative analyses have already suggested: introducing price caps could significantly reduce economic uncertainty. This uncertainty stems primarily from unpredictable economic growth and energy prices, and ultimately unabated emission trends. In addition, the development of abatement technologies is uncertain.
With price caps, the expected costs could be reduced by about 50% and the uncertainty on economic costs could be one order of magnitude lower. Reducing economic uncertainties may spur the adoption of more ambitious policies by helping to alleviate policy makers' concerns of economic risks. Meanwhile, price floors would reduce the level of emissions beyond the objective if the abatement costs ended
up lower than forecasted.
If caps and floors are commensurate with the ambition of the policy pursued and combined with slightly
tightened emission objectives, climatic results could be on average similar to those achieved with "straight" objectives (i.e. with no cost-containment mechanism).
The Trouble with Rapanos: Bush Administration covered up the collapse of the CWA enforcement program wrought by Rapanos
A Congressional investigation by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, detailed the collapse of the Clean Water Act enforcement program in the wake of Rapanos. NBC Link More than 500 clean water enforcement cases have been dropped or stalled. The chairmen forwarded to Obama the results of a review of more than 20,000 pages of documents produced by EPA and the Corps. Dozens of enforcement cases were downgraded, becoming informal responses, reduced civil penalties, or delayed. Additionally, many violations are not being detected due to the reduction in CWA investigations. Together, just two EPA Regions, Regions 6 and 8, dropped 244 enforcement cases.
Deflation Paranoia strikes deep...
Into your heart it may creep
Starts when you're always afraid
Step out of line
The man come and take you away
Apologies to Buffalo Springfield
I've been avoiding many posts about the economy, to avoid depressing me and my readers, and to avoid contributing to the general paranoia that seems to have gripped the country. But apparently the Fed is pretty concerned...instead of dropping the fed fund rate a 1/2 point down to .5, it dropped it essentially down to zero.
MarketWatch reports that the Labor Department released figures yesterday showing U.S. consumer prices fell in November at the fastest rate since 1932, the darkest days of the Great Depression. The U.S. consumer price index fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.7%, the biggest drop since the government began adjusting the CPI for seasonal factors in 1947. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI fell by 1.9%, the biggest decline since January 1932, at the nadir of the Great Depression. The seasonally adjusted core CPI was flat in November. Apparently, both the CPI and the Core CPI were worse than economists had expected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were expecting the CPI to fall by 1.4%. They forecast that the core CPI would rise by 0.1%.
Certainly those of us who have secure jobs and salaries, and tenured law professors are pretty close to the top of that list, may actually profit from this scenario. But,....it's still scary.
Now, for the chorus....
Its time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down.
World Water Week: Transboundary Waters and other flowing things
The World Water Week in Stockholm, the leading annual global meeting place for the planet’s water issues, now invites workshop abstracts and proposals for seminars and side events to be submited for the 2009 World Water Week, August 16-22.
The Workshop topics accepting abstract submissions are:
Securing Water in Coastal Zones
Benefit Sharing and Transboundary Waters
Securing Water in Coastal Zones
Access to Green and Blue Water in a Water Scarcity Situation
The Role of Inter-basin Transfers in Accessing Water
Safe Water Services in Post-conflict and Post-disaster Contexts
Securing Access to Water-related Goods through Trade
Water Storage Options for Secured Access
Subsidies and Financial Mechanisms in the Water Sector
The Deadline for abstract submission is: February 1, 2009.
Detailed information on the 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm and
guidelines for submitting an abstract for presentation during the
workshops is available at www.worldwaterweek.org and in the "First Announcement" available at: http://www.worldwaterweek.org/
The World Water Week in Stockholm is hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (www.siwi.org). The theme for 2009 is: "Water - Responding to Global Change: Accessing Water for the Common Good with Special Focus on Transboundary Waters."
Arctic Ice Melt
Last week, the Sumpter Elementary 5th graders and I did two ice melt experiments. The first experiment compared land-based ice melt with sea-based ice melt. The latter takes about a third as long as the land-based ice melt. With that in mind, note that overall the Arctic ice is melting very quickly.
Planet Ark reports:
Ice volume around the Arctic region hit the lowest level ever recorded this year as climate extremes brought death and devastation to many parts of the world, the U.N. weather agency WMO said on Tuesday. Although the world's average temperature in 2008 was, at 14.3 degrees Celsius (57.7 degrees Fahrenheit), by a fraction of a degree the coolest so far this century, the direction toward a warmer climate remained steady, it reported.
"What is happening in the Arctic is one of the key indicators of global warming," Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said. "The overall trend is still upwards." A report presented by Jarraud at a news conference showed Arctic ice cover dropping to its second lowest extent during this year's melt season since satellite measuring began in 1979. However, the Geneva-based agency said, "because ice was thinner in 2008, overall ice volume was less than in any other year." It added: "The season strongly reinforced the 30-year downward trend in the extent of Arctic Sea ice."
The dramatic collapse of a quarter of ancient ice shelves on Canada's Ellesmere Island in the north of the Arctic Ocean added to earlier meltdowns, reducing cover in the region from 9,000 square km (3,500 sqmiles) a century ago to just 1,000 sq kms.
The WMO said the slight slowdown in warming this year, an increase of 0.31C over the 14C of the base period 1961-90, against an average 0.43C for 2001-2007, was due to a moderate-to-strong La Nina in the Pacific in late 2007. "This decade is almost 0.2 degrees (Celsius) warmer compared to the previous decade. We have to look at it in that way, comparing decades not years," Peter Stott, a climate scientist at Britain's Hadley Center, which provided data for the WMO report, told Reuters in London.
We did an even more interesting experiment on how fast land-based ice sheets may melt. We took three ice sheets: one with very small cracks, but essentially intact; one with significant cracks; and one with significant cracks with water that slips through them. The third ice sheet (which to some extent might represent the reality of Antarctic ice sheets) melted in about 35 minutes, the second ice sheet took about 83 minutes, and the first ice sheet took nearly 360 minutes. We concluded that estimates of ice melt based on largely intact ice would substantially underestimate the true rate of melting if there are in fact significant cracks that have water pooling and sliding down the cracks.
27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference
DON’T FORGET TO MARK PIELC IN YOUR 2009 CALENDARS!
The 27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference
Solidarity! United Action for the Greener Good
February 26th – March 1st
University of Oregon School of Law
Read on for planning updates and reminders . . .
- Last day to submit panel
suggestions is January 15th, but the sooner the better, as our timeslots are
already starting to fill up. Go to http://www.pielc.org/pages/
- Submit artwork for PIELC 2009 posters and t-shirts now! Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail them to 1221 University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene, OR 97403, attn: LAW
- Coming in mid-January, our website will be updated with more travel, lodging, and childcare options than ever at www.pielc.org.
- Our confirmed keynote speakers are:
Katherine Redford – Co-Founder and US Office Director of Earth Rights International, is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where she received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights and Public Service. She is a member of the Massachusetts State Bar and served as counsel to plaintiffs in ERI's landmark case Doe v. Unocal. Katie received an Echoing Green Fellowship in 1995 to establish ERI, and since that time has split her time between ERI's Thailand and US offices. In addition to working on ERI's litigation and teaching at the EarthRights Schools, Katie currently serves as an adjunct professor of law at both UVA and the Washington College of Law at American University. She has published on various issues associated with human rights and corporate accountability, in addition to co-authoring ERI reports such as In Our Court, Shock and Law, and Total Denial Continues. In 2006, Katie was selected as an Ashoka Global Fellow.
Riki Ott – Experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill—and chose to do something about it. She retired from fishing, founded three nonprofit organizations to deal with lingering social, economic, and harm, and wrote two books about the spill. Sound Truth and Corporate Myths focuses on the hard science-ecotoxicology, and the new understanding (paradigm shift) that oil is more toxic than previously thought. Not One Drop describes the soft science--the sociology of disaster trauma, and the new understanding that our legal system does not work in cases involving wealthy corporations, complex science, and class-action. Ott draws on her academic training and experience to educate, empower, and motivate students and the general public to address the climate crisis and our energy future through local solutions. Ott lives Cordova, Alaska, the fishing community most affected by the disaster.
Stephen Stec – Adjunct Professor at Central European University (HU) and Associate Scholar at Leiden University (NL). As well as the former head of the Environmental Law Program of the Regional Environmental Center (REC), Stec is one of the authors of The Aarhus Convention Implementation Guide and main editor for the Access to Justice Handbook under the Aarhus Convention. The subject of the Aarhus Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement; it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice.
Fernando Ochoa – Legal Advisor for Pronatura Noroeste a Mexican non-profit organization and the Waterkeeper Program for the Baja California Peninsula, and founding member and Executive Director for Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN), an environmental advocacy organization. Mr. Ochoa has helped establish more than 60 conservation contracts to protect more than 150 thousand acres of land in Northwest Mexico. As the Executive Director of DAN, Mr. Ochoa has successfully opposed several development and industrial projects that threatened ecosystems in the Sea of Cortes and the Baja California Peninsula, having saved critical habitat for Gray Whales, Whale Sharks and other endangered species. His work has set important legal precedents on environmental law in order for local communities to gain participation in decision making processes, transparency and access to justice.
Claudia Polsky – Deputy Director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Green Technology (P2 Office) in California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The P2 Office is central to the implementation of new (2008) legal authority that gives California expansive ability to regulate toxic chemicals in consumer products. Instead of focusing on cleanup of past pollution -- the historic emphasis of DTSC -- the P2 Office looks to the future by preventing the use of toxic materials in consumer products and industrial operations. Ms. Polsky's duties include implementing California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, overseeing hazardous waste source-reduction programs, and working with staff engineers to evaluate and deploy new environmental technologies that reduce the need for toxic chemicals. The Office's work involves interaction with stakeholders as diverse as electronics manufacturers, breast cancer activists, analytical chemists, and venture capitalists. Before joining DTSC, Ms. Polsky worked for the California Department of Justice, Earthjustice, Public Citizen Litigation Group, and The Nature Conservancy. She holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law, where she was Editor in Chief of Ecology Law Quarterly. She is also a former Fulbright Scholar to New Zealand, receiving a Masters of Applied Science in Natural Resource Management.
Gail Small – The director of Native Action, an environmental justice organization in Lame Deer, Montana. Small's political engagement in energy issues began in the early 1970s, when she and other high school students were sent by the tribal government to visit coal extraction sites on the Navajo Reservation and in Wyoming, after the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) signed leases opening the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to strip-mining. Small later served on a tribal committee that successfully fought for the cancellation of the BIA coal leases. She received her law degree from the University of Oregon and formed Native Action in 1984. Her work at Native Action includes litigation, drafting tribal statutes, and creating informational resources for tribal members.
Derrick Jenson – bio coming soon
SEE YOU THERE!
The Conference Co-Directors
Questions? Suggestions? Comments? email email@example.com
December 17, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack
ExxonMobil strikes again!
DOJ just released the news that ExxonMobil has agreed to pay nearly $6.1 million in civil penalties for violating the terms of a 2005 court-approved Clean Air Act agreement. HT Walter James, Environmental Crimes Blog.
The 2005 settlement already required ExxonMobil to pay a $7.7 million civil
penalty, perform an additional $6.7 million in supplemental
environmental projects in communities around the company's refineries,
and install pollution controls at six of its U.S. refineries.
"The Department of Justice will not tolerate violation of our consent
decrees," said Assistant Attorney General Ronald J. Tenpas of the
Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The
significant penalty in this case shows that non-compliance with
settlement requirements will have serious consequences."
"The 2005 settlement has already resulted in major reductions in air
emissions from the company's refineries, but we need full compliance to
realize all the benefits of the settlement," said Granta Y. Nakayama,
assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance. "EPA will continue to enforce against companies that fail to
comply with the terms of court-approved settlements."
The agreement penalizes ExxonMobil for failing to comply with
the 2005 settlement at four refineries in Beaumont and Baytown, Texas;
Torrance, Calif.; and Baton Rouge, La. Most of the penalties are for
failure to monitor and control the sulfur content in certain fuel gas
streams burned in refinery furnaces, as required by the 2005 settlement
and EPA regulations. The other two refineries covered under the 2005
settlement are located in Joliet, Ill. and Billings, Mont.
Between approximately 2005 and 2007, ExxonMobil did not monitor the
sulfur content in some fuel gas streams and subsequent testing revealed
sulfur content in excess of EPA limits. The burning of
sulfur-containing gases emits sulfur dioxide, which can cause serious
The 2005 settlement and today's penalty settlement with ExxonMobil were
reached as part of a broader EPA initiative to reduce air pollution from
refineries nationwide. To date, 95 refineries located in 28 states,
representing more than 86 percent of the nation's refining capacity,
have been required to install new controls to significantly reduce
In a separate action today, EPA and the Justice Department are proposing
amendments to the 2005 settlement that include minor technical changes
and new deadlines for some required activities at ExxonMobil's Joliet,
Billings, and Beaumont and Baytown refineries. The proposed amendments,
filed today with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, are subject to a
30-day public comment period.
For more information on the Petroleum Refinery Initiative: