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Worries and Silver Linings

Keynoter Kenneth Kimmell and scores of environmental experts dig deep for answers at Rappaport conference.

Photo/Reba Saldanha Rapport Center for Law and Public Policy symposium on environmental law at at Boston College School November 2, 2017  Photograph by Reba Saldanha

A recent Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy symposium on environmental protection brought a host of professionals and professors for a day of panels discussing recent threats to the environment. Kenneth Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), delivered the keynote address, focusing on UCS’ list of largest worries regarding the environment, while ending with a discussion of the silver linings.

Kimmell said that his five areas of greatest concern, all originating from President Trump’s administration and the current Congress, are 1) the official pullout from the Paris Climate Agreement; 2) “scorched earth” laws that will prevent future leaders from working on climate issues; 3) the hollowing out of agencies’, like the EPA’s, scientific capabilities; 4) regulatory rollbacks; 5) and the possibility that the government itself becomes a force of climate denial.

Under Trump’s leadership, Kimmell fears the emission reductions the United States committed to under the Paris Agreement will not be reached, and that emissions may even be higher. “All of our jobs here is to make sure that never becomes reality,” he said.

There are, however, some areas about which Kimmell is positive. He called the activism since Trump took office “incredible.” The numbers of member scientists of the UCS has increased by a third, to 24,000.

He also described market trends that are encouraging, like the shrinking percentage of power derived from coal, and that, since 2007, energy consumption has remained flat despite continued economic growth.

The role of the courts will be important in what Kimmell termed the “resistance” to the current administration. “Courts are fact based forums, so they are likely to work in our favor,” he said. Despite ending on a positive note, Kimmell envisions a long path ahead. “We need to make progress wherever and whenever we can, because there’s simply no alternative.”

Kimmell’s presentation kicked off a full day of panel discussions focused on the future of environmental law. The Boston Globe’s David Abel moderated a discussion about the current landscape of environmental protection law, featuring Harvard Law School Professor Richard J. Lazarus and Gabrielle Sigel, a partner at Jenner & Block.

BC Law Professor Zygmunt Plater hosted a panel focused on the Endangered Species Act, featuring Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau and Robert Dreher, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife.

Next, BC Law Professor Patricia McCoy moderated a panel about the intersection of communications, law, and politics in environmental protection. This discussion featured WBUR’s Lisa Mullins, Professor Plater, and BC Professor Conevery Valencius.

Finally, Professor Parenteau was joined by BC Law Professor David Wirth and Martha Roberts, the senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund’s US Climate Legal and Regulatory Program, for a discussion about the current and future impacts of climate change.