Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LLM Student Luis Antonio La Rosa Airaldi Reports From 41st Annual ALI-ABA Environmental Law Course in Washington, D.C.

By Luis Antonio La Rosa Airaldi, 2011 LLM Candidate

On February 2-4, 2011, I attended the 41st Annual ALI-ABA Course of Environmental Law in Washington DC and I reaffirmed myself that this is a high-quality course that is really worth to attend. Before going to Washington, I read of what the course was about and I realized from many opinions and on-line information that this two full-day course has indeed enormous significance within the environmental community in the US.

I think there are several added values related to this course that I really enjoyed and I would like to mention here. For example, there is a diverse group of people who attend this conference from a professional standpoint. You can meet lawyers and other professionals from private law firms, federal agencies, public institutions, and private companies from several jurisdictions. Actually, even though this is primarily a law course, participants are not necessarily lawyers and, in my opinion, this fact makes the course more interesting.

The conference brings together people from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Navy, Department of Energy, Coast Guard, but also people from private companies and other entities along with a small group of law students. Thus, you can see real efforts behind the organization of this event in order to build a diverse conference experience. As a result of this diversity, the opinions, comments and questions expressed during the conference were particularly valuable. Besides, this has been a terrific networking opportunity. I took advantage of the breaks and receptions to talk and know different professionals in the field.

Most of the participants, somehow, are engaged in the practice of environmental law. However, you don’t need to be an expert in the field to take advantage of this course, since it also serves professionals new to the field, in part through the series of optional introductory lectures. Undoubtedly, another added value that deserves attention is the quality and diversity of the speakers selected for this conference. All the presentations were well-organized in terms of content and structure. The topics covered by the conference were really diverse and interesting given the current situation of the environmental arena from a domestic and international point of view. We had lectures which addressed topics such as citizen suits and the latest government enforcement initiatives, congressional and U.S. Supreme court developments, NEPA and environmental justice.

But we also had, for example, an interesting lecture from a Senior Counsel of Kraft Foods who talked about the sustainability issues at this multinational company and its current environmental policies. While there are companies with no responsibility and environmental standards which contribute to environmental degradation problems, there are companies which are committed to the continuous improvement of their environmental performance and to meeting the requirements of all applicable environmental laws and regulations. Kraft is an example of the latter.

Thus, the good work behind each one of the presentations was notorious, as well as the way the speakers focused them and the useful information they transmitted to the participants. In fact, when you show a smile after a presentation -besides the typical applause- is because you are pleased with the results and this was indeed a common and widespread attitude from the participants, including myself, of course.

Even when I am currently studying the LL.M. in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy at DU, as an international student, I could not necessarily be deeply familiar with the environmental legal framework in the US. In my particular case, I think the fact of having taken the course of Natural Resources with Professor Jan Laitos (where we learned the most important US environmental statutes) was more than helpful to take more advantage of this conference.

Since the first lectures, I knew exactly what the speakers were talking about and I was familiar with most of the content of each one of the lectures. I was very happy to understand all the issues, including some of the recent holdings held by different Circuit Courts regarding the interpretation of terms in the context of environmental law. Definitely, by having this legal basis, I was able to have better approaches and clear perspectives based on the ideas and information received from the speakers. They knew how to explain and address all these environmental topics by balancing the current trends, challenges and things to improve from a technical, practical, legal and economic standpoint. I really liked the way they focused their presentations. It is important not just to analyze the language of the statutes, but to have a more realistic and practical point of view to determine whether they are efficient to regulate and resolve environmental issues given the implied complexity of the sector.

One of the topics and discussions that I liked the most were those related to the current opinions and attempts by some Congressmen who think that the EPA should not exist. There are crazy initiatives from the Congress to eliminate this important federal agency based on a global warming skepticism. These skeptic arguments doubt EPA’s capacity to work and regulate over greenhouse gases emissions under the Clean Air Act. This was a very interesting topic given the presence of some climate change "skeptics" in the Congress. Luckily, all the participants and speakers agreed that the man-induced climate change is a reality and EPA has an important role on climate change.

By attending this course, I have received from several lectures a clear summary of the most relevant environmental statutes in the US, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – CERCLA, among others. However, the conference was much more than a helpful and well-oriented summary of these statutes. Given the importance of the environmental law for different economic activities (not only for those associated with the natural resources sector), I liked to understand how these statutes are working to deal with new problems and what is the pathway to create innovative and cost-effective solutions to environmental challenges. Indeed, economic growth which is one of the main concerns of the government comes with environmental costs. Nowadays, the economic activities, in general, cannot be thought and implemented without analyzing its environmental consequences and/or implications. This conference addressed the issues regarding this premise. Based on the foregoing, I can say that I learned, enjoyed and took advantage of this conference. I encourage students to attend this course in the coming years.

Finally, setting aside the academic part of the conference, this was my first time in Washington DC so I took advantage to visit some of the tourist places. I really liked DC and for me it is one of the nicest cities I have ever known in the US. I walked the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, as well as many of its downtown streets and avenues. Of course, I went to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where the White House is located. This is may be the most famous address in the US. While DC has a very cold winter, I was lucky because I had two sunny days which made my walk more enjoyable …

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