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2017 Year in Review

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Scott Fulton, President

Scott Fulton

President, Environmental Law Institute

As we get ready to ring in the New Year, the editors of Vibrant Environment thought it might be nice to take a look back at some of the work ELI did in 2017.

2017 Year in Review

By far the biggest news story here in the United States was the arrival of the Trump Administration. In response to the growing demand for unbiased answers and analysis on how deregulatory initiatives by the new Administration and Congress will impact environmental protection, governance, and the rule of law, ELI released a special report, Regulatory Reform in the Trump Era. On April 27, 2017, ELI held a seminar, where ELI experts discussed the report's findings and answered questions from the audience. Building upon that work, ELI and the American Bar Association’s Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice jointly released Environmental Protection in the Trump Era in October. It examines the Trump Administration’s critical changes to the environmental protection framework since inauguration day. Free for download and written for a broad audience, the publication provides a snapshot of major Trump Administration actions on climate change, clean air and water, pipelines and offshore drilling, toxic properties and Superfund sites, regulatory changes, budget shifts, and environmental justice. An update is planned for early 2018.

A theme for the Trump Administration has been a focus on the benefits of devolving additional environmental authority to the states. ELI provided thought leadership and timely convening on this topic, initiating the Macbeth Dialogues on cooperative federalism in partnership with the Environmental Council of States and with the support of the American College of Environmental Lawyers in memory of environmental legal pioneer, Angus Macbeth. This year’s Corporate Forum and ELI-Miriam Hamilton Keare Policy Forum continued the conversation about new ways to approach environmental governance. At the Corporate Forum, panelists discussed whether private environmental governance should move away from a top-down, law enforcement model to an “environmental protection enterprise” in which the states and federal government, the private sector, and the public all play key roles. The Policy Forum focused on the opportunities and challenges of increased state roles in light of politics, economics, technology, and other factors influencing environmental protection.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were also front-page news in 2017. The recent spate of extreme storm events drew attention to zoning and stormwater management as tools that can help to mitigate flooding. Helping communities stay ahead of the curve was the focus of a 2017 ELI report, Green Infrastructure for Chesapeake Stormwater Management: Legal Tools for Climate Resilient Siting. This report explains how existing stormwater laws and regulations can be used to help communities in Maryland and Virginia reduce their risk to climate change impacts, while also providing replicable models for other coastal communities across the nation.

Relatedly, ELI issued Floodplain Buyouts: An Action Guide for Local Governments on How to Maximize Community Benefits, Habitat Connectivity, and Resilience in partnership with the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment. The guide is designed to help local governments across the country leverage hazard mitigation buyouts to protect, restore, and connect habitats in local communities, while also reducing flood hazards. And ELI looked at barriers to climate resilience planning for the city of San Diego this past year, further illustrating how climate adaptation and resilience remains an area of relative strength for ELI, and a place where ELI can grow and lead.

Also in 2017, ELI continued its work to support meaningful public engagement in the restoration processes that were set up in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Last spring, ELI issued a guide that Gulf Coast citizens can use to determine whether a restoration project is good or not: Good Projects Checklist: Important Elements for Gulf Restoration Projects. And in December, ELI issued Fast Tracking Restoration: Addressing Resource Constraints in Federal Agencies, a guide for federal agencies as to how to foster restoration by accepting outside funds or sharing personnel with other entities.

While this blog provides a look back at what we did in 2017, ELI’s new Technology, Innovation, and the Environment program is always looking ahead. A challenge for feeding a hungry world in a sustainable manner is how to develop new, low-impact protein sources that will be accepted by consumers. To better understand consumer interests, ELI, in partnership with the nonprofit New Harvest, conducted focus group research resulting in Perceptions of Cellular Agriculture: Key Findings From Qualitative Research. The project will help ensure the viability of a diversified, environmentally sustainable food supply.

China is among the countries with growing influence around the world, and as it forges ahead with stronger commitments to environmental protection, ELI’s expertise has been sought by government officials and nonprofit organizations. ELI was particularly excited to announce that it recently received approvals from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and Beijing Bureau of Public Security to begin work on a project to build the capacity of NGOs to more fully engage in the environmental litigation process in China. Reflecting ELI’s strong reputation in effectuating effective environmental governance and rule of law in China, and the important work of our NGO partner, the China Environmental Protection Foundation, ELI is the first foreign NGO to receive temporary registration for an environmental protection related project from the MEP under China’s Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in Mainland China.

Historically, ELI has been at the forefront of judicial training around the world, providing an important backstop for environmental protection that protects the rights of citizens and their livelihoods, guards against environmental harm, and fosters sustainable development. In the Magdalena-Cauca watershed of Colombia and the Napo watershed of Ecuador, infrastructure, mining, and energy projects can pose serious threats to biodiversity. ELI is undertaking a three-year project to improve watershed health and biodiversity in Colombia and Ecuador by strengthening the judiciary´s knowledge and capacity to make informed decisions in environmental cases, ultimately leading to enhanced environmental protection in these two nations. ELI is also training the judiciary in Indonesia to strengthen its ability to assess liability for environmental harm, guarding against deforestation and helping to protect livelihoods. Visit https://www.eli.org/judicial-education to learn more about ELI's judicial training program across the globe.

Our international work continued to grow in other areas as well, with many countries turning to ELI to help them with pressing environmental issues. Projects that ELI began or completed in 2017 include building forestry protection systems in Malawi, developing a climate resilience regime in the Republic of Kazakhstan, working on the interface between gender and water access in the Nile River basin, and focusing on the broader dilemma of environmentally displaced persons. 

Many readers may be most familiar with the various seminars and workshops we host each year. In addition to Western and Eastern Bootcamps and our popular “summer school” series, ELI convened numerous seminars and workshops on a wide range of topics. On May 11, ELI hosted a seminar, Deep Decarbonization: The Legal and Economic Framework, to examine pathways toward long-term deep decarbonization within the United States, to be followed by an ELI book in 2018, Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (Michael B. Gerrard and John C. Dernbach, eds.). On June 6, ELI held a seminar, Green Finance: Leveraging Investment for Environmental Protection, to examine how law and policy can help inform green financing and vice versa, and what barriers may be preventing more investment in projects and companies with positive environmental missions. And on June 27, in partnership with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., Environmental Defense Fund, and George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, ELI hosted TSCA Reform: One Year Later. The day-long conference explored the federal government’s implementation of the bipartisan legislation passed in 2016 and featured keynote speakers Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).

Lastly, no year would be complete at ELI without us recognizing the good work of others. At the 2017 National Wetlands Awards Ceremony, which was held in May at the U.S. Botanic Gardens, we recognized the work of: Gregory Kearns (Conservation & Restoration); Dana Pounds (Education & Outreach); Dr. Robert R. Twilley (Science Research); Collis G. Adams (Tribal, and Local Program Development); and Alicia M. Mozian (Wetlands Community Leader). ELI is currently accepting nominations for the 2018 awards through January 23, 2018.

And this past October, ELI presented its 2017 Environmental Achievement Award to Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, in recognition of his visionary leadership on global sustainability and rule of law in the environmental setting. Mr. Steiner’s poignant remarks underscored the critical value of ELI’s mission to promote effective rule of law in the environmental sphere. “Law is not just about codifying the rules,” said Mr. Steiner. “It is about codifying the foundations of what binds us together in society" and “allows us to do things that otherwise we would not be able to do, together.” Watch Mr. Achim’s moving remarks at https://www.eli.org/award-dinner.

ELI’s impactful and critical work would not happen without the generosity and involvement of people like you–our Board of Directors, Leadership Council, members, and supporters–and of course ELI’s talented and committed staff. Thanks to you, ELI continues to play an important and meaningful role in making the law work for people, places, and the planet.