Essay on the Chicago Climate Exchange and the New England RGGI

I have posted an essay on carbon trading and the problem of enforcing program-wide emission caps on my website. ( It is entitled “The Problem of Maintaining Emissions “Caps” in Carbon Trading Programs Without Federal Government Involvement: A Brief Examination of the Chicago Climate Exchange and the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.” My bad for the long title, but I like to have the title be reflective of the content. The essay is based on a presentation I did for a climate change symposium at Fordham law school last spring and looks specifically at the Chicago Climate Exchange and the New England Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Any comments are welcome.

There was a related article in the New York Times Magazine a couple of months ago, “Capital Pollution Solution?,” by Jeff Goodell (July 30, 2006). Unfortunately, I can’t link to the story since the NY Times website requires payment for access. Overall it was a very good article on the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The CCX is essentially a voluntary carbon trading arrangement, which includes large companies like International Paper and BP. However, the article was inaccurate in asserting that the commitments of CCX members are unenforceable. In fact, like other private contractual schemes, failure by a member to comply with their emissions limits could be enforced through the CCX’s provision. Of course, whether that has ever happened is quite another matter.

Pollution and the 2008 Beijing Olympics

It’s official, now. How will Beijing to achieve environmental quality standards, especially air quality, for the 2008 Olympic Games? At this point, air quality standards are not being met. Based on plans released to Beijing newspapers, major industrial polluters will simply be ordered to stop operating for the duration of the games. Construction activities will also be halted. (SCMP 9/16).

A Peking University professor has denounced one part of those plans, which calls for the rounding up and expulsion of about 4 million migrant workers (also called peasant workers) from the city before the games.

More on that Xinqiang river spill

The two companies (Haoyuan Chemical Company and Taolin Lead-Zinc Ore Chemical Plant) that are thought to be responsible for the arsenide pollution of the Xinqiang river have been reportedly detained. (Xinhua 9/11) According to the Xinhua report,

“The two companies had not passed any environmental assessments and had no pollution treatment facilities. They have been discharging waste water with arsenide content more than 1,000 times higher than the national standard directly into Xinqiang River for a long time, said the official.

Haoyuan Chemical Company discharged nearly 50,000 tons of wastewater every month, and Taolin Lead-Zinc Ore Chemical Plant 280 tons, [a SEPA official] said, without revealing over what time period.”

Another Chemical Spill Fouls Water Supply for 80,000

A chemical spill of arsenic trioxide was found in the Xinqiang river on Friday in Yueyang county in Hunan province. (Xinhua 9/10, SCMP 9/11). The water supply for 80,000 people was contaminated by leakage from a waste water pool of a chemical plant 50 km upstream, according to Xinhua. Arsenic levels are 10 times normal. Dongting lake, about 20 km from the polluted river, may be threatened by the spill. The lake is China’s second largest and a major water supply for Hunan province.

"Let them Drink Milk"

In a recent spate of lead poisonings that has occurred in Shuiyang township in Gansu province, suspected to be the result of a state-owned smelter in a nearby village, public health experts have told the victims to drink more milk and eat more nutrients to lower the blood lead levels. (SCMP 9/9/06). Of course, the victims are too poor to afford milk. More than 800 people, including 334 children have been found to have abnormal lead levels. 368 of them are deemed to have lead poisoning. The smelter was shut down last month. The central government has been investigating, but has not come up with any remedy for the residents.

There was also an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times about China’s future. (Ross Terrill, China is not just Rising, but also Changing, 9/9/06). No mention of its environmental problems though.

Professor Xu Kezhu of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims visits VLS

Prof. Xu Kezhu, the deputy director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims visited Vermont Law School last week. It was delightful to welcome her to our neck of the woods. She gave a presentation about CLAPV and her work at the China University of Political Science and Law. She also met with VLS’ environmental law clinic.

She is in the US on a 3-week whirlwind tour to meet with government agencies, NGOs, and universities. She was in DC and New York and now is in San Francisco. She made a special detour to Vermont Law School to see us.

What Happens After . . . Compliance with Environmental Orders

Jim Yardley of the NY Times has a very interesting article on China’s environmental regulatory problems in the 9/4 edition, involving a 2004 spill into the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia and environmental orders that were wilfully ignored by local officials. (Rules Ignored, Toxic Sludge Sinks Chinese Village, NY Times 9/4/06). A lawsuit related to a pollution spill resulted in a $300,000 compensation award for the city of Baotou and an order to install water treatment equipment. However, local officials ignored the order and, instead, built large temporary wastewater containment pools next to the river. A storm this past April threatened to release the polluted water into the Yellow River. In order to avoid discovery of their failure to comply with official clean up order and to close the responsible factories, local officials broke the containment walls and released the polluted water into an area where several small villages are located. Those villages are now uninhabitable.

Maybe just as interesting, however, are the circumstances of how Yardley got his story (as he explains in the article). Initially, he got strung along by provincial officials for an interview about the matter. Then, this past July, he went to one of the villages (together with a driver and photographer) to investigate directly, even thought the village had been declared off-limits. At the village, they were pursued by a car without license plates, but they were able to escape. Subsequently, they were stopped by the police, and the driver was interrogated for three hours.

The incident actually reminds me of an encounter with rural Chinese police several years ago. We were in a small minibus that had taken us from a Beijing youth hostel to a section of the Great Wall in Hebei province. We were stopped by local police, as we later realized, probably because the minibus had Beijing license plates. We had to disembark and were asked about why we were there. They also asked us to sign a statement (in Chinese), which we refused. After about an hour, they let us go; in fact, they brought us to the section of the Great Wall that we were supposed to get to. The minibus driver had to go the police station, but he rejoined us several hours later. We suspect that he was probably being shaken down because he was bringing tourists from Beijing (to the neighboring Hebei province).

The entire episode was quite unnerving because of all the things I had previously heard about rural police corruption. On the other hand, we pretended not to speak Chinese (and they realized that we were American Chinese), which helped us to get out of having to sign anything. Our minibus driver seemed to take it all in stride – all in a day’s work.

SEPA Investigations Announced & Contaminated Fish

SEPA is investigating the company (Changbaishan Jingxi Chemical Co.) that caused the pollutant spill into the Songhua river tributary last week (see my earlier posting). (Xinhua 9/3). Interestingly enough, there are also simultaneous SEPA investigations looking not only at other private companies but also local governments. These include the “county government of Xin’an in central China’s Henan Province has allowed the construction of more than 100 factories with no waste-treatment facilities since 1998. The municipal government in Jinhua in east China’s Zhejiang Province, allegedly interfered with the enforcement of environmental laws. The Yili Prefecture in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is held responsible for the discharging of massive quantities of industrial pollutants.”

SCMP also noted in an article that fish and shrimp coming into Hong Kong from Guangdong province has been found to contain high levels of methyltestosterone and chloramphenicol, a male hormone and an antibiotic. (SCMP 9/3). Authorities suspect that the contamination is the result of fish farmers using these chemicals in the ponds used to raise the fish and shrimp.