(Washington, D.C.): December 22, 2019, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Environmental Law Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to ensure a healthy environment, prosperous economies, and vibrant communities, founded on the rule of law. Coincidentally, Congress’ seminal vote enacting the National Environmental Policy Act—the “Magna Carta” of U.S. environmental law—took place the very same day. As recounted in the special Golden Anniversary edition of The Environmental Forum, environmental law and ELI have grown up together ever since, shaping environmental law and policy not just here in the United States, but around the globe.
ELI traces its origins to a national conference on the emerging field of environmental law held at the Airlie House in Virginia in September 1969. Attended by 50 lawyers, practitioners, and academics from across the country, the conference had a significant impact on the legal profession by initiating fertile exchange among many lawyers who were breaking new ground. Importantly, the gathering proposed creating ELI and ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter. A few months later, on December 22, 1969, ELI was incorporated as a §501(c)(3) organization—the same day Congress passed NEPA.
But, notes ELI President Scott Fulton, “the environmental challenges of today are very different from those of 1969, and the need for creative, future-oriented thinking is unquestionably just as great today as it was at ELI’s beginning 50 years ago.” That is why, on November 18-19, 2019, another gathering of environmental lawyers, practitioners, and academics took place at Airlie House, but this time to reimagine the future of environmental law. Front and center at Airlie House 2019 were discussions on climate change, the circular economy, uncontrolled pollution, ecosystem degradation, and the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.
Meanwhile, the environmental community cautiously awaits proposed changes to the NEPA regulations, which the Trump Administration plans to release any day. Given ELI’s unique connection to NEPA, the special edition of The Environmental Forum also pays homage to the 50-year-old statute. In it, Nicholas C. Yost, former General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and lead author of NEPA’s implementing regulations, offers insight as to how the Act and its regulations came into fruition and shares his thoughts on how we may want to shape it in the future. And Vernice Miller-Travis, co-founder of WE Act, explains that while the federal government has used NEPA to safeguard Americans from the ill effects of large-scale developments for half a century, NEPA’s guarantees can only be fully realized when its language is equitably translated into policy designed to help those communities most adversely affected.
In the 50 years since its founding, ELI has become a major research, education, and publication center for the full range of environmental professionals. Often described as a one-of-a kind environmental law think-and-do tank, ELI today offers a non-partisan, objective forum; convening capacity and in-house technical strength; and first-rate research, educational programs, and publications.
For more on ELI’s 50th and special programming that took place in 2019 in commemoration of its anniversary, visit https://www.eli.org/eli-50th-anniversary.
For an inside look on ELI’s origins, read From Law and the Environment to Environmental Law: A Founder’s Recollections by Thomas P. Alder, one ELI’s founders.
For more on the Golden Anniversary edition of The Environmental Forum, contact Rachel Jean-Baptiste at firstname.lastname@example.org.