2014 Symposium: Introductory Panel

By: Lindsay Hall

The Introductory Panel to the Shapiro Environmental Law Symposium built off of the powerful and comprehensive presentation from Lois Schiffer, the General Counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The prominent first panel, moderated by GW’s own Professor Robert Glicksman, was comprised of Jay Jensen, the Associate Director of Land & Water from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Hope Babcock, a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and Zygmunt Plater, Professor of Law at Boston College.

The panel began with a discussion of the overarching themes of Federal land management planning and whether the true vision contemplated by the first environmental visionaries had come to fruition. First, Jay Jensen provided an overview of CEQ, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and President Obama’s focus on collaborative approaches to Federal land management. He conveyed the administration’s goals to expand research, transparency, and informed decision-making in the planning process. He articulated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Planning Rule’s three overarching goals: (1) large-landscape scale planning scope, (2) grounded in peer-reviewed science, (3) with community-based support. Jensen further emphasized the administration’s desire to greater promote youth engagement and to further streamline the planning process.

Next, Professor Hope Babcock provided the audience with a thorough review of the evolution of  US Forest Service v. Pacific Rivers Council. Professor Babcock articulated the threat to citizen standing created by the Court’s remand. She noted the potential danger of allowing the Court to test Federal planning procedures, and the impact that even a modest increase in the plaintiff’s pleading burden would have on the ability for interested citizens to become involved in the planning process. What is more troubling, she acknowledged, was the Court’s apparent willingness to consider the petition for a writ of certiorari despite the lack of conflict among circuits, the lack of briefing on certain ripeness issues, and the presentations of questions of no clear import. Professor Babcock stressed the need for citizen oversight of the Federal planning process through targeted challenges.

Finally, Professor Zygmunt Plater delivered a helpful accounting of the history of federal planning, the need for inter-agency coordination, the allocation of ample time and financial resources, and state involvement. Further, he warned of the unsustainable influence of the extractive industries in today’s politics. Instead of Federal agencies regulating to protect the common good, he believed that agencies today are nearly held captive by the powerful interests of private groups. Professor Plater stressed the need for a movement away from the di-polar governmental system and iron triangles of corrupt influence prevalent recently toward a more multi-centric, cooperative political environment. He articulated the importance of citizen involvement and enforcement of Federal environmental laws, and the key role that standing plays in the individual citizen’s ability to become involved.

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