March 01, 2015

Views from the Chair: A history of leadership in many forms

Steven T. Miano

Many of us had the pleasure of listening to a keynote address given to Section members at our Fall Conference in Miami by our friend and former Section chair John Cruden. A central thesis of John’s was that future leaders in environment, energy, and resources fields can, and should, look to the expertise of past leaders. Indeed, clues to meeting—and hopefully resolving—current and future environmental, energy, and resources challenges can be gleaned from the successes of the past.

Historic perspectives

John Cruden is uniquely qualified to deliver such an address and to provide insights into our practice areas. John has had a remarkable career culminating in his recent confirmation as assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

During his most recent stint, as president of the Environmental Law Institute, John interviewed leaders in the early environmental movement in the United States. They included former EPA administrators William K. Reilly and Russell Train and another former Section chair, Kinnan Golemon. Their recollections formed the basis of John’s keynote address. If you were unable to join us at the Fall Conference, John recently summarized his address in his column in the January/February 2015 issue of ELI’s The Environmental Forum. It is well worth reading.

John’s address and his column got me thinking. We as Section members are fortunate to have a very rich history with many accomplished leaders, past and present. We should look to our leaders and their wealth of collective knowledge as we tackle some of our most pressing environmental, energy, and resources challenges.

Origins of the Section

John’s address also led me to research our Section’s early history. What I discovered was extremely interesting, a bit surprising, and even somewhat amusing. Way back in 1926, members of the American Bar Association formed the Section of Mineral Law (which over the years has evolved into the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources).

The Section was established to study U.S. laws relating to gold, coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and other valuable minerals. The new entity was to study conflicting state laws, marketing issues, and tax laws relating to these commodities. Further, the Section was to study conservation laws and the extension of police power relating to these issues, and to allow lawyers to advocate the uniform construction of laws relating to minerals.

In 1930, the “young” section created the Committee on Conservation of Resources, presumably to study and advance ideas addressing the conservation of these public resources. (Amusingly, in 1920, the ABA created a Special Committee on Air Law—however, this committee’s sole focus was on aviation issues, including who owned rights to the air in which aircraft flew!) Also interesting was the ABA’s 1947 creation of a special committee to urge Congress to confirm title in the states “to all lands beneath the navigable waters within their boundaries and offshore therefrom.”)

Common themes today

What strikes me from this review of our Section’s earliest roots is that issues we continue to address are substantially related to the issues that led to the formation of the first ABA “environmental, energy, and resource” section. Oil, gas, mining, coal, and even oil shale, were considered among the most pressing issues in the 1920s. Conflicting state laws, the extension of police powers, and the uniform construction of such laws, were issues then and remain issues today. Moreover, jurisdictional issues over water were also considered a critical issue in the late 1940s. Today, all of these very same issues are among the thorniest issues we as environmental, energy, and resource lawyers continue to address.

To be sure, the issues have expanded and become immensely more complex. However, wouldn’t it be interesting to have some of these early ABA and Section leaders in a room to ask them about their experiences addressing these issues? While we don’t have access to the earliest Section leaders, we do in fact have an impressive group of leaders from the past several decades and a rich history of thought leadership and scholarship that could provide valuable insights into today’s environmental, energy, and resource issues.

Learning from the past

John Cruden’s advice about learning from past leaders in the broader environmental, energy and resources community is absolutely on target. John concluded his column with: “The coming years have all the same challenges [as the early years], but our past provides guidance if we are careful to heed it.” When considering our Section’s past, it is important to remember our Section’s roots and our past Section leaders. Today’s leadership of the Section, which includes all of you, continues this rich tradition.

Steven T. Miano


Steven T. Miano is chair of the Environmental Practice Group at Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller in Philadelphia and is chair of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.