Category Students

Audrey Zibelman, NY PSC Chair, Plots New York’s Utility Policy

Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York State Public Service Commission since September 2013, set her vision for state utility policy in her keynote address at the “Utility Industry of the Future” symposium. The event was sponsored by the NYU Environmental Law Journal and NYU Environmental Law Society in collaboration with the Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law.

Symposium to Examine the Future of the Electricity Utility

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Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, threats of cyber-terrorism to energy infrastructure, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the rapidly changing economics of the energy industry have called attention to the inadequacies of the U.S. electric utility industry. While the electricity industry must adapt to such changes, the future of the industry is not clear—will it reverse the deregulation of the 1990s and see the reemergence of the vertically integrated utilities, or will utilities become platforms into which different generation and energy service providers might “dock”? 

Students Intern at UN Missions

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For many years, NYU Law students have assisted missions at the United Nations with environmental and other legal work. This year is no exception. Almost a dozen J.D. and LL.M students will be working with the missions of Tonga, Palau, Nauru and Fiji. In addition to legal research, their primary duty is to attend the meetings of the six main committees of the General Assembly and report back to the missions on the discussions. In the past, students have made statements and voted in the committees on behalf of the countries.

NYU environmental law grad among inaugural New York State Excelsior Service Fellows

Ben Levitan photoThe inaugural class of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York State Excelsior Service Fellowship Program has kicked off with 11 recent graduates of NYU Law, including Benjamin Levitan, former executive editor of the NYU Environmental Law Journal. Designed for college, university, and professional school graduates from across the state who are pursuing public service careers, the two-year program allows NYU Law graduates the opportunity to work on pressing policy issues as entry-level attorneys in New York State’s executive branch.

Teaching the Inside Strategy of Environmental Lawyering

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“Environmental policy, from the perspective of a lawyer, is much more complicated than just the law,” says Adjunct Professor Amelia Salzman ’85, former associate director for policy outreach of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Environmental policy is so politically and economically charged these days that simply bringing lawsuits is not necessarily the best or only way to accomplish policy change—one really has to mount a much more strategic campaign to accomplish these changes.” That’s why, in her Public Interest Environmental Law Practice class, Salzman focuses on preparing students to practice in a world that requires a firm command of not just years-long litigation but also savvy public relations, constant networking, strategic engagement with decision-makers, and creative and sometimes counterintuitive coalition-building.

Cities Launch Solutions to Global Environmental Problems

The NYU Environmental Law Journal, NYU Environmental Law Society, and the Furman Center for Real Estate and Public Policy cosponsored a symposium on “Localities in the Lead: The Path of Environmental Progress through New York City.” Introducing the event, Professor Katrina Wyman discussed what she described as a relatively new era of focusing on environmental policy at the municipal level. “Municipalities aren’t just taking an interest in traditionally local issues, like land use or brown field,” she said, “but also taking an interest in the preeminent global environmental issue of our time: climate change.”

New York City in particular has been extremely active in recent years in environmental policy, Wyman said, pointing to the PlaNYC initiative. Because of this, she said, the city serves as a good case study for thinking through the challenges involved in working through environmental policy at a municipal level.

Student panel examines the health and environmental consequences of factory farms

The following account was written by Elizabeth Hallinan ’13, who was one of the organizers of the program, and then moderated the discussion.

On Tuesday, October 25th, NYU Law’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Environmental Law Society hosted a panel to discuss another crisis in the American food culture – the prevalence of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), colloquially known as factory farms.

As explained by Nebraska farmer Kevin Fulton of the sustainable Fulton Farms, CAFOs are not the mom-n-pop family farm pictured on your milk carton. CAFOs, as explained by the EPA, are “agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations…which congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.”

Panelist Mark Bittman, a columnist and long-time food writer for the New York Times, is worried about the environmental damage these operations can do. CAFOs are major polluters of both local toxins (for example when manure lagoons overflow into local waterways) as well as greenhouse gases from both the facilities and the animals themselves. Bittman has written extensively about the problems stemming from the over-consumption of meat in the U.S. On the panel, he claimed that meat is not as cheap as it seems to be. He pointed out that if we included the extensive environmental and health costs to society – what economists call “externalities” of the system – the price of a steak dinner is actually very expensive. According to Fulton, Americans used to spend far more money on food than on health insurance. Now that ratio is reversed.

As we have moved from family farms to factory farms, other unintended consequences have arisen. Jen Sorenson, a litigator with the Natural Resources Defense Council explained that 80% of all antibiotics in the US are fed to CAFO animals. These antibiotics are given subtherapeutically, meaning they are used not to improve animal health, but to enhance growth rate and improve feed efficiency. Unfortunately, as Bittman pointed out, this extraordinary overuse of antibiotics contributes to the growing prevalence of “superbugs” that are resistant to therapeutic use of these antibiotics when animals, and humans, need treatment.

As one audience member commented after the panel, the problem with discussing factory farming is that you pull the thread of one problem, and the entire system starts to unravel. Animal welfare, worker safety, labor rights, and many other issues are implicated in the mess of the CAFO system.

So what can we do? Bittman wishes we would cook more at home and rely less on the food industry to tell us what we should eat. Sorenson suggested that focusing on the human health concerns is the best tactic in litigation aimed at curbing CAFOs. Jon Lovvorn, an attorney at the Humane Society of the United States, has found nuisance law to be a fruitful litigation approach. And Fulton invited the entire audience to see a sustainable farm at work in Nebraska. Judging by the warm reception given to him, and all our speakers, by the audience that night, I might not be the only one to take him up on his offer.