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University’s environmental law program blends ‘green’ with graduate education

For more than 40 years, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the University’s School of Law has combined six interdisciplinary projects with a rigorous environmental law education curriculum to prepare students to succeed in public-interest work, nonprofit agencies or the public sector.

“ENR has a focus on public interest and environmental law and cutting-edge legal education,” said Heather Brinton, the program’s managing director. “That’s what made it one of the oldest and respected environmental law research programs in the country.”

To further the program’s mission of engaging the law to support sustainability in a community and bringing global content to the curriculum, the program has developed theme-based projects that combines faculty expertise with student energy. Conservation Trust Project explores public trust theory and private property tools to protect natural resources. Energy Law and Policy Project examines law and policy to promote a green energy future. Global Environmental Democracy Project analyzes principles of public participation, freedom of information and access to the judicial system that prepares students to be advocates for global change. Native Environmental Sovereignty Project takes a look into emerging tribal roles and the relationship managing lands and resources. Oceans, Coasts, and Watersheds Project engages the law to promote sustainability for ocean, coastal and freshwater resources. Sustainable Land Use Project, which has a white paper adopted by the city of Eugene for microlivestock in suburban areas, evaluates land use, theories and practices to ensure sustainable development in communities.

“The set goal is to impact each of these areas that are really important environmental issues in our country and globally,” Brinton said. “We have a quite an impressive Oregon network of alumni and students who work to accomplish solutions to all these environmental conflicts.”

Each year, the program offers two fellowships that incorporate project development work for first-year law students: the Chapin Clark Fellowship and the Dean’s Environmental Law Fellowship. First-year ENR fellows are assigned to work with one of these six projects with second- and third-year law students. Amanda Rogerson, @@[email protected]@a 1L law school student, became interested in the Native Environmental Sovereignty Project and the intersection between federal and tribal law on land.

“I think the University of Oregon has one of the oldest environmental law programs in the country, so it’s pretty well-known,” Rogerson said. “It just seems the breadth of environmental law classes and American Indian law classes were a perfect sort of mix for me.”

With generous donor and grant support, ENR fellows receive funding for their innovative research on these interdisciplinary projects, which help develop initiatives, gain a wider perspective on the issues by integrating a more specialized study and advance various aspects of the projects.

Aside from the Climate Change Initiative directed by fellows of the Global Environmental Democracy Project, the ENR Program has partnered with the Sustainable Cities Initiative since 2010 to promote the design and development of sustainable cities. During the academic year, Environmental Law Clinic was one of 30 courses that was part of the Sustainable City Year partnership with the City of Salem. Students researched legal topics around urban sustainability, including topics such as gray water reuse, incorporating green building standards into the city’s building code, and sustainable stormwater management.

“Feedback from City of Salem staff on the law students’ involvement with the Sustainable City Year program has been enthusiastic,” said Chris Jones, the program manager for SCI. “SCI is thrilled that law students are able to make significant contributions to the sustainability of Oregon’s cities as part of this innovative, nationally unique, multidisciplinary program.”

Students studying environmental and natural resources law can gain valuable opportunities in joint degrees through Statements of Completion and coursework, relevant legal experience through clinics and externships, contribute in achieving solutions through ENR’s projects and fellows program, as well as participate in campus organizations and publications.

“(A degree from the ENR program) enables students that are dedicated on making a difference in environmental issues,” Brinton said. “It gives them the tools that they need to bring out positive change from a policy perspective as well as applying all of the tools that we have now — legal tools — to make a difference on the ground.”

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