Thursday, October 21, 2010

Restoration of Iraqi Wetlands

Recently, on National Public Radio, a correspondent interviewed an ambitious Iraqi-American engineer. This engineer, Dr. Azzam Alwash, is the founder of a program called Nature Iraqi. One of Dr. Alwash’s ambitions is to restore a region in southern Iraq, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that was once home to thriving wetlands. Some biblical scholars believed that this area was the home of the Garden of Eden. To provide some idea of its scope, it was larger than the Florida Everglades.

Under the regime of Sadam Hussein, these wetlands were completely drained and destroyed after the people living in the surrounding areas took part in an uprising against Hussein in 1991. Several environmental groups have referred to Hussein’s endeavor to drain these wetlands as the worst human-engineered environmental disaster of the twentieth-century. After Hussein stopped the uprising, he decided to have Iraqi engineers construct six artificial rivers along the Tigris and Euphrates that diverted water away from the wetlands. After this happened, the region became a barren desert, and nearly all of the animal life in the region vanished.

Now, Dr. Alwash has become the head of the effort to restore this region to its former Garden of Eden glory. However, he claims that the people of Iraqi deserve just as much credit as he does in beginning the restoration process. When he traveled to the country in 2003, he noticed that ordinary citizens were digging holes in the embankments of the artificial rivers in order to get water flowing back to the wetland areas. As of now about thirty-five percent of the wetlands are restored, and there would have been a continuing upward trend if not for recent droughts during the past two years.

Dr. Alwash faces political difficulties in that the Iraqi as well as Turkish governments need water for things such as the irrigation of fields, but he is slowly reaching the agreements that he needs to provide enough water to these wetlands. Time will tell if Dr. Alwash will succeed.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

A Not So Green Greenland

Recent turmoil in Greenland has brought a wide array of environmental issues, such as offshore drilling and global climate change, to the surface of the political arena. Diana Wallis, the vice-president of the European Union, has been a frequent participant in the Artic Council, which is an intergovernmental forum for Artic governments and people. Wallis claims Greenland in particular is already feeling the effects of global climate change. The ice caps in the northern region have melted significantly, and Wallis wants the EU to take a stronger role in safeguarding the country against further detrimental effects.

What is rather interesting, however, is that Greenland’s deputy foreign minister, Inuuteq Holm Olsen, seems to stand in opposition to Wallis. It appears as if the melting of the ice caps has yielded an unexpected benefit to the country in the form of newly discovered oil reserves. A Scottish oil producing company known as Cairn Energy claims that there is proof of an active working petroleum system in the region due to the presence of both oil and natural gas.

Olsen believes that Wallis’s plan to safeguard the region will be at the expense of the economic development that the oil reserves might bring. With the recent Gulf oil spill, and the subsequent moratorium on drilling, Olsen is against formidable odds in pursuing these interests. In addition to a general political climate that stands in opposition to the drilling, members of Greenpeace recently scaled an oilrig owned by Cairn Energy. Greenpeace has lodged numerous complaints that an oil spill in this region would be disastrous to the local environment.

Olsen, Wallis, and environmental groups such as Greenpeace all have valid points on this issue, but is there a course of action that is objectively right for Greenland?

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, October 8, 2010

BP May No Longer Bask In the Robbins Dry Dock Rule

The BP oil spill has left many businessmen in coastal areas out of work for an extended period of time. These businessmen are seeking compensation for the loss in business they have incurred as a result of this disaster. However, federal maritime law presents them with a big problem. A rule known as the Robins Dry Dock Rule, named after the legal case that established it, may prevent some of these people from recovering.

Under this rule, a party cannot seek recovery for pure economic losses, which as an example, would be the loss in revenue of a fisherman for his or her inability to fish off the coast. The Robins Dry Dock Rule requires that this economic loss be accompanied by a physical damage to a person or his property. This would mean that the fisherman was not only unable to fish during the spill, but that the oil itself damaged property such as a dock or a ship. Because the BP oil rig was offshore, many of the businessmen affected by the disaster have not incurred any physical damage to their property in that manner. Under the Robins Dry Dock Rule, they would not be able to recover their damages.

However, the promise of recovery for these unfortunate businessmen might not be that bleak. Another law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, has established much broader criteria under which parties may recover. This act provides for recovery for purely economic loss to real or personal property that is owned or leased, or to natural resources. These means that fisherman with an interest in the natural resources of the ocean, namely fish, may be able to recover for their loss in revenue.

Although this seems like good news, the Oil Pollution Act has set up a great deal of red tape that might make these businessmen’s hopes of recovery slightly less feasible. In this instance, the party seeking to recover must present their claims directly to BP, and if the claim is denied or it is not settled within 90 days, then the party must seek recovery from a trust fund that was set up as a result of the spill. Time will tell whether BP will be cooperative on these suits, and whether this trust fund will be easily accessible.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern