September 01, 2012

Views from the Chair: The Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources—My Career Constant

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

“I’ve had several jobs, but only one Section.” These words were spoken to me by the Section member who first asked me to take on leadership role—Peter Wright, the Section’s current Education Officer and my Section colleague of thirteen years. I have reflected on Peter’s words many times over the years and referenced them when inviting lawyers and law students to get involved. What makes the Section unique is that it becomes a career constant—a network, sounding board, and source of timely and relevant information—that can help us at all stages of practice. Now nearly two decades into my legal career, I look back and clearly see how the Section supported me in my early years in private practice (I recall my dog-eared Clean Air Act Handbook), in subsequent years when I moved in house and the In-House Counsel and Water Quality Committees were regular sources of key information and contacts, to my time in academia when the law professors I met at Section events opened doors for me and made me welcome in a new setting, to my current position leading a nationally focused nonprofit—I can identify top water practitioners in almost every state because of the Section. Collectively, the Section represents the best of our profession—it is collegial, challenging, reliable, and altogether valuable—regardless of practice setting or years of experience.

I am honored to serve as Section Chair this year. With a terrific leadership team in place, and the dedicated Section staff, the Section will continue to focus on delivering our “core services”—relevant in-person and virtual CLE programs such as the 20th Section Fall Meeting in Austin, Texas, dynamic committees providing leadership opportunities to members, cutting-edge books and electronic publications, and networking events for lawyers at all stages of their careers.

In addition to our core services, the Section will support and cultivate a number of key initiatives in 2012–2013. We will shine a bright light on our maturing efforts on equity and rule of law issues via a new Special Committee on Environmental Rights and Justice, led by Claudia Rast. Under this umbrella, we will continue work with the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Initiative—benchmarking how nations adhere to the rule of law in practice in the environmental and energy arena; our Rio+20 Task Force headed by Lee DeHihns will track relevant post-conference developments and outcomes; we will advance domestic environmental justice under the leadership of Paula Schauwecker; and we will work more closely with environmental, energy, and resources law faculty in developing nations through the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law.

A new Special Committee on Communications and External Relations, led by Michelle Diffenderfer, will continue the Section’s use of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, with a cadre of Social Media and Electronic Communications vice chairs. This committee also will increase the media exposure of Section events, publications, and activities—such as our ambitious One Million Trees nationwide public service project, and our in-person meeting carbon offset program to benefit Native American communities.

The Special Committee on Section, Division, and Forum Coordination, led by John Milner, will identify unique and productive collaborations with other ABA entities. From co-sponsored programs, to joint publications and shared communications, this effort will better serve all ABA members with interest in our substantive areas.

We will support future leaders through our law student committee, scholarships to our educational programming, and a symposium in April 2013 at the University of Montana School of Law with its Public Land & Resources Law Review. Chaired by Jeff Dennis, the symposium will bring together practitioners, academics, and students to discuss topics of legal and policy significance at the intersection of energy and public lands. And, at a Rising Stars luncheon at the 2013 Spring Conference, the Section will recognize a group of environment, energy, and resource lawyers whose accomplishments are unparalleled for those with similar years of practice and invite these trailblazers to share their knowledge and experience.

These are just a few of our initiatives—I will touch on others in future columns. I’d like to conclude with a reference to my informal goal of “no empty seats.” We are a Section of over 10,000 members—and there are at least that many ways to contribute. Consider writing an article, editing a chapter, speaking at a conference, proposing a program, following us on Twitter and Facebook, and most of all, inviting a lawyer or student you know to join us. It wasn’t long ago that Peter Wright invited me to become a vice chair—and soon I was getting more out of my membership in the ABA and the Section than ever before. So, get engaged—and if you aren’t sure where your time and talent fits in, e-mail me in care of and together we’ll find the right fit!

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the executive director and general counsel of the Association of Clean Water Administrators.