Environmental Law at Columbia: Part 4

The Society

The Environmental Law Society (ELS) is a student-run organization with a variety of objectives. The group hosts speakers who discuss environmental law issues and careers and also works with the admissions office to better publicize the environmental law program at Columbia, according to President Melissa Brandt '03. The ELS is now in the process of planning a conference on environmental law, trade, and equitable sustainability in March. One goal of the conference, according to Ms. Brandt, "is to examine where we stand now 10 years after the worldwide environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro."
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The Journal

The Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, founded in 1972, is the second oldest environmental law journal in the nation. The student-edited journal is designed to be an aid to the legal community committed to the preservation and improvement of the environment. Students are selected for staff positions on the basis of writing samples. Regarded as one of the country's preeminent law journals, it is read by lawyers, advocates, and judges around the world. The journal's web site is located at
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Giving Every Stakeholder a Voice: Environmental Collaborative Decision-making Project

Traditionally, lawyers involved in environmental disputes either turned to litigation or dispute resolution.  The downside of litigation was its cost. Recent experience has also demonstrated that traditional dispute resolution mechanisms are not always the best ways of addressing certain environmental problems, particularly complex issues that involve multiple stakeholders and enormous amounts of evolving information.   Both litigation and dispute resolution require competing parties to develop their positions in isolation and then refer their positions to a third party decision-maker. Often, projects such as watershed resource management, regulation of interstate and even international air pollution transport, and redevelopment of multi-site brown fields areas are too complex and too evolving to leave in the hands of a neutral third party.

                A new approach to addressing environmental disputes is emerging, which allows potential adversaries to participate together from the outset of a dispute in processing information and, together, in developing flexible responses.

                Studying and developing these processes is the focus of the "Environmental Collaborative Decision-making Project," a new course taught by Evan Van Hook and Kate Adams, both partners at Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood. The class, which runs for two semesters, teaches students about managing environmental disputes that involve the interests of many parties and whose ultimate solution - at least in the beginning - may not be known.

                The reading in the course, which meets every other week, examines the structure, need for, efficacy and legitimacy of the stakeholder decision-making processes. In addition to class lectures and guest speakers, students are involved - with oversight by the instructors who practice in this area - in multiparty processes addressing important environmental and land use issues in the New York City area. This year, students are working with an umbrella group of local organizations fighting an extension of the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn. The dispute involves many parties, from federal and state departments of transportation to community groups to environmental organizations.

                "There's not a lot of know-how among local organizations on how to proceed in environmental disputes of a complex nature," said Mr. Van Hook. "The students are helping local stakeholder groups develop procedures for querying the needs of the community affected by the expressway. They are also involved in assisting these groups to be pro-active, in the hopes that they can be involved in fashioning responses that will be acceptable to them."

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A sampling of environmental law classes and seminars offered at Columbia:

International Environmental Law

Land Use Controls

Environmental Litigation

Public Lands and Natural Resources

Toxics and Society

Land Use: Regulation and Development, Theory and Practice

Protection of Natural Resources

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Professor Frank Grad

Taking emeritus status in 1995 has not slowed down Prof. Grad, who has not only continued teaching but writing. His Treatise on Environmental Law has grown from two to eight volumes, contains detailed chapters on virtually every aspect of environmental law, and is updated twice a year.

"I've been privileged to participate in one of the major legal developments in the law of our nation," said Prof. Grad, who also has played important roles outside Columbia. In 1980, he became the reporter of a federal project established by Congress to undertake research on and make recommendations relating to personal injuries resulting from the dissemination of hazardous waste that was subject to regulation under the Superfund law. He also worked on New York's Air Pollution Code to establish national ambient air quality standards. The code provided both for the control of industrial and residential air pollution as well as for the control of industrially disseminated hazardous air pollutants. Included in the code work was the preparation of the New York City Housing Code, which regulates not only the condition of housing in the City of New York, but contains provisions for the disposal of residential waste.

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