Top Stories

December 21, 2016


Obama bans oil drilling ‘permanently’ in millions of acres of ocean

Outgoing US President Barack Obama has permanently banned offshore oil and gas drilling in the “vast majority” of US-owned northern waters. Mr Obama designated areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans as “indefinitely off limits” to future leasing. The White House said the decision was for “a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem.” It cited native cultural needs, wildlife concerns, and the “vulnerability” of the region to oil spills as some of the reasons for the ban. Obama insists this decision is permament. Supporters have already suggested that any attempt to reverse the “permanent” decision outlined by the law would be open to a legal challenge. Oil firms will still want to explore for further profits, though. And the next secretary of state, Exxon’s Rex Tillerson, may offer the industry a route round the ban by paving the way to an Arctic drilling deal with Russia. (BBC)


China riot police seal off city centre after smog protesters put masks on statues

An environmental protest in China was aggressively put down at the weekend, with a large police presence continuing for days to prevent further demonstrations. The protests started after the south-western city of Chengdu was shrouded in thick smog, with some residents placing pollution masks on statues. China’s leaders have declared a “war on pollution”, but many state-owned companies are leaders in smog-producing industries such as steel, coal and power. Tianfu Square, in the heart of the city, was still closed on Monday, with police cars parked in the middle and officers at the edges preventing people from entering. Police ordered copy shops to record details of anyone seeking to photocopy flyers complaining about the smog and to contact the authorities. Anyone placing large orders of face masks should also be reported, the notice said. Residents quickly took to social media, calling for more action and posting photos of themselves with signs saying “let me breathe”. (Guardian)


Ministers explore applying microbead ban to household products

The government is exploring whether its ban on tiny pieces of plastic in cosmetics should be extended to other household products, to protect fish and other marine life. Ministers promised earlier this year to ban microbeads in personal care products such as toothpaste and face scrubs by the end of 2017, but stopped short of pledging to ban them in other products. On Tuesday, the government said microbeads from personal care products account for less than 4.1% of all microplastics entering the ocean, so a ban solely on those would “have only a small impact.” The Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and the Marine Conservation Society – welcomed the cosmetics ban but said it needed to be broader. Microbeads have been shown to stunt fish growth and increase their mortality rates when ingested during their development. It is not yet clear whether they pose a threat to human health through the food chain. (Guardian)


Lithuanian migrants win £1m in first modern-day slavery case

A gangmaster couple have agreed to a settlement  worth more that  £1 million in compensation and legal costs in the first High court action brought by migrants over modern-day slavery. The deal was reached with six Lithuanian chicken catchers who were trafficked to work on farms producing eggs  for high-street brands, including McDonald’s, Tesco, Asda, M&S and the Sainsbury’s Woodland brand. Ten others are now expected to bring similar cases against DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services. This one, agreed to the compensation deal after a high Court ruling this year found that they had failed to pay the national minimum wage, made unlawful deductions from wages and had failed to provide adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink. The defendants said they were forced to work back-to-back eight hour shifts for days at a time and were denied sleep and toilet breaks forcing them to urinate in bottles and defecate in carrier bags in minibuses as they travelled between jobs. (The Times)

Corporate Reputation

VW reaches $1 Billion Deal in Ongoing Emissions Scandal

 Volkswagen has reached a $1 billion deal with environmental regulators to resolve the dieselgate scandal, in which VW equipped more than half a million US cars with defeat devices designed to cheat emissions tests, which has plagued the automaker for more than a year.  The company must pay $225 million into a national mitigation fund. California will receive about $41 million of that money for mitigation programs in the state designed to mitigate emissions released by the vehicles. This is in addition to $1.2 billion VW is already paying California for mitigation and zero-emission vehicle infrastructure. “We are committed to earning back the trust of all our stakeholders and thank our customers and dealers in the United States for their patience as the process moves forward” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. (Environmental Leader)

Image source:  Two Chinese soldiers wearing gas masks at Pihu Military Training Centre in south eastern China, 1944 by Cecil Beaton. This is photograph IB 4336C from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.