In the hopes of promoting an environmental law program, The Cornell Law School’s Environmental Law Society gathered more than 60 panelists and speakers from around the country for a conference on gas drilling, sustainability and energy policy this weekend.
“It’s a stepping stone for providing an environmental law program at the law school and illustrating to them the importance of these issues,” said Ben Tettlebaum law ’12, who was the chair of the conference. “We want to get the law school on board with this.”
The panels covered a diversity of topics related to environmental law, from discussions of oil drilling in New York State to hydraulic fracturing. Tettlebaum said that the conference strove to tie in the local debate on shale drilling with the national debate on energy policy.
“We had folks from the energy debate and the microcosmic shale debate and we worked hard to get a balance,” he said.
Dean of the Law School Stewart Schwab said the conference added to the local debate on hydraulic fracturing.
“This is such a contentious issue right here locally,” Schwab said. “We brought in experts on the issue where we can have discussion and debate and I’m pleased we were able to do that for the community.”
Martha Robertson ’75 (D-District 13), chair of the Tompkins County Legislature and a panelist at the conference, said the panels helped provide a broader perspective on the fracking debate for local officials and citizens.
“People are struggling for answers, but shale gas is not the right way,” she said.
Todd Glass ’88, another panelist who works in Silicon Valley to develop and finance renewable energy projects, said he would take home information from the conference to help him with his business.
“If you are building renewables, you have to have an understanding of the risks, costs and supply of shale gas, and that’s the number one thing I learned,” he said.
Glass added that the conference inspired debate about the benefits and costs of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
“I would say a majority of people were people from the community that care about these issues. It got a little heated at times, but it’s all part of a good debate,” he said.
In his keynote speech, Gary Guzy ’79, law ’82, deputy director and general counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Equality, discussed the importance of public interest litigators in developing environmental policy.
Guzy said that he rememebers seeing U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom Elliot Richardson speak along with a group of his fellow law students and was inspired by the lawyer, who spent most of his career working for the government.
“I found it very moving and I wanted to come back and instill the same sense of the importance of public service,” he said.
Guzy praised the law school for its work in promoting lawyers who work for public good, saying that Cornell’s faculty especially nurtured a sense of the importance in public service.
“I believe that at Cornell, you have special advantages to help you pursue these challenges,” he said. “It’s really nurtured by a dedicated faculty ... it’s inevitably informed by a sense of a beauty and the power of our natural landscape, as you walk across the gorge, as you see the ice still clinging to the sides and you see the hills and the lakes.”
While discussing historical environmental policy, Guzy also mentioned the role that public interest lawyers and the role that law would play in finding solutions to environmental problems.
“Given the special roles of law and lawyering in creating our modern system of our environmental and public health protections, I see that we have a special responsibility to contribute to that understanding and work towards enduring solutions,” he said.