April 28, 2006

In This Issue


Ten states, two cities and three environmental groups filed a lawsuit today against the Bush Administration for failing to regulate heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) took the lead on the lawsuit, which was filed in the Washington D.C.-based federal appeals court. The suit takes aim at a final U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation issued in February that set limits on soot and smog-forming emissions from new coal, oil and natural gas electric utilities. Plaintiffs say EPA had a legal obligation to also include carbon dioxide, which scientists say is one of the chief contributors to global warming.

“EPA’s newly adopted rule represents an abdication of leadership and foresight in favor of the unacceptable status quo,” Spitzer said in a statement. Spitzer said his case will rely on a growing body of evidence that shows “dramatic effects” in the United States from rising global temperatures, sea levels and more intense hurricanes.

Joining Spitzer in the suit are attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Spitzer is a co-plaintiff in a pair of other high-profile global warming lawsuits. In one, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled 2-1 against a case seeking EPA regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles. The Supreme Court is now weighing whether it will hear the lawsuit. Spitzer is also part of a coalition of states, cities and private land trusts pressing for a ruling on whether the nation’s largest electric utilities are causing a public nuisance in violation of federal common law because of their greenhouse gas emissions.

The electric utility industry has so far led a successful fight against the global warming litigation. An EPA spokeswoman did not immediately return calls for comment on the latest court challenge.


Canada and the United States announced a tentative agreement to end a long-festering dispute over imports of Canadian lumber, and Washington said it would repay $4 billion of $5 billion in tariffs collected on lumber that have been hotly contested by Ottawa.

Under the seven-year accord, on which a few details still remain unresolved, shipments of pine, spruce, birch and other softwood lumber from Canada to the United States would not be subject to quotas or tariffs at current prices. In exchange, Canada has agreed to limit exports and impose export taxes when lumber prices fall below a threshold.

Provincial governments would have the option of imposing relatively steep taxes ranging from 5 to 15 percent, depending on how low prices fall, or they could restrict the quantities of exports while imposing more modest taxes.

The lumber, which primarily goes to the residential housing industry in the U.S., is an important export for Canada. The U.S. government has imposed duties on such imports since 2002 based on the argument that Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber producers by charging low fees for harvesting trees on vast tracts of provincial government land. Repeated rulings by tribunals of the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization have rejected the U.S. position and found the duties illegal.

The agreement is unlikely to end the controversy, as Canadian political opponents have denounced the plan as a sellout. Some Canadian officials are objecting to the proposed deal because under Canada’s Constitution, only provinces can tax resources.


Navy sonar was the most probable cause of the stranding of as many as 200 melon-headed whales in a Hawaiian bay in 2004, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists concluded.

The stranding occurred in July 2004 while American and Japanese fleets conducted a major sonar training exercise nearby at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. About 200 melon-headed whales swam in tight circles as close as 100 feet from a beach in Hanalei Bay in Kauai. The incident coincided with a six-ship Navy exercise 20 miles away using “active” sonar, a relatively new technology used to detect a new generation of quieter submarines. Navy officials have said the sonar was not responsible for the whales’ behavior since the tests did not begin until about an hour after the first reports of melon-headed whales off Kauai.

The Navy must obtain a special permit and take extra environmental precautions during this year’s exercises. Navy Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christy Hagen said the Navy is planning to use aerial and shipboard spotters and will reduce sonar if whales or dolphins are spotted nearby.


Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that an oil pipeline being built across Siberia be rerouted away from the northern shore of Lake Baikal, one of the world’s natural landmarks.

Mr. Putin’s edict reversed a controversial government decision last month to allow Russia’s pipeline monopoly, Transneft, to build the line within a half mile of Lake Baikal, the world’s most voluminous body of fresh water. Rare public protests followed the approval in March of the initial route, with rallies from Moscow to Irkutsk, the Siberian region bordering the lake.

The pipeline, a $11.5 billion, 2,500-mile project, will pump Russian oil to markets in Asia.

The pipeline’s route, so close to Lake Baikal, had raised concerns that any accident in a remote, seismically active region could send oil spilling into a lake holding more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and an abundance of unique wildlife species. A commission of specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences initially opposed the route on environmental grounds. Its recommendation was rejected and a new review ordered with new specialists.

The reversal underscored Mr. Putin’s highly centralized power and his penchant for dramatic gestures. He overturned decisions by several government agencies, as well as those by Transneft, which had warned that finding another route would be prohibitively expensive.

Natalya Podkovyrzina, a leader of Baikal Wave, an environmental group in Irkutsk, said it was not yet clear if the pipeline could easily be built where Mr. Putin said. “Forty kilometers to the north is a mountainous area, highlands and impassable taiga,” she said.


China has not met its major environmental protection objectives over the last five years due to sacrifices for the sake of economic growth, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said.

Speaking in Beijing at the conclusion of a two-day national conference on the environment, Wen lamented the unfulfilled goals, including reducing discharges of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and industrial solid waste, and improving wastewater treatment.

To fulfill those targets over the next five years, Wen said China must strengthen water conservation, control atmospheric and soil pollution, enhance ecological protection, improve economic structure and boost environmental technology and protection industry.

Economic growth must not come at the expense of environmental protection, Wen said, blaming “lack of awareness, insufficient planning, illogical industrial structure and a weak legal framework” for severe environmental problems in some parts of the country.

The premier also said he expected local governments to play a bigger role in the release of information on energy consumption and pollutant emissions every six months, in an effort to control emissions and step up environmental assessment of construction projects.

China recently adopted its 11th Five-Year Program, which stipulates that energy consumption in terms of per capita GDP growth should be cut by 20 percent, major pollutants should drop by 10 percent and forest coverage should rise to 20 percent from 18.2 percent.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; The New York Times; Washington Post