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Law and Science Mix it Up: Creating Policy

E-IPER Joint JD-MS students find strategic niches for preserving our land and oceans.

Creating PolicyE-IPER's Joint JD-MS Environment and Resources students are identifying interesting legal niches where they can apply their new scientific knowledge. Whether defending the Clean Water Act for the Environmental Law Clinic, identifying threats to the California Coastal Act, or analyzing the economic impact of climate policies, these students are already making an impact on the sustainability of our land, water, oceans, and climate.

Megan Herzog (Joint JD-MS 3L) spent the summer as a legal clerk with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national public interest law firm dedicated to working through science and law on behalf of endangered species and ecosystems. The Center is widely renowned for its cutting-edge and groundbreaking legal arguments, particularly in the climate change arena. Megan joined the organization's San Francisco office for its Public Lands and Climate practice areas, working on diverse issues including pesticides, timber harvesting, biodiversity protection, greenhouse gas emissions, and urban sprawl.

"The E-IPER Joint MS experience immensely enhanced my work this summer. Understanding the scientific reasons why legal intervention was necessary made me a better advocate for environmental causes. Because I could understand the connection between development, timber harvesting, and increased greenhouse gas emissions, I was better able to communicate those connections to judges who were not otherwise educated about the causes of climate change. Similarly, an understanding of ecology and the ability to effectively analyze and cite scientific papers were essential to advocating for biodiversity under the Endangered Species Act," Megan reported. "It is astounding how much 'bad' environmental policy derives from the misuse or misinterpretation of scientific data. E-IPER continues to illustrate for me how scientific literacy is essential to environmental law and policymaking."

photo: Meg Caldwell testifying before the committee.Meg Caldwell testifying before the Commission. Courtesy of CSPAN.

This summer Kimi Narita (Joint JD-MS, 3L) worked with Meg Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Solutions and director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy Program, to prepare Caldwell's oral and written testimony before the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission, convened by President Obama to examine the causes of the spill and develop recommendations to prevent future spills, asked Caldwell to testify "on the statutory and regulatory framework for outer continental shelf (OCS) leasing and to identify potential changes to both minimize the likelihood of another catastrophic oil spill and prepare the nation should another disaster occur."* Kimi contributed extensive research and writing to support Caldwell's primary recommendation that "science-based planning and environmental review commensurate with the level of planning and risk of harm" is necessary for future offshore projects in the Gulf.* "My concentration in E-IPER is marine science, so helping to construct recommendations to the Commission using my legal skills on an issue I care so deeply about has been an immensely rewarding experience. Further, Meg Caldwell has provided me with invaluable insight and mentorship," Kimi reported.

"Our preparation for the Commission testimony and the research we still have underway for the Commission requires an investigative journalist's devotion to technical accuracy. Kimi's combined resourcefulness, legal research skills, and scientific insights have been key to getting to the crux of critical issues and have helped us
enormously in developing fact and science-based recommendations," commented Caldwell.

Recent Joint JD-MS graduates are finding a variety of career options
that take advantage of their legal training and scientific coursework. Rachel Zwillinger and Ellen Medlin are pursuing prestigious clerkships with judges in the 9th Circuit before deciding what direction their careers may take. Peter Morgan, Jared Thompson, and Greg Wannier have chosen policy positions in the non-profit and academic worlds as a first step, while Travis Brandon and Brian Shillinglaw, both in the first joint degree cohort, opted for the corporate route by joining the law firm Morrison and Foerster and the investment group New Forests, respectively.

Given these students' success, E-IPER is eager to expand its Joint JD- MS population. As law professor Buzz Thompson, who also co-directs the Woods Institute for the Environment and serves on E-IPER Executive Committee, summarized "The E-IPER program adds a new and important dimension to our law students' education. Solving the environmental challenges of this century will require not only a strong understanding of legal and policy tools but of the science that underlies both the challenges and solutions to those challenges. Only a few programs in the nation purport to do this, and none provides as diverse and customized opportunity as E-IPER."

* From Caldwell's written testimony, submitted September 3, 2010.

Image credit: Courtesy of Helen Doyle