Friday, February 29, 2008

More expert commentary on Exxon Valdez -- Sturley on vicarious liability

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog posted comments by Michael Sturley who helped prepare ExxonMobil's brief.WSJ Law Blog   He didn't make predictions, but did highlight the vicarious liability argument that EM should not be held liable for Hazelwood's actions because they were against policy and he was not high enough in the corporation.  I find this fascinating.  In the criminal context, federal criminal statutes have been interpreted to hold corporations vicariously liable for actions of all employees within the scope of employment and that having a policy against the action does not insulate the corporation.  Why, pray tell, would we apply a different test in a punitive damages context?

February 29, 2008 in Cases, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Expert commentary on the Exxon Valdez Argument -- Prof. Amy Wildermuth on the Court's "affinity for the trinity"

Professor Amy Wildermuth, University of Utah, worked on an amicus brief in support of the respondents in the Exxon case and has offered these extensive comments on the argument. Wildermuth reaction In sum, her commentary agrees with my conclusion that the Court is quite interested in a possible limit of two-to-one--"an affinity for the trinity" that she asserts can be traced back to prior cases.  She points out, however, that no common law court has ever adopted that kind of ratio limit; instead, it has been exclusively legislatures that have adopted such limits.  She also raises the interesting question of whether the base for any such ratio might be reevaluated in light of Justice Kennedy's citation of the general criminal statute that uses "gross loss" as its base.

February 29, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Barack Obama and Faith in Politics

Here's an excerpt of a column in Sojomail, a faith and spirituality e-zine, written by Jim Wallis about Barack Obama and the rumors and inuendos that have been circulated about Obama's faith stance.  I found, unsurprisingly, that when I read his first book, my faith resonated with Obama's.  I belong to First Salem UCC and Trinity is also a UCC church.  It grieves me to see someone attacked on the basis of the religion of their parents (what happened to no corruption of blood in the constitution -- oh yeah, and that freedom of religion stuff).  So, I found Wallis' remarks particularly compelling.

So let's set the record straight. I have known Barack Obama for more than 10 years, and we have been talking about his Christian faith for a decade. Like me and many other Christians, he agrees with the need to reach out to Muslims around the world, especially if we are ever to defeat Islamic fundamentalism. But he is not a Muslim, never has been, never attended a Muslim madrassa, and does not attend a black "separatist" church. Rather, he has told me the story of his coming from an agnostic household, becoming a community organizer on Chicago's South Side who worked with the churches, and how he began attending one of them. Trinity Church is one of the most prominent and respected churches in Chicago and the nation, and its pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is one of the leading revival preachers in the black church. Ebony magazine once named him one of the U.S.'s 15 best Black preachers. The church says it is "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian," like any good black church would, but is decidedly not "separatist," as its white members and friends would attest. 

And one Sunday, as Obama has related to me and written in his book, The Audacity of Hope, the young community organizer walked down the aisle and gave his life to Christ in a very personal and very real Christian conversion experience. We have talked about our faith and its relationship to politics many times since. And after he gave his speech at a Sojourners/Call to Renewal conference in June of 2006, E.J. Dionne said that it may have been "the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy's Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican."

 Like his politics or not, support his candidacy or not - but don't disparage Barack Obama's faith, his church, his minister, or his credibility as an articulate Christian layman who feels a vocation in politics. Those falsehoods are simply vicious lies and should be denounced by people of faith from across the political spectrum.

February 28, 2008 in Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The $ 3 Trillion Dollar War

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  to the United States alone will exceed $ 3 trillion -- yes that is not a typo, that is a "t" trillion.  His new book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” co-authored with Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes, will be released tomorrow.  They argue that the cost to America of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been vastly underestimated.  Indeed when factors such as interest on debt, future borrowing for war expenses, a continued military presence in Iraq and lifetime health-care and counseling for veterans are counted, the wars’ cost to the United States ranges from $5 - $ 7 trillion.  The book's estimates are the subject of a hearing today by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.  McClatchy News

Obviously $ 3 trillion dollars is real money -- but what could we have bought for $ 3 trillion dollars?  The entire US government budget for the next year.  Reduction of the national debt by 30%.  Or how about something that would actually expand US influence throughout the world -- providing full funding for the entire cost of meeting the Millenium Development Goal of reducing by half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and sanitation is $ 11.3 billion per year for 10 years.  Perhaps supplying everyone in the world with safe drinking water and sanitation might cost three times that.  So for 10% of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we could have saved about 1 million lives per year that are lost to water-borne diseases, provided water for 2 billion people, and sanitation for 4 billion people.  And we worry about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.....

February 28, 2008 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Exxon Valdez argument -- what's law got to do with it, got to do with it?

At least for our result-oriented friend Justice Scalia, its all about the money.  Yesterday when the Exxon Valdez punitive damages case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, plaintiffs' counsel Jeffrey Fisher suggested hopefully that the justices had agreed to hear the case because of an unsettled aspect of maritime law, Scalia said sharply: "That," the justice said, "and $3.5 billion."  SCOTUS argument transcript for Exxon Valdez

So count the votes.

Votes to overturn the appellate court's decision reducing the verdict to $ 2.5 billion and award no punitive damages: Scalia, Roberts, Thomas.  Roberts would argue the corporation cannot be punished without culpability.  Scalia and Thomas would argue no punitive damage award is ever appropriate.

Votes to reverse and remand for punitive damages to roughly $ 800,000, which would be twice the compensatory damages consistent with the rule of thumb suggested previously in State Farm: Kennedy, Breyer, and Souter.

Votes to affirm: Ginsberg, Stevens.  Ginsberg showed her sympathies.  Stevens limited his questions to those about Exxon's responsibility for the Captain's actions -- phrased in a way that suggests he believes Exxon is liable.

My guess.  6-2 limiting damages to twice the amount, with concurring opinions by scalia and roberts.  Alito is not participating.  Lots of media are talking about the consequences of a 4-4 split, which would affirm.  I don't think there's any chance of that.

February 28, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Judge Redden Approves Steady State Order on the Columbia River dam operations

Judge Redden  signed an order continuing the 2007 FCRPS operations through 2008.  US DOJ proposed the rollover in order to allow National Fisheries to focus on producing a solid final biological opinion.  The order and other information on the federal caucus' work to protect and recovery listed Columbia Basin fish fish at  


February 27, 2008 in Biodiversity, Cases, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS hears lengthy argument on Exxon Valdez punitives

The Supreme Court will hear extended arguments in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (07-219) today, but has refused a request by the state of Alaska to argue.  The case involves Exxon’s challenge to the $2.5 billion punitive damages verdict awarded to businesses and individuals for damages done by the massive oil spill from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.

February 27, 2008 in Cases, Constitutional Law, Energy, Law, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oil Prices Exceed $ 101/barrel Today

The intraday high for crude reached $ 101.15/barrel today and ultimately settled to $ 100.88.  MarketWatch link And this is in the midst of a recession!  Seems like OPEC may have manipulated the rest of us into an awfully tight spot -- or may be it is just peak oil rearing its ugly, but inevitable head.

February 26, 2008 in Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Election 2008 -- The Candidates Speak in Their Own Words -- Part III:John McCain

During the last year, Foreign Affairs published a series of pieces on the 2008 presidential election, allowing candidates to frame their foreign policy in their own words. Foreign Affairs Election 2008 I am reviewing those pieces for discussions of global environmental issues, including climate change.  I find this a particularly useful approach because it allows candidates to move beyond sound bites and into the substance of what they believe. 

I expect to look at all of the current candidates: Democratic and Republican.  Today's post is John McCain.

Here's the foreign policy of John McCain with respect to the environment (especially global warming) in his own words:


America's dependence on foreign oil constitutes a critical strategic vulnerability. America accounts for 25 percent of global demand for oil but possesses less than three percent of the world's proven reserves. Most of the world's known reserves are in the Persian Gulf, in the hands of dictators or nationalized oil companies. Terrorists understand our vulnerability: had it succeeded, the attempted suicide attack on a Saudi refinery in February 2006 would have driven the world price of oil above $150 per barrel. The transfer of American wealth to the Middle East through continued oil purchases helps sustain the conditions under which extremism breeds, and the burning of oil and other fossil fuels spurs global warming, a gathering danger to our planet.

My national energy strategy will amount to a declaration of independence from our reliance on oil sheiks and our vulnerability to their troubled politics. This strategy will include employing technology to achieve new efficiencies in energy extraction and consumption, enforcing conservation, creating market incentives to encourage the development of alternative sources of energy and hybrid vehicles, and expanding sources of renewable energy. I will also greatly increase the use of nuclear power, a zero-emission energy source. Given the proper incentives, our innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and workers have the capability to lead the world in achieving energy security; given the stakes, they must.

I have proposed a bipartisan plan in the U.S. Senate to address the problem of climate change and ensure a sustainable future for humankind. My market-based approach will set reasonable caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, provide industries with tradable emissions credits, and create other incentives for the deployment of new and better energy sources and technologies. It is time for America to lead the world in protecting the environment for future generations.

February 25, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Orchestrated Campaign to Deny Human-Caused Global Warming

Little more than a week ago, I posted a portion of John Mashey's paper on the orchestrated campaign to deny that humans are causing significant global warming.  The entire paper is now published here as a service to those who are trying to understand why the US has been such a laggard on global warming and the challenges that a new president will face in trying to enact an adequate system to reduce GHG emissions.   Download Mashey paper on the denialist campaign

February 25, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)