Conference Offers Broad Environmental Perspective

March 1, 1999

Nick Marinello

On Feb. 26-28, Tulane Law School hosted "Louisiana Environment '99: Law, Science and the Public Interest." It was the fourth annual installment of an event that typically features wide-ranging discussions from panelists from diverse backgrounds.

In an interview before the conference, its chief coordinator, Jerry Speir, director of the law school's Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, pointed to the broad mix of topics and participants that has made the conference unique.

"The initial impetus for the conference came from the participating environmental groups," said Speir, "but we have worked each year to make it broader in its appeal to government agency people, industry people, lawyers who practice in the environmental area, as well as students and academics."

This year, the conference comprised 24 panel discussions with topics including free-market driven environmentalism, controlling urban sprawl, the condition of drinking water, management of oilfield wastes and criminal enforcement of environmental law. According to Speir, panels have been designed to include experts to provide scientific, legal and community perspectives.

"The purpose for doing the conference is to bring some heightened attention to the issues, and to impress upon people the variety of issues that have a very specific local context and yet also are typically chained to some larger national policy problem.

"To me, policy is a product of networking and people talking to each other and thrashing out the best approach to issues," he added. "It is the art of the possible. Those kinds of ultimately political decisions get made in the best public interest when there is greater public involvement in the issues."

The conference also sponsored an exhibition area that featured a broad array of exhibits including those by the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, Chemical Manufacturers Association, Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. As in previous years, the conference was designed around no particular theme, said Speir.

"I suppose you could have a conference that is focused on just water issues or urban sprawl issues. To me, however, the variety of issues we tackle demonstrates the interconnectedness of environmental issues and that they really do touch a very large area of human experience."

In past years, the conference has typically drawn more than 500 participants. Speir said he expected a similar attendance this year. "We draw from a fairly wide region," said Speir, who added that it was not unusual for registrants to travel several hundred miles to the conference. "We focus on issues in Louisiana," he said, "because it is much more engaging to talk about a specific problem and how it relates to policy than to talk about policy in the abstract."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000