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Student-run Environmental Law Project Wins ABA Award

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The areas of energy law and environmental law are becoming more intertwined, prodded by climate change. By increasing awareness of related issues among attorneys and policymakers, UNC School of Law’s Environmental Law Project (ELP) is at the forefront of law student organizations.

A signature program of the ELP is the annual Environmental Law Symposium, which has just received the American Bar Association’s Law Student Environment, Energy and Resources Program of the Year award for 2012. The symposium was selected by the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy and Resources (SEER), and the award will be presented at the annual ABA meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 11.

The symposium, “Energy Law and Environmental Law: Growing Connections Between Two Sides of the Same Coin,” was held Feb. 11, 2012, as part of UNC School of Law’s Festival of Legal Learning. The ELP event featured sessions on hydraulic fracturing, global warming and energy issues after catastrophes. Papers — written, edited and reviewed by students — about current issues in environmental law and policy were published for symposium presentations and distributed to attendees.

“The recognition of the 2012 symposium shows that the ELP is a model for how other environmental law student organizations could use their expertise to disseminate information and educate attorneys and policymakers nationwide on environmental legal issues,” Victor Flatt says. He’s the Tom & Elizabeth Taft Distinguished Professor in Environmental Law and director of UNC’s Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources (CLEAR).

Each year, student papers for the symposium are published on CLEAR’s website. ELP and CLEAR host a luncheon after the symposium so practitioners and students can discuss issues.

The ELP offers invaluable opportunities to students, including Holly Bannerman 3L, who wrote a paper, “Atmospheric Litigation: The Public Trust Approach to Climate Change,” for the 2012 symposium and was ELP president for the 2012-13 academic year.

“Students can get published, do real legal work, and be part of a student organization, all at the same time. We have worked hard to develop these opportunities for the students but also for the greater environmental community. We are able to contribute to the environmental community now, while also working to develop future environmental lawyers,” says Bannerman.

The ABA award recognizes the far-reaching impact that research on the local and state level can have.

“For a topic to become nationally and globally important, it has to be demonstrably important to all types of attorneys. The ELP has succeeded in combining environmental law issues with other fields. Environmental law issues certainly arise nationally and internationally,” Catherine Clodfelter 3L says. She wrote a paper for the 2012 symposium on contract law issues that emerge during hydraulic fracturing and was articles editor for the 2013 event.

“We emphasize the importance of environmental law by showing how critical it is to have an understanding of environmental law in practically all other legal fields,” Clodfelter says.

The growing need for both energy law and environmental law underscores the significance of the ELP’s work.

“Climate change has seen a huge impact from the use of certain kinds of energy, and jurisdictions like North Carolina have used energy policy to assist in protecting the environment. We need a national policy that simultaneously looks at energy, environment, climate and economic development since they are all important and related,” Flatt says.

-July 29, 2013

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