2010 PIELC conference logoEvery year about this time, somebody will call our office and say, “I want to sign up for your conference.”  Or, I’ll meet an environmentalist at a gathering and he’ll say “Oh, I attend your conference every year.”

The thing is, ELAW doesn’t have a conference.  We know that the caller and the others are talking about the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) organized by law students at the University of Oregon. The confusion began back when that conference was called the Land Air Water conference, or LAW for short – and because it was an environmental conference, some people called it the E-LAW conference.

It is also confusing because ELAW began at the conference some 20 years ago!

So, here is a little bit of background to help keep the players, the organizations, and the events straight.

In 1983, a group of law students and professors got together and created the first “Western Public Interest Law Conference.”  A student organization, called Land, Air, Water organized the conference, and it was co-sponsored by the U of O Law School’s Western Natural Resources Law Clinic.

The conference was held in March, and students, professors, scientists, attorneys, non-profit staff members and environmental advocates from all over the West Coast attended. Over the next seven years, the conference expanded its focus to include international issues, and in 1990 changed the name to the “Public Interest Law Conference.”  In 1993 the conference added Environmental to the name and the current name — Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) — was born.  The conference continued to be sponsored and organized by the L.A.W student group, and so, throughout the years, it was colloquially called the Land, Air, Water or “L.A.W.” conference, though calling it the PIELC is catching on.

The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) was born at the conference in 1989 when participants from ten different countries were sitting around the dinner table talking about the similarities of the environmental and human rights challenges that they each were facing in their home countries.  What if, they asked, we could communicate and collaborate with one another and share resources, strategies, and brainpower?  Using a (then) nascent technology called email, these ten founders created an alliance of public interest environmental lawyers and scientists who were advocates for human rights and the environment all over the world.

Since then, the PIELC happens early every spring, and the ELAW network has continued to grow.  Most years, members of the ELAW network are keynote speakers and panelists at the PIELC. In odd numbered years, ELAW holds their Annual Meeting just before the PIELC and ELAW advocates attend and often speak at the conference.

So, although they are definitely related, the PIELC, L.A.W. and ELAW are separate entities, overlapping in their passion to protect the planet through connecting advocates for the environment from all over the world.