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We were surprised and thrilled Saturday night to learn that we were receiving the 2014 David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award. The students of Land Air Water, the organizers of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), awarded us this high honor.
We were so surprised, in fact, that we found ourselves speechless. Now, we want to thank the student organizers and the following people for inspiring us over the past 20 years:
David Brower was a guiding light for all of us. To be given an award with his name is the ultimate honor.
Our work at ELAW is a team effort. The most senior staff won this award, but our success would not be possible without the whole team, which includes: Jackie Chimelewski, Kalindi Devi-Dasi, Glenn Gillis, Maggie Keenan, Michele Kuhnle, Pedro Leon, Liz Mitchell, David Pugh, Heidi Weiskel, and Ashley White.
ELAW partners in 70 countries are standing up for the rights of communities. We are lucky and honored to be supporting their work.
We are humbled by this recognition.
Bern Johnson, Executive Director
Lori Maddox, Associate Director
Mark Chernaik, Staff Scientist
Meche Lu, Staff Scientist
Jen Gleason, Staff Attorney
When governments around the world sell the rights to exploit minerals, timber, oil, and gas, they enter into long-term contracts with the companies buying these resources. In the past, these contracts have typically been kept secret.
ELAW partners around the world are playing a big role in changing that practice. Through their efforts, the veil of secrecy surrounding natural resource contracts is being lifted and citizens are finally gaining the opportunity to understand how their resources are being managed, and at what cost.
ELAW is thrilled to be releasing a new publication, “Natural Resource Contracts: A Practical Guide,” which will help grassroots advocates around the world understand these agreements and advocate for stronger environmental, social, and fiscal provisions.
ELAW Staff Attorney, Liz Mitchell, wrote the guide. She observes: “As more governments respond to calls for transparency and release natural resource contracts to the public, ELAW saw the need for a plain language guide that helps demystify these complex agreements. This guide compiles lessons we’ve learned from reviewing dozens of natural resource contracts over the past decade.”
The guide is available on ELAW’s website. Many thanks to the Philip Stoddard and Adele Smith Brown Foundation for making this much-needed publication possible.
Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator
Communities and ecosystems in Africa are under siege. Kenyans face eviction to make way for coal and hydropower projects, Lake Victoria is polluted, oil prospectors are invading Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, and the government of Tanzania is weighing opening traditional Maasai lands to foreign big game hunting operations.
The good news is that a strong, growing corps of grassroots advocates is meeting these challenges. In June, nearly 50 public interest attorneys gathered at the East African Public Interest Environmental Law and Litigation Workshop. The workshop was co-hosted by ELAW, the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (Kenya), Greenwatch (Uganda), and the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (Tanzania), with the help of the Public Interest Litigation Committee of the Law Society of Kenya.
“The turnout was tremendous,” says Jen Gleason, ELAW Staff Attorney. “There was a good mix of new lawyers, more experienced mentors, and many women.”
Jen has coordinated ELAW’s work in Africa for 20 years. “Foreign investors are eager to exploit Africa’s natural resources. It is critical to connect the pioneering lawyers we have worked with for many years to a new generation of community defenders, to level the playing field.”
ELAW partners know best how to protect local communities and the environment through law. The key to our work is identifying strong partners and building lasting, local capacity. The following are profiles of some ELAW partner organizations in East Africa and snapshots of their current work. Read more.
Each summer, ELAW welcomes an interdisciplinary team of interns to our office in Eugene, Oregon. This week, Legal Intern Marissa Knodel blogged about her experience at ELAW on the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy website.
Marissa is earning a dual degree through Vermont Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is working with ELAW’s legal team to help communities around the world advocate for environmental justice.
Marissa begins her blog post: “The next time I am asked whether I can be an advocate for people and places with the least information, access to, and ability to obtain a just, healthy, and resilient future, and have a career, I can confidently answer ‘yes!’”
She goes on to say, “Largely dependent upon volunteers and unpaid interns, the ELAW community is more value- than profit-driven. Non-profit legal work, in sum, is simultaneously rewarding and humbling in the most satisfactory way. ELAW has already taught me that to be a more effective environmental and public interest lawyer, one must first identify as an environmental and community advocate.”
ELAW is delighted to be working with Marissa and other aspiring environmental and human rights defenders to build the next generation of committed public interest advocates.
To read Marissa’s full blog post, titled, “Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide in Eugene, OR: Where Lawyers are Advocates,” click here.
Keep an eye out for a future post about ELAW’s intern program and how you can get involved.
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