Monday, 05 December 2011 13:21
Article by DeepCwind Student Blogger, Terran Siladi.
Jeff Thaler, Esq. is a visiting professor at the University of Maine, serves as Assistant University Counsel for environmental, energy and sustainability projects, and is a nationally esteemed lawyer for his work with environmental and natural resource issues. This spring Mr. Thaler will be teaching a 4-week course, ECO 593, at the University of Maine and the Maine School of Law. I contacted him for an interview to gain insight into his motivation for teaching this class.
Terran Siladi: Could you please begin by explaining what environmental law and policy is, and what it means to work as a lawyer in this field?
Jeff Thaler: Environmental law and policy involves a multitude of issues impacting the air we breathe, the water we drink or swim in, the roads we drive on, the places we recreate, and where new development takes place. It also involves how our choices to heat our homes, fuel our vehicles, and power our electricity-consuming products impact land, air and water resources, and our public health. To be a lawyer or advocate in this field is to have the opportunity and tools to work for a healthier, cleaner and more sustainable world in which to live and prosper long-term.
TS: Considering that you are such a recognized environmental lawyer, what lead you to begin teaching?
JT: I am still working as a lawyer for the University on the permitting of the DeepCwind Consortium’s floating deepwater wind project south of Monhegan Island, and other environmental issues for UMaine. But I left my law firm to help develop a renewable energy curriculum that is system-wide a) because no one had done it before and b) because I believe it is critical to give students the opportunity to learn about energy and environmental issues from someone who has been in the trenches on a wide range of those issues, yet also alert to the broader policy implications of each project or decision. Plus I have 2 sons, 23 and 26, and I strongly believe that climate change has accelerated the need to have better decision-making on energy and environmental issues if people in their teens, 20s, and 30s are going to have a chance at a sustainable economy and world to live in long term.
TS: Can you tell us a little bit about the 4-week course you are teaching that will be offered this spring at the University of Maine in Orono (ECO 593)?
JT: It will be an introduction (since it is only 4 weeks) to the policy, legal, and climate issues involved in development of energy sources like solar, on and offshore wind, biomass, and hydropower, as well as an overview of how fast-breaking scientific, economic and legal developments are impacting new clean energy technologies. It will also give UMaine students the chance to work collaboratively with students from the Maine School of Law who will be taking the course at the same time.
TS: Are there certain topics that students should have knowledge off before beginning the course?
JT: There are no prerequisites as such. Undergraduates will need to get the permission of Professor George Criner of the School of Economics, as it is a 500 level course.
TS: What skills should students expect to gain as a result of taking this course?
JT: My goal is to sharpen the analytical, questioning, listening, and writing skills of the students; to introduce them to how to sift through an ever-growing deluge of information on the Internet and in the news every day about climate change, energy, and environmental problems; and to hopefully instill in students a desire to learn more about an area sure to impact all of them for decades, regardless of their majors.
TS: How do the subjects addressed in this course tie into the work that you have done for the DeepCwind Consortium for environmental permitting and policy?
JT: The DeepCwind Consortium Research Program is a first-of-its-kind permitting challenge, as there are no other floating deepwater offshore wind projects proposed anywhere in North America. The skills and arguments needed to advance the permitting of the project all tie into the course subjects, including comparisons with alternative energy sources, impacts on avian and marine wildlife, and why clean energy is needed in a carbon-stressed world.
TS: I recently watched your TED talk about the program you created, :Resettling Refugees in Maine.” As far as I can tell this doesn’t really have anything to do with environmental law or policy. Can you talk a little bit about this program and explain why you created it?
JT: You are right, it has nothing directly to do with the UMaine course or my day job. However, it grew out of an experimental, experiential education program I did at Williams College as a sophomore, that was the most powerful and educational activity I did in my 4 years there. I created the program in Portland so that I could give the current generation of students an opportunity to have something like what I had done, to get out of her or his comfort zone and both live and work with people very different from one’s self. So it is similar to ECO 593 in that it is another manifestation of my commitment to lifelong learning and to my love of pushing for new experiences and knowledge.
TS: Is the Resettling Refugees in Maine program something that you think could ever come to UMaine?
JT: Interesting question-- I am convinced that the model I have created in Portland can work elsewhere and that UMaine college students can certainly benefit as much as those from Williams. I would love to see students here do something involving homestays and work with refugee and immigrant families, as it would be easier for Maine students to then stay in touch with their new families and contacts. While the program is unique nationally, as far as I am aware, it could work at UMaine if there was a willingness to do so.
TS: Do you think that there is a connection between broadening social awareness in our communities and having environmental policies that are beneficial to those said communities?
JT: Yes, to maximize the chances of beneficial, sustainable policies for communities, you should be aware of how those policies impact everyone, including those least able to speak or fight for themselves. Environmental or intergenerational justice and ethics focus involve both social awareness and considerations of environmental-economic impacts upon others, and will be addressed in part in my course, especially as we discuss sustainability and climate change.