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CA_coast“Sustainable development is among the most important ideas to come out of the twentieth century,” Professor Dernbach states in his new book, Agenda for a Sustainable America. “Sustainability deserves that label because it provides a framework for humans to live and prosper in harmony with nature rather than, as we have for centuries, at nature’s expense. Everything we care about—a growing economy, human well-being, and security—is compromised, undermined, or lessened by environmental degradation. Conversely, higher environmental quality contributes to greater quality of life, a growing economy, and more security.”  Sustainable development was first endorsed by the nations of the world, including the United States, at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (or Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro.  Widener scholarship—some of it done with students—has played a leading role in the effort to foster sustainable development.

Professor Dernbach leads a national project assessing sustainability efforts in the United States and making recommendations for future actions. Three publications have resulted from this project. The first, a 1997 article in the Environmental Law Reporter, catalogued U.S. progress in the first five years since the 1992 Earth Summit. The article grew out of a seminar and was coauthored with Professor Dernbach’s students. The second, a book entitled Stumbling Toward Sustainability (Environmental Law Institute Press 2002), brought together leading experts to assess progress on specific topics in the first decade after the Earth Summit and make recommendations. The most recent book, Agenda for a Sustainable America (Environmental Law Institute Press 2009), relies on most of the same experts to review progress since 2002. Agenda also contains more than 100 specific, near-term recommendations for the United States to move toward sustainability.  Turning these concepts to the judiciary, Professor May will soon publish an examination on how notions of sustainability fare at the United States Supreme Court.

In 1997, Professor Hodas organized a symposium on “the role of law in defining sustainable development.” It was one the nation’s first law conferences on sustainability, and brought together leading academic and practicing lawyers from around the country. Papers from that conference were published in volume 3 of the WIDENER LAW REVIEW (then the WIDENER LAW SYMPOSIUM JOURNAL), including articles by Professors Derbach, Hodas, May, and Strauss.  The volume also published proceedings of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Environmental Law, Twenty-fifth Annual Spring Conference on the Environment–Sustainable Development in the Americas: The Emerging Role of the Private Sector.

In 2002, Prof Hodas organized on behalf of Widener and the ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law a symposium addressing the post- 9/11 implications of terrorism on our air, water, and basic infrastructure. The leading academics, government officials, and practicing lawyers in the field were assembled to address these critical issues at the symposium, “Combating Terrorism in the Environmental Trenches.”  All of the articles were published in 9 WIDENER LAW REVIEW 223 – 592 (2003) (then the WIDENER LAW SYMPOSIUM JOURNAL).

Environmental law provides an essential foundation for a sustainable society because it provides basic protection for its air, water, land, and ecosystems. Widener’s work on environmental law has in many ways contributed to sustainability’s objective of humans living in harmony with the environment. In 2003, Professor May chaired a Symposium at Widener, “Environmental Citizen Suits at Thirtysomething:  A Celebration and Summit,” which featured the nation’s leading citizen suit scholars and practitioners and produced two widely referenced issues of the Widener Law Review.

Putting those principles into practice, the students in Widener’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic have helped individuals and organizations pursue hundreds of citizen suit claims, securing important victories requiring protection of more than 6,500 impaired waters via TMDLs and forcing changes at facilities large and small to reduce or eliminate pollution of air, water, and land. In its more than 20 years of operation, the Clinic has secured more than $20 million dollars in facility upgrades, environmental expenditures, and supplemental environmental projects that help advance sustainability by reducing environmental degradation.

Professor Andrew Strauss’s scholarship has helped raise the possibility that those living in low-lying Pacific Islands will be compensated for losses from rising sea levels due to global warming. Professor Jean Eggen’s work on toxic torts provides tools for citizens and attorneys who believe they have been damaged by toxic chemicals to receive redress in the courts.

Widener faculty are also furthering sustainability in the legal profession. Professor Hodas was one of the early leaders in the American Bar Association’s committee in Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Ecosystems, where, among other things he help draft a White Paper on Climate Change for the ABA section.  As committee chair he also convinced the section’s journal, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, to devote an issue to sustainable development, which he helped organize and edit. He also served for five years on the ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law, where he supported sustainable development activities across the entire American Bar Association, and helped successfully lead ABA Standing Committee’s projects to have the ABA adopt formal positions on sustainable development and climate change in the form of resolutions adopted by the ABA House of Delegates. Professor Hodas was also a member of the ABA Standing Committee working group that met with the Department of the Navy at the Pentagon to evaluate and advise the ABA on Department of Defense legislative proposals pending in Congress to amend a wide range of environmental laws to exempt or limit their application to military activities.  Professor Dernbach later chaired or cochaired the Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Ecosystems  committee for two years, and helped draft the ABA Standing Committee’s proposed resolutions on sustainable development and climate change that have been adopted by the ABA House of Delegates.  Professor May drafted resolutions on recognizing the sustainable services provided by ecosystems that the ABA House of Delegates adopted in 2008.

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