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Notes From the Field: ELI’s Research and Policy Programs

These columns appear regularly in The Environmental Forum.


To Judge by Our Judicial Education Programs, Local Partners Are Happy (Nov./Dec. 2014)

by John Pendergrass


“I’ve been looking for this case for months!” exclaimed a Ugandan judge at the first workshop on environmental law in that country. “Oh, if that is what environmental law is about, then I have an environmental case on my docket right now,” from another Ugandan judge.

It is difficult to demonstrate through metrics that educational programs produce specific positive results. But as John Pendergrass, ELI's Director of Judicial Education, explains, success does not lie in specific rulings by judges, but in that they better understand what environmental cases are about and how to analyze the issues and the law.


Climate and Resource Protection for Indigenous Communities in Mexico (Sept./Oct. 2014)

by Alejandra Rabasa

While serving as general counsel for the Mexican Commission of Protected Areas, ELI's Alejandra Rabasa traveled with a team of biologists to the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon tropical rain forest. This region — containing one-fifth of Mexico’s biological diversity, including the endangered scarlet macaw, harpy eagle, jaguar, tapir, howler monkeys, and swamp crocodile — represents 50 percent of the remaining tropical rain forest in Mexico.

Fast forward to 2011. Now a senior attorney at ELI and Director of its Inter-American Program, she began working in partnership with Natura Mexicana on a project to develop legal tools for climate change adaptation with rural communities — known as ejidos — near the reserve. Alejandra shares her experience working in the region, describing how the ejidos have developed programs to address their local needs.


Peacebuilding Provides Opportunities for Progress — and for the Profession (May/June 2014)

by Carl Bruch

For seven years, ELI has—in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program, McGill University, and the University of Tokyo—coordinated a global initiative to take stock of experiences in post-conflict natural resource management, to identify lessons regarding how natural resource-related decisions affect peacebuilding, and to raise awareness of practitioners, researchers, and decisionmakers.

Writing from his hotel room in Yangon, Myanmar, ELI International Program Co-Director Carl Bruch relects on the success of the project—better known Post-Conflict and Natural Resources Management (or Environmental Peacebuilding). What began as a relatively modest endeavour to produce a six-volume book series on the topic grew to the launch of a web platform that not only hosts resources and but serves as a starting point for creating an environmental peacebuilding community.


Take the Lilongwe: Coming Home to Water in Africa (March/April 2014)

by Jessica Troell

ELI Senior Attorney Jessica Troell began her career in water policy in the and law in South Africa in the early 1990s, working on community engagement in managing the transboundary Limpopo River Basin. "I fell in love with the region and with the work. Upon graduating law school at the University of Virginia, I became a Law Fellow at ELI," she said. In 2013, she and her family moved to Malawi, where she co-directs ELI’s Africa Program and directs the International Water Program, which she founded.

Jessica discusses her work there, pointing in particular to a project with the World Bank’s Malawi office helping to identify how to set up and operationalize a new institutional framework governing integrated water resources management in the Shire River Basin, which covers one-third of Malawi and is shared with Mozambique.


Managing the Oceans From the Shore (Nov./Dec. 2013)

—by Jordan Diamond


Jordan DiamondWhether through direct contact as our numbers swell and cities grow, or through climate change due to anthropogenic emissions, we affect systems across the planet. We are also highly dependent on ecosystem services, from energy extraction to food production to recreation. Yet many of the technological and industrial advances that spread our impacts farther and wider have also disconnected us from seeing and feeling them.

The disconnect is particularly strong when it comes to the marine environment. Ocean jurisdictions are enormous—the U.S. exclusive economic zone is over  .4 million square  nautical miles, larger than the terrestrial area of the 50 states—and most nations have limited at-sea enforcement resources spread across these enormous swaths. ELI Ocean Program co-Director Jordan Diamond argues that we cannot depend on detection and deterrence alone—that we must also work to develop systems led by the resource users themselves.

Managing the Effects of the Shale Gas Boom (Sept./Oct. 2013)

— by James McElfish

Jim McElfishEvery form of energy development carries environmental, economic, and social consequences. At ELI, we’re thinking strategically about ways law can address the rapidly evolving energy economy, drawing on years of practical experience. For example,we are collaborating with the Center for Energy Policy and Management at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington County, Pennsylvania (heart of the Marcellus shale boom). Together, we’re looking at past experiences of boom and bust in natural resource activities to identify strategies Pennsylvania communities can implement to minimize the harms and maximize the benefits of the natural gas boom.

ELI Senior Attorney James McElfish  reflects on this and other projects he has spearheaded on behalf of the Instiute's ongoing work in the wind energy sector and points to upcoming projects that are helping shape our national energy transformation.

Reducing Overfishing Through Traceability (March/April 2013)

by Read Porter

PorterTraceability systems track fish from vessel to table, allowing consumers to know where fish was caught, that it was caught legally, and that it is labeled accurately — and studies have shown that we’re willing to pay a premium for that information. Consumers are not the only beneficiaries of traceability — these systems can also protect the environment and support the fishing economy.

Unfortunately, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to long-term fishery sustainability, representing 20 percent or more of global catch. ELI hopes to provide the technical assistance and resources needed to address IUU fishing and protect threatened fishery resources. Senior Attorney Read Porter explains how, by identifying regulatory data gaps and learning from ongoing non-governmental traceability systems, ELI can help fisheries managers and regulators improve their data collection and reporting.

Protecting Villagers From The Health Effects of Gold Mining (Jan./Feb. 2013)

by Lisa Goldman

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining has long been practiced in northern Nigeria, but the exponentially increasing price of gold on the world market in recent years has sparked a huge jump in mining activity. While extremely profitable compared to the limited livelihood alternatives in this poverty-stricken region of the Sahel, gold mining poses two major threats to public health and the environment: lead poisoning and mercury contamination. In 2010, unregulated mining gave rise to an epidemic of childhood lead poisoning in Zamfara, with more than 400 children under the age of five dying within a six-month period.

In 2013, ELI Senior Attorney Lisa Goldman spent nine days in Nigeria meeting with ministry officials, state government representatives, and domestic and international nonprofit organizations to learn more about artisanal gold mining. Her interviews with people working on the ground in Zamfara — including the regional environment commissioner, the director of Doctors Without Borders in Nigeria, and members of the Gold Buyers’ and Sellers’Association, among others, highlighted the pressing need to help the miners form cooperatives and obtain title or formal access to the land on which they are mining in order to better regulate the sector.

Geospatial NEPA: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Nov./Dec. 2012)

—By Kathryn Mengerink

The coastal travels of the gray whale forces it to interact with a wide variety of human activities,including seismic testing by the oil and gas industryin the Arctic, commercial and recreational fishing all along the U.S., Canadian,and Mexican coasts,shipping in and out of some of the world’s busiest ports, whale watching, recreational boating, Navy training exercises, and more. These cumulative impacts on the whale could be substantial, but how do we determine their effects? Working with our partners, ELI is mapping out a plan — literally. Our Ocean Program and a group of NEPA, ocean management, and mapping experts came together to conceptualize a solution — a solution known as Geospatial NEPA. Ocean Program co-Director Kathryn Mengerink lays out the basic three steps.

Peacebuilding and Natural Resources (July/August 2012)

by Carl Bruch, et al.

Carl BruchIncreasingly, scholars, practitioners, and political leaders are starting to recognize the importance of sound management of the environment and natural resources to post-conflict peacebuilding and the need to address environmental and natural resource challenges as fundamental aspects of peace, stability, and security. The process leading up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in June 2012 — the Rio+20 conference — represented an important opportunity to take stock of lessons over the past 20 years in managing natural resources and the environment to lay the economic, social, and political foundations for peace in countries emerging from armed conflict.

Post-conflict diplomacy and international environmental law have developed independently and differently. Carl Bruch, co-Director of ELI's International Programs, Marion Bouilcault, and others discuss in broad terms key experiences in natural resource management to support reconciliation in dozens of countries over the past two decades, highlighting the critical role that the environment can play.

The Adverse Effects of Animal Husbandry (May/June 2012)

—by Bruce Myers

MyersDuring the television broadcast of the 2012 Grammy Awards, the Chipotle restaurant chain stole the show with its compelling animated advertisement depicting traditional farming practices becoming first industrialized, then returning to their sustainable roots — all accompanied by stirring Willie Nelson vocals. Just years earlier, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma invited us to take a closer look at where our food comes from; the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released the results of its examination of the animal production industry, documenting the adverse effects on public health, the environment, rural communities,and animal health and well-being; and Dan Imhoff’s CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories became perhaps the first-ever coffee table book on the industrial-livestock production industry.

Against this backdrop, ELI Senior Attorney Bruce Myers lays out how heightened public scrutiny of food production— increasingly a meme of contemporary society—is paralleled by an increase in related legal and policy developments. One key battleground has been the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals — the use of antimicrobial drugs not to treat animals that are sick, but to promote growth and improve feed efficiency.

ELI Catches the Wind (May/June 2011)

— The Sustainable Use of Land project’s work on siting of wind facilities

—by James McElfish


The United States is the world leader in wind energy, passing China, Germany, Spain, and others usually regarded as world leaders. There is a realistic possibility that the United States can generate more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind within the next two decades. But meeting or exceeding this goal will require attention to numerous factors — including the transmission grid, energy pricing, renewable energy portfolio standards, and tax and investment incentives.

It will also require a thorough re-examination of the state laws and local ordinances that govern the siting of wind facilities, argues ELI Senior Attorney James McElfish. “State and local siting regulations and land use issues will play a major role in determining whether wind power will rapidly become a larger part of our energy mix. Many state laws are in flux, and local governments are applying inconsistent approaches.”


Managing Water Resources Across the African Continent (Jan./Feb. 2011)

By Jessica Troell

ELI’s Jessica Troell played a key role at the Third Africa Water Week, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in late 2010. With support from the State Department and the Agency for International Development, ELI staff have been providing assistance to the African Ministers’ Council on Water. AMCOW provides political leadership, policy direction, and advocacy in the management of water resources.

The Director of ELI’s International Water Program, Jessica has completed an analysis that elaborates the key challenges facing AMCOW and provides recommendations for improving the council’s structure and operations. Once these recommendations are approved, ELI will assist in their implementation and focus on strengthening the capacity of the council to implement its plan.

More From Our Archives:

Compliance and Enforcement in Fisheries Management (Sept./Oct. 2010)

Keeping People Healthy Indoors (Jan./Feb. 2010)

Sound Offshore Energy (Sept./Oct. 2009)

She Made the Promise of Brownfields Real (March/April 2009)

A Gold Standard for Sustainable Aquaculture (Nov./Dec. 2008)

Conservation Science and Land Use Planning (May/June 2008)

Putting an End to Liberia’s Blood Timber (Jan./Feb. 2008)

The Godfather of Institutional Controls and Stewardship (Sept./Oct., 2007)

Conserving Private Lands (March/April, 2007)

Stemming The Tide (Nov./Dec., 2006)

A New School Lesson (May/June, 2006)

Making The Law Work (Jan./Feb., 2006)