September 20, 2019

News from the Chair

Mary Ellen Ternes

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to the Business Law Section (“Section”) Environmental Committee Newsletter, September 2019.  It has been my pleasure serving as the Environmental Committee Chair for the past two years, a period of tumultuous transition in environmental law. Our committee, holding fast at about 270 members, has historically focused on providing education and insight to our Section members regarding developing environmental issues that appear to present significant business risks with deliverables that are practical and efficient, so as to arm our Section members with the most useful information in the most digestible form.  To achieve these goals, we adopted a Strategic Plan calling for recruiting talented environmental lawyers, delivering content electronically through newsletters, collaborating with other committees, while improving opportunities for member engagement and participation through ABA Connect, newsletter authorship and other venues. 

Strategic Plan

Consistent with our Strategic Plan, over the past two years we have reconstituted the leadership of the Committee. Our reconstituted slate of leaders includes a diverse group of vice chairs from large and small firms, as well as inhouse counsel, with a broad spectrum of experience, from manufacturing to energy production, government to NGO, across a wide array of business interests and accompanying environmental, energy and resource issues. With programming coinciding with the beginning of the Trump Administration, we presented or participated in the following ABA Business Law Section panel sessions, joined by many committee cosponsors and collaborators: “Managing Environmental Business Risks in the New Administration,” at the Section's 2017 Annual Meeting; “Adapting Business Transactions to Climate Change,” and “The Politics of Trump, Trudeau and Peña Nieto: Three Amigos or What? A Look at NAFTA, Immigration and Climate Change,” at the Section 2018 Spring Meeting; and “Emerging Business Risks Posed by PFAS, Catastrophic Incidents, Plastics and Other Chemical Substances,” at the upcoming Section 2019 Annual Meeting.

We assisted in enabling the ABA website transition, held committee discussions on ABA Connect and developed a schedule for newsletter publication and engagement on substantive topics through ABA Connect, webinars and panel presentations, producing two newsletters, with the first released June 2018 focusing on the Clean Air Act and, and this one focusing on Climate Change Adaptation. Also, over the last several months, the Environmental Committee has supported ABA efforts, both within the Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, as well as the Business Law Section Environmental Committee, the development and adoption of the ABA’s Resolution No. 111, by the BLS on July 24th, and then by the ABA on August 12th, 2019.

Section 2019 Annual Meeting

At the Section Annual Meeting on September 12th, 2019, the Environmental Committee held its Committee Meeting jointly with the Corporate Compliance and Business Crimes and Investigations Committees at 10:30 am.  Following our combined Committee Meeting, the Environmental Committee presented “Emerging Business Risks Posed by PFAS, Catastrophic Incidents, Plastics and Other Chemical Substances,” with Cynthia Stroman, Mary Ellen Ternes and Lindene Patton, including contributions by Lisa Anne Hamilton. Our panel is co-sponsored by the Business Crimes & Investigations Committee, as well as the Corporate Compliance and International Business Law Committees.

Current Newsletter Issue – Climate Change Gets Real and Implications

For this newsletter issue, as always, many thanks to our Environmental Committee Newsletter Vice Chair Rory Carlisle for her excellent efforts in shepherding, editing and compiling this newsletter issue. For business entities and risk advisors who are not students of climate change, counsel may have “adaptation” fatigue and experience a bit of irritation when asked to explain the difference between “adaptation” and “resilience.” Certainly, businesses operate at their own risk if they fail to embrace climate change adaptation as may be relevant for them, including undertaking necessary responsive actions to prevent harm from ongoing operations that might result from known or anticipated changes in underlying assumptions, e.g., the assumption that flooding patterns are the same when they are actually changing. Related to actions taken to adapt operations for climate change, are actions taken to ensure “resilience,” i.e., efficient recovery through a range of known or anticipated climate change impacts. The three articles herein focus on the reality of climate change as it impacts businesses and facilities, resulting in significant litigation and even criminal prosecution.

Chair Transition

We are still making progress implementing our Strategic Plan, and with much work ahead of us, it is with great appreciation that I will pass the Committee Chair role along to Cynthia Stroman. Cynthia is assuming the role of Chair at the Section Annual Meeting as of September 12, 2019 at our combined Committee Meeting.  It was my pleasure to serve the Business Law Section as your Environmental Committee Chair over the past two years during such significant transition. I am looking forward to continuing to support the Environmental Committee in the future.

Mary Ellen Ternes

ABA BLS Environmental Committee Chair, 2017-2019

Ms. Ternes, B.E. (ChE), J.D., is a partner with Earth & Water Law, LLC in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This article is adapted from a previous Ternes article published by ABA SEER’s Natural Resources & Environment, which Ternes serves as a member of the editorial board of.  She may be reached at