Environmental Law at Columbia: Part 1

Part 1

Columbia Law School became a leader in the study of environmental law in the 1970s and has hardly rested on its past achievements. Today, the School boasts of faculty teaching cutting-edge regulatory approaches to the subject, as well as a new clinic that provides the teaching of lawyering skills in the context of pursuing real cases.

When Professor Frank Grad '49 arrived at Columbia Law School in 1953 to become associate director, under Professor John M. Kernochan '48, of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund (LDRF), there were no classes in environmental law. Indeed, it was not until the mid-60s that the field was invented. But, even in 1953, Prof. Grad was on his way to becoming one of its leaders.

                As part of his work at LDRF, he was given the task of revising the New York City Health Code in 1959. The code contained provisions relating to water pollution and its prevention, control of sewage fallouts, and the control of toxic substances and poisons. It also included numerous provisions relating to the protection of the food supply and the water supply against contamination by pollutants.

                "My interest in environmental protections was greatly stimulated by my work on New York City's public health law," said Prof. Grad, who is known as the father of the city's Public Health Code.

                After becoming a member of the faculty in 1969 and director of the LDRF, Prof. Grad was asked which courses he wanted to teach. The choice was clear: environmental law and legislation. While Columbia was the first law school to have a formal course in legislation in 1926, environmental law had just edged into legal awareness at the end of the 1960s, and no one was teaching the subject at the School at that time.

                "There were no course books or other teaching materials in the field," recalled Prof. Grad. "I collected some miscellaneous materials, including materials on land use planning and earlier state law provisions on water control, and prepared for a seminar in environmental law."

                The late 1960s and early 1970s was an era when the public - especially young people - was becoming more conscious of the need to protect the environment. The response to the seminar was overwhelming, and it was changed to a colloquium to admit more students, said Prof. Grad. Some of these students became leaders in the field, including Professor Nicholas A. Robinson '70 of Pace University and David G. Hawkins '69, who became an assistant administrator at the E.P.A.

                Professor Edward Lloyd, who joined the faculty last year to launch Columbia's Environmental Law Clinic, also found as a law school student in the early 1970s a dearth of environmental law classes and texts at the University of Wisconsin. "I took a summer course in environmental law taught by Professor Don Large, who had worked at the E.P.A.," he said. "He taught us from photocopied materials!"

                Given the growing interest in environmental law, a first-rate textbook was not far behind. By 1971, Matthew Bender had published Prof. Grad's course book Environmental Law: Sources and Problems. The book, now in its fourth edition (co-authored with Professor Joel A. Mintz '89 J.S.D.), was the first systematic treatment of the field and the first environmental law book produced and used at a major law school.

                Columbia Law School has not rested on its laurels of early leadership in the field of environmental law. Since the 1970s, the curriculum has been expanded with specialized courses and seminars taught by some of the nation's leading lawyers, such as Mike Gerrard, Dan Riesel, and Peter Lehner '84. David Sive '48 and Prof. Grad began teaching a seminar in environmental litigation, and Professor Albert Rosenthal taught a course on noise pollution and its legal aspects. Professor Richard Gardner served as an adviser to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

                In addition, issues raised in environmental law have been trickling into other courses, such as property, constitutional law, torts, and international law. Environmental issues also are raised in Foundations of the Regulatory State, part of the Law School's core curriculum.

                In the 1990s, Columbia made further innovations in the teaching, scholarship, and practice of environmental law.  The Law School has gained recognition as a leading center for the study of innovative regulatory approaches to managing the environment. A further step, taken last year, was the creation of a full-time, in-house environmental law clinic under the direction of Prof. Lloyd, who previously directed Rutgers' environmental law clinic. Finally, the Law School also offers a new course on collaborative environmental decision-making taught by Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood lawyers Evan Van Hook and Kate Adams. The course gives students first-hand exposure to the complex regulatory processes that are now transforming the face of environmental regulation.