January 01, 2014

Views from the Chair: Section global initiatives help shape the Section’s premier forum role

William L. Penny

The ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources provides numerous benefits and resources for our Section members and members of the ABA at large. Less may be known of our work with international partners and global initiatives on rule of law and sustainability. This work includes our participation with the World Justice Project® (WJP), our coordination with the Canadian Bar Association’s National Environment, Energy and Resources Law Section (NEERLS), and the Section’s leadership on the ABA’s Presidential Task Force on Sustainability. These efforts by Section members help broaden our view of environment, energy, and resources law and strengthen our mission as the premier forum in these areas.

The World Justice Project® is an independent, non-profit organization with a mission to develop communities of opportunity and equity by advancing the rule of law worldwide. The central focus is the development of a WJP Rule of Law Index®, which is an innovative quantitative assessment tool offering a detailed and comprehensive picture of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice. The WJP’s website notes that “[w]ithout an effective system of regulations and enforcement—systems predicated on the rule of law—threats to the environment will remain unresolved and present ever-greater challenges to society.”

The Section is actively participating in the WJP, which will result in the first Environmental Report on the Rule of Law. The Environmental Report is building upon the Section’s expertise developed in its soon-to-be-published international environmental law book, International Environmental Law: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Laws of the Planet. This book, edited by Roger Martella and Brett Grosko, lays the groundwork for WJP’s Rule of Law Index® survey, building on contacts made with environmental professionals from around the world to offer local insight and perspective into the status of environment, energy, and resources rule of law globally. Thus, the Environmental Report, to be included in the next iteration of the WJP Rule of Law Index®, will be developed in close coordination with the Section and the diverse and talented leaders contributing to the Section’s Laws of the Planet. As part of this endeavor, a number of our members represented the Section in one or more of the four World Justice Forums that have been held in various locations around the world.

The Section’s relationship with NEERLS began when the Section’s Council met jointly with the NEERLS Council in Ottawa in 2008. Since then, the councils met again in Vancouver in 2012. The Section has amended its bylaws to provide that a NEERLS representative is an ex officio member of the Section’s Council and the Section has a corresponding representative on the NEERLS Council. This partnership provides opportunities for dialogue and understanding of environmental and energy law of our neighbors to the north.

Recently I attended and had the privilege of speaking at the NEERLS annual environmental conference in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. I also spoke at the NEERLS 25th annual meeting in Ottawa held in conjunction with Canada’s Department of Justice, and the Section welcomed a number of NEERLS members to the 21st Fall Conference in Baltimore last October. The opportunity to share mutual experiences with two countries’ different approaches to regulation and development provides much-needed insights because we see a more global legal system emerging.

Another major Section initiative is directed at global sustainability. The sustainability efforts by the Section are described in part in the July/August 2013 edition of Trends. At the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco this past August, the House of Delegates approved the Section’s proposed resolution confirming the ABA’s commitment to sustainability. ABA President James Silkenat announced the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Sustainable Development to review and make recommendations on the involvement of the ABA in implementing sustainable development matters throughout the world. He named former Section Chair and House of Delegates representative Lee DeHihns as the task force’s chair. Lee has assembled a blue ribbon group of leading sustainability lawyers in the United States.

The task force will focus on ways that the ABA can provide leadership, nationally and internationally, on sustainable development issues, as well as assisting the United Nations (UN) in implementing “The Future We Want” report that it adopted at the Rio+20 Conference. The report is a common vision on how sustainable development issues will be managed by UN member entities and related organizations. The task force is meeting regularly and continues to develop an aggressive agenda. Last April at ABA Day at the UN, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made it clear to then ABA President Laurel Bellows and ABA President-Elect Silkenat that he wants ABA lawyers play a stronger role in the area of environmental sustainability.

These global initiatives continue to emphasize the Section’s mission of being the premier forum for practitioners of environment, energy, and resources law. The Section’s role of serving member needs and in keeping abreast of the latest developments in the United States continue to be significant and provide the needed emphasis. However, the Section’s global initiatives place the Section in a much larger role in environment, energy, and resources law throughout the world.



William L. Penny

William L. Penny is a member of the Environmental, Natural Resources and Energy Service Group of Stites & Harbison PLLC in Nashville and is chair of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.