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Here at ELAW, we often talk about how to build the next generation of environmental defenders. How will the skilled professionals around the world who are part of the ELAW network pass their knowledge on to future generations? How will these newer generations become engaged and find ways they can share their unique gifts with the world?
Last summer, ELAW Information Technology Manager Glenn Gillis blogged about the importance of being outside and enjoying scenic places with his young son, Aiden.
For Earth Week, ELAW Donor Liaison Michele Kuhnle wrote about teaching the next generation to protect the planet as one of ELAW’s guiding principles.
Last week, ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik had the opportunity to share his passion for science while volunteering at a local middle school. He came back to the office after a day of explaining molecular biology to seventh graders with a smile and renewed appreciation for teachers.
Whether in a classroom, at an organization, or outside in the elements, there are lessons to be learned and appreciation to be had for this precious planet and the cultures it nourishes. The more experience and knowledge that can be openly shared, the closer we will be to a truly sustainable future.
Click here to see the “Central Dogma Song Sing along” video that Mark shared with young students to help emphasize the biology lesson.
Last week, ELAW partners in Belize won a stunning victory for critical marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. The Belizean Supreme Court declared six offshore oil concessions null and void.
All of us at ELAW are inspired by victories like these, and we hope you are too.
As we celebrate the 43rd Annual Earth Day, people around the world are working to make a lasting difference for the planet. At ELAW, a few key principles guide our work helping communities meet environmental challenges:
- Work locally. We always work with local partners, who know about the environmental challenges their communities face and how best to craft solutions.
- Take on the root causes of environmental abuses. By strengthening environmental laws and bringing sound science to bear, we are changing the way we make decisions about the environment, preventing future environmental abuses.
- Teach the next generation to protect the planet. We are empowering the next generation of environmental advocates and building a corps of committed advocates who will work to protect critical ecosystems for years to come.
ELAW teams up with local partners to win victories for clean air, clean water, and healthy ecosystems around the world.
We look forward to winning more victories for the planet in the year ahead. Check back for more news!
Happy Earth Day!
On April 16, ELAW published an ELAW Spotlight that contained incorrect information. We have removed that blog post and we post a corrected version below.
An environmental lawyer in Turkey, Yakup Okumusoglu, challenged the EIA of a coal fired power plant called Zetes. Due to the great efforts of Mr. Okumusoglu, a judge issued an interim injunction against the plant. ELAW was in error not mentioning his name in our earlier post and in mentioning others.
Mr. Okumusoglu informs us that this is only a small step, however, and the threats are immense since there are a total of 9 coal fired power plants planned. Three coal fired power plants are already in operation in the region of Turkey near the city of Zonguldak along the Black Sea, which has deposits of anthracite coal. Five more power plants are going through an environmental assessment (EIA) process, in addition to the Zetes plant which Yakup already challenged. These plants will use even more coal than is available in the region (about 40,000 tons of coal per day production). Therefore, these plants will lead to importing coal from elsewhere to this beautiful area of the Black Sea.
ELAW apologizes to everyone involved for its earlier mistakes and congratulates Mr. Okumusoglu and the local citizens in the Zonguldak region of Turkey for this important interim victory in their fight against these destructive projects.
Dr. James Hansen is one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists calling for urgent action to avert catastrophic global warming. Last week, he announced that, at age 72, he is retiring from his position as Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies to devote more time to activism to limit greenhouse gases. Dr. Hansen’s decision to devote his efforts to full-time activism was cause for me to reflect on my meeting with Dr. Hansen in 2010 and ELAW’s role in averting catastrophic global warming.
I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Hansen when introducing him at a conference here in Eugene to educate public interest lawyers in the U.S. and around the world about using legal tools, such as an extension of the Public Trust Doctrine, to induce courts to compel governments to take stronger action to avert climate change. At the end of the conference, I asked Dr. Hansen the following question: If lawyers are successful in convincing courts that they have a duty to compel their governments to take stronger action on climate change, then what actions should the lawyers be asking for? After thinking for a while, Dr. Hansen said two things are needed: 1) a price on carbon emissions high enough to change the way countries generate energy; and 2) a ban on new coal-fired power plants.
I’m happy that we are working hard with our partners around the world to halt the construction of ill-conceived coal-fired power plants. These plants are bad for the global climate and bad for the surrounding communities, which suffer the greatest harm from dirty coal. Our partners have recently challenged coal-fired power plants in countries such as India, the Philippines, Mongolia, and Bangladesh. ELAW is helping partners make the case why coal-fired power plants should not be built, including information about the external costs of carbon dioxide emissions. We are providing guidance on how our partners can uncover serious flaws in the Environmental Impact Assessments of proposed coal-fired power plants.
Grassroots lawyers are winning victories for communities and for the climate. The National Green Tribunal in India has halted construction of multiple coal-fired power plants along the coast of Tamil Nadu.
We see hope in these victories and we are eager to do all we can to protect communities and the global climate.
2012: The Year of Mangroves
This year at ELAW–my first!–inadvertently became the Year of Mangroves. I had the privilege of visiting our partners in Belize, Panama, and Mexico, all for meetings and site visits unrelated to mangroves. But in each country, our field excursions took us past sites of mangrove destruction and human construction that appeared ill-conceived and short-sighted.
In Belize, we toured the proposed coral reef marine protected areas of Mexico Rocks, Los Bajos, and Mata Cayo Frances Lagoon. En route, we passed a new construction project in what had been a mangrove island. In order to build on this “island,” tons of rock and soil was barged in and deposited so that the houses would be above sea level. It was discouraging to see the influence of short-term profits win over long-term logic.
In Panama, we planned to work on major mining and hydroelectric projects with our partners. But the night we arrived in country, we learned that a court decision had just been handed down that suspended legal protection of mangroves in Panama Bay. This decision came as a shock, as many of the mangroves were within an internationally recognized Ramsar site. While we were there, more and more evidence came to light that illegal development projects had already begun. And over the second half of 2012, the pro-development influence has increased; the remaining mangroves that protect the capital city of Panama from flooding and pollution and shelter millions of migratory birds each year are in jeopardy.
In Mexico, we were focused on mining activities but our travels took us past areas where road construction had cut tidal circulation and added landfill in mangrove areas. Mangroves are the heart of tropical coastal ecosystems, and cutting off either the freshwater or seawater currrents is like cutting off the blood supply–the forest cannot continue to function, which means none of the species around it can either. But the development pressures are spectacular in La Paz and the mangroves continue to disappear.
My field tours and focus on mangrove issues around the world have helped me understand the urgency of working to protect this critical habitat. As the scientist who will be leading our efforts in this area, I look forward to collaborating with more of our partners on mangrove protection and restoration in 2013.
Victory in Honduras
My biggest highlight of the year was working with ELAW partners Clarisa Vega and Emilio D’Cuire from the Honduran Environmental Law Institute (IDHAMO) to enforce environmental laws in Honduras and guarantee that future projects in critical coastal zones will be properly evaluated. During 2012, IDHAMO worked with staff at ELAW to bring a complaint before the Secretariat for Environmental Matters of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The complaint addresses the lack of a full environmental review for the Infinity Bay Spa and Beach Resort built on the coast of Roatan Island.
In May 2012, the Secretariat for Environmental Matters of the CAFTA-DR recommended the preparation of a factual record related with the resort development, and later that year the United States government voted to instruct the Secretariat to prepare such record. Consequently, in December the Secretariat held hearings to prepare the factual record in Tegucigalpa, Roatan, and San Pedro Sula and invited all interested persons and organizations to submit relevant information to the Secretariat.
Clarisa worked tirelessly to encourage local lawyers, scientists, activists, organizations and concerned citizens to participate and file relevant opinions. ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel submitted a report highlighting the possible negative consequences of building large resorts in fragile coastal zones without proper environmental assessment. ELAW partners from Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic also submitted legal opinions to provide the Secretariat with a regional perspective on environmental assessment of coastal developments. I enjoyed working with so many ELAW partners and thank them for their participation in this process!
I congratulate Clarisa and Emilio for all their efforts and hope the factual record of the case reflects the importance of conducting proper environmental assessments for future projects in the region!
Pedro Leon Gutierrez
Attorney on contract with ELAW
Stopping Coal in India
In April 2012, ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta won a great victory: India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) revoked approval granted for a coal mining project proposed for Raigarah District, Chattisgarh, by Jindal Steel and Power. The NGT ruled that the required public hearing for the project was a “mockery” and a “farce” and went on to say:
“This is not a case where there are a few ignorable procedural lapses in conducting the public hearing. This is a case of a mockery of public hearing, which is one of the essential parts of the decision making process, in the grant of Environmental Clearance. This is a classic example of violation of the rules and the principles of natural justice to its brim. Therefore, we consider it appropriate to declare that the public hearing conducted in this case is nullity in the eye of law and therefore is invalid.”
The ruling vindicates the petitioners in the case, Ramesh Aggarwal and Harihar Patel,who were illegally jailed for raising their voice against the proposed mine.
By rebuking a major corporation for conducting a sub-standard public hearing, the NGT affirmed the importance of respecting India’s environmental laws and holding companies accountable to the courts of India and its people.
Information Technology Manager
Giving citizens a Voice in PNG
To build a more just, sustainable future, we need to make sure communities around the world have a say in decisions about the environment. That’s why I was so pleased when ELAW partners in Papua New Guinea changed the debate about seabed mining. PNG is the first country to grant clearance for deep seabed mining, despite fierce opposition from citizens. Until ELAW partners intervened, the government refused to even acknowledge opposition to seabed mining. After advocates submitted a petition signed by more than 8,000 concerned citizens to the Pacific Islands Forum, the government of Papua New Guinea decided to hold public forums so coastal communities can make their voices heard.
Check back in 2013 for updates about these public forums and seabed mining around the world!
Justice for the Shipbo
Last July, I traveled to Lima, Peru. While there, I reconnected with Shipibo leaders from Ucayali whose communities are affected by oil and gas development. We helped these communities design and implement a community-based health and environmental surveillance program and I was there to give them an analysis of the results. According to the data they compiled in 2011 and 2012, waterborne diseases and pollutants are most harmful to vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women, and elder populations. The indigenous federations were thrilled to receive these results, which can be used to advance their conversations demanding justice from authorities and companies.
Mining in Mongolia
Last year, I traveled to Mongolia and was shocked to witness the mining frenzy that is hitting that country: The road from the airport into Ulaanbaatar is lined with billboards advertising trucking, hauling, drilling and other mining related services; people are talking eagerly about the Oyu Tolgoi mine, which is forecast to generate 30% of Mongolia’s GNP; and I could see mines from the air as I flew over Mongolia.
While there, I worked with local environmental lawyers to prevent mining abuses. Now, one of those Attorneys, Bazarsad Nanjindorj, has traveled to Eugene for an ELAW Fellowship. While here, Bazarsad will complete the Intensive English Program at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute, and gain the capacity to play a strong role in charting a more sustainable future for Mongolia.
Bazarsad and his colleagues are doing impressive work to protect communities and wild spaces in Mongolia from polluting mines and we look forward to further collaboration in 2013!
During her stay she will enhance her skills, research, and collaborate with ELAW staff to boost ELAW’s work in Africa. ELAW will collaborate with Thuli to strengthen ties with existing partners, reach out to new lawyers, and help build connections between lawyers and law organizations across the continent.
Thuli is well-known within the African environmental law community because of her long commitment to protecting the rights of communities to live in a healthy environment. She is also well-known in Africa and abroad as a 2010 recipient of the Goldman Prize.
ELAW is thrilled and honored to have Thuli with us in Eugene and we look forward to connecting her with our local community. After Thuli settles in, we hope she will travel with us to learn about the work of NGOs in the Northwest and across the country.
As we head into Earth Day weekend, ELAW partners Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary have won a great victory protecting communities in India from short-sighted plans to build a coal mine. Earlier today, India’s National Environmental Appellate Authority revoked clearance for the mine proposed for Raigarah District, Chattisgarh by Jindal Steel and Power.
The reason? The National Green Tribunal found that the public hearing held to allow citizens to comment on the proposed mine was a “mockery” and a “farce.” According to the Tribunal’s judgment, the meeting was held in a remote village far from the project site and was interrupted when local thugs began pelting citizens with stones and breaking chairs. Most community members left, but the District Magistrate continued to hold the meeting. Supporters of the project, who appeared to be bribed by the proponent, were the only ones left to give testimony.
After watching footage of the hearing, the NGT found it to be “a classic example of violation of the rules and the principles of natural justice to its brim.” It was on that basis that the NGT revoked clearance for the project previously granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Congratulations to Ritwick and Rahul, who argued the case before the National Green Tribunal! Thanks for sharing this victory with the ELAW network and helping advocates raise the bar for public hearings around the world.
ELAW Executive Director
This week, ELAW volunteers are busy preparing for Earth Day.
On Saturday April 21st ELAW will join about forty organizations at the Earth Action Arena at the annual Earth Day Celebration in Eugene, OR.
To get ready for this event, ELAW volunteers have teamed up to design a trivia game and set up activities for children in recognition of this year’s Earth Day theme: “Listen to Our Children.” Volunteers will be staffing ELAW’s booth at the event to answer questions about ELAW’s work protecting communities and the planet.
We hope to see you there!
One of the highlights of ELAW’s booth is a collaborative work of art designed by ELAW volunteers Kenyon Acton and Sheena Moore, and local business owner Aaron Keeney of Synergy Metalworking. Kenyon and Sheena spent countless hours designing and building an eco-themed lampshade made from recycled materials, while Aaron fabricated the lamp base from recycled stainless steel. Play ELAW’s trivia game or buy $1 raffle tickets at the ELAW booth to enter to win this lamp and other prizes.
In addition to celebrating Earth Day, ELAW is proud to recognize the many accomplishments and contributions of dedicated volunteers. This week (April 15-21) is National Volunteer Week.
In 2011, ELAW volunteers contributed over 1,300 hours of their time to making the world a better place. Volunteers have assisted with everything from data entry, to translation in Spanish, French, Turkish, Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian, to updating and maintaining ELAW’s website and getting the word out about our at events such as the Earth Day Celebration.
Click here for more information about volunteering at ELAW.
Thank you ELAW volunteers!
ELAW Volunteer Coordinator
ELAW Fellows from around the world have landed in Eugene!
I brought them to The Eugene Weekly yesterday, for interviews with reporter Camilla Mortensen and photos with Art Director Todd Cooper.
Watch the newsstand on Thursday!
Our partners are here to work with us to protect Lake Baikal, clean up polluting mining operations, and win justice for marginalized communities.
“This will be a fruitful cooperation,” says Elena Chernobrovkina. Elena is International Program Coordinator at the Buryat Regional Organization for Lake Baikal, based in Ulan Ude, Russia.
The following are brief profiles of Elena and ELAW Fellows from Russia, Mongolia, Haiti, and Guatemala:
Sergey Shapkhaev & Elena Chernobrovkina
Sergey is the Director of the Buryat Regional Organization (BRO) for Lake Baikal. He works to help protect the biological and cultural diversity of Lake Baikal. Elena is the International Program Coordinator. They are working together with ELAW and partners in Mongolia to protect the Lake Baikal and Selenga River watershed from threats posed by dams, pipelines, and mining operations, on both sides of the border.
Erdenechimeg “Chimgee” Dashdorj & Bazarsad Nanjindorj
Chimgee is an attorney at the Center for Human Rights and Development in Mongolia. She is working to protect nomadic communities and waterways from polluting mining operations. Her organization has also taken on air pollution in Ulaanbaatar.
Bazarsad is an attorney and consultant at the Center for Human Rights and Development, and Executive Director at the newly launched Public Interest Lawyers’s Initiative in UB. He works together with Chimgee and colleagues to protect human and environmental rights in Mongolia.
Rolès is an attorney at the Haitian Environmental Law Association (AHDEN). Haiti has been devastated by deforestation and soil erosion. Roles is working with ELAW to educate communities about the importance of environmental protection and to ensure that proposed mining projects do not pollute and further destroy fragile ecosystems.
Lucia is a human rights lawyer at the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation. She represents indigenous leaders in Guatemala who are challenging polluting mining operations. Lucia will be a key note speaker, on Friday, at the 30th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.
Grassroots advocates are eager to travel to Eugene for individually-tailored ELAW Fellowships that help them collaborate and build skills to better protect communities and the environment back home. In 2011, ELAW hosted 12 advocates from 11 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Europe.
ELAW seeks support for Emilio d’Cuire and other promising environmental advocates who seek ELAW Fellowships in 2012. Support for the ELAW Fellowship Program will make it possible for Emilio to gain the skills and resources he needs to craft a greener future.
“I want to protect nature and improve the quality of life for the dispossessed,” says Emilio. “I want to empower civil society.”
Emilio received a degree in biology from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras and took his passion to the Environmental Law Institute of Honduras (IDAMHO). Short-sighted tourism development schemes threaten the coast of Honduras, protected areas, and small fishing communities. Emilio and his co-workers are doing excellent work strengthening the rule of law and protecting the Mesoamerican Reef.
Meanwhile, Honduras is becoming increasingly violent. The Peace Corps recently pulled out of Honduras and this is an excellent time for Emilio to travel to Oregon to gain skills and work with ELAW. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, and violent attacks against environmental activists are increasingly common.
Emilio has landed a tuition scholarship for the University of Oregon’s American English Institute’s Intensive English Program. Stronger English skills, he says, will open up “a world of information.” Many ELAW partners have gained English skills through the American English Institute and found it tremendously valuable
For more information about how you can support the ELAW Fellowship Program, contact Maggie Keenan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Fracking” made the short list for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2011 for the U.S. It joined “Tiger mother,” “Arab spring,” and “The 99 percent” (though it lost top honors to “Squeezed middle”).
The dictionary entry notes that fracking is “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas. [Shortened < hydraulic fracturing.]” However, some may prefer the explanation provided in the popular video “My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song),” which was produced by NYU journalism students in collaboration with ProPublica.
On a more serious note, fracking poses a substantial risk to drinking water supplies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report in early December that linked hydraulic fracturing to water contamination in the drinking wells of families living in the small town of Pavilion, Wyoming. Samples from the EPA’s own monitoring wells detected synthetic chemicals that are used during the fracking process in the underground water aquifer.
Hydraulic fracturing is not confined to the U.S. ELAW partners in countries like Ukraine, South Africa, and Australia are monitoring new proposals that involve fracking to extract natural gas from underground rock formations. Sharing information from the U.S. will help leaders in other regions take appropriate measures to protect precious drinking water supplies. Good news emerged from Bulgaria just this week, where lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to ban fracking, effectively halting a plan by Chevron to use the process to drill for natural gas in that country.