BC Law Professor Zygmunt Plater was the surprise recipient of an environmental award bestowed on March 1 while he was attending the 37th Annual Public Interest Conference at the University of Oregon.
This news arrived only days before BC Law’s Environmental Law program was ranked 27th in the nation by the US News & World Report 2020 “Best Graduate Schools” report.
At the Oregon conference, the Land Air Water Association, in consultation with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, presented Plater with the Svitlana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award. Professor Kravchenko, who passed away in 2012, was admired for her academic vigor and spirited activism, qualities that are recognized in the award recipients. Also in keeping with Kravchenko’s spirit, award winners “inspire young adults to reach for the stars, while keeping their feet firmly planted in the Earth” and insist that “environmental rights and human rights are indivisible.” Plater said he was touched by the recognition.
Plater had organized a conference panel on preparing for the aftermath of the current US administration, bringing in two Canadian scholars who had experience with the issue when Canada’s administration changed in 2015, and including Zachary Klein ’19, who had prepared a briefing presentation on the Congressional Review Act.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Steven Harper, a number of key environmental laws were rolled back. Canadian academics and NGOs—anticipating what would be needed when Harper left office—built a comprehensive plan for the next generation of environmental laws. Harper’s 2015 successor, Justin Trudeau, was able to follow their blueprint for “Restoring Lost Protections,” calling for new, modern safeguards, Plater explained. Plater’s call at the conference was for the US to start thinking immediately about “detailed accelerated agendas in advance of the next administration” in the US.
Plater is a longtime professor at BC Law and the author of The Snail Darter and the Dam—the story of a small endangered fish’s travels through the corridors of American Power—which was published by Yale University Press and is being made into a documentary film series. He was chairman of the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Task Force over a two-year period after the wreck of the M/V Exxon-Valdez. Earlier, he was a consultant to plaintiffs in the Woburn toxic litigation, Anderson et al. v. W.R. Grace et al., the subject of the book and movie A Civil Action.
Kravchenko’s was not the first Land Air Water Association-related award for Plater. In 2005, he received the David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the association at the 23rd International Public Environmental Law Conference.
Another facet of Plater’s influence is BC Law’s robust Environmental Law Society, which has launched significant research projects on the Exxon-Valdez and BP Deepwater oil spills, pro bono research for national organizations in Washington, DC, and support for communities experiencing toxic contamination. Among its recent activities have been Klein’s panel presentation at the Oregon conference; the presentation of a talk by Oliver Sellers-Garcia, director of the Office of Sustainability and Environment in Somerville, MA, on local governments’ struggle against climate change; and a visit from Thomas Jorling ’66, retired vice president of environmental affairs for International Paper.