May 01, 2017

Views from the Chair: International outreach

Seth A. Davis

I write this freshly returned from a week in Los Angeles, where our Section presented one of the most successful and intensive weeks of programming in recent memory. We started with the 35th Water Law Conference and ended with the 46th Spring Conference. Many people came up to me expressing their appreciation for the quality of the programs and the breadth of the panels, and I was only too happy to redirect all praise to its proper destination—planning chairs Nathan Bracken (Water Law) and Maggie Peloso (Spring). We showed once again why the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources is the premier forum for high-level discussions of our areas of law, including a wide range of viewpoints and discussing and debating them with openness and respect.

What will probably remain my most vivid memory, however, is the event held between these two conferences—the inaugural (which is to say, I hope there will be more) Environmental Summit of the Americas. The summit is an example of the Section’s ongoing interest in international aspects of our areas of law. We were happy to co-sponsor this event with the International Bar Association, the environment and energy section of which is headed by former Section Chair Gene Smary. The principal coordinator of the event was Jonathan Kahn, former chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s environment, energy and resources section (NEERLS) and an active member and past officer of our Section. In attendance were more than 40 distinguished lawyers from more than 12 countries.

For each discussion topic, two or three facilitators briefly “teed up” the topic, which was then discussed and debated by the summit participants in an open, “round table” format. Topics included climate change and energy/environmental policy; extended producer responsibility; officer, director, lender, and parent company liability; assessing the quality of environmental regulation; permitting and social license; and trade and the environment.

The differences in views and perspectives of the summit participants were eye-opening. How common environmental issues will be addressed in the current transitional climate will be a fascinating and evolving story. The future of the Paris Agreement, NAFTA, Brexit, and international cooperation in general will all be determined in the next few years and will affect countries in startlingly different ways.

Our international flavor continued into the Spring Conference. At a luncheon, Ben Stansfield, vice chair of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (UKELA) and a long-time friend of the Section, spoke on the environmental implications of Brexit. Ben outlined several potentially destructive and disruptive aspects of Britain’s severance from Europe, with a great deal of occasionally subtle British humor. In return, I will be traveling to UKELA’s annual summer meeting in Nottingham, England, where I will speak on the impacts of Trump administration’s policies on U.S. and international environmental law. Not only will that be a challenge, Ben’s act will be a very tough one to follow.

The Section’s international outreach, initiated by my predecessors, is very active this year. Just prior to November’s election, I attended NEERLS’ Justice Day in Ottawa, where I audaciously told participants that Trump just might win and forecast a number of emerging juridical battles in American federalism that are now indeed beginning to play out. I have also been invited to NEERLS’ annual spring environmental summit. While I will not have the experiences of some of my predecessors—like Bill Penny, who got to see the midnight sun in June in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, or Pam Barker, who performed the ritual of “kissing the cod” in St. John’s, Newfoundland—I look forward to the NEERLS annual summit in Montreal where I will join NEERLS and UKELA representatives on a panel discussing international transitional issues.

As part of the Section’s international outreach, we plan to have speakers from NEERLS and UKELA regularly featured at our Fall and Spring Conferences. We also welcome membership in our Section by lawyers from outside the United States and encourage their active participation in Section activities. We have even amended our bylaws to allow non-U.S. lawyers to be officers. As the practice of environmental, energy, and resources law becomes more global, the Section’s reach must and will similarly expand.

If you are interested in the international aspects of environmental, energy, and resources law, please be sure to join the Section’s International Environmental and Resources Law Committee and read (and consider contributing to) the committee’s newsletter. The Section’s book, “International Environmental Law: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Laws of the Planet” is also an excellent resource. And to keep track of the rapid changes under the new administration, check out our “transition tracker” webpage at http://ambar.org/environtransition.

Seth A. Davis

Seth Davis is the chair of the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources for 2016–2017. Seth is a partner in Elias Group LLP in Rye, New York. A long-time Section member, he has previously served as publications officer, Council member, and chair of the Environmental Transactions and Brownfields and Site Remediation Committees.