Evan Belser, JD/MELP 2010
Increasingly, I realized you need to be an expert to get something done—and lawyers, despite their reputation, are the movers and shakers in society.”
BA, math and philosophy, University of Colorado, Boulder
Career Before Law School
Worked for Clean Water Fund in Philadelphia
Disheartened by the deteriorating environment and frustrated by governmental inaction, Evan Belser came to Vermont Law School to pursue a top-notch education in environmental law. He's found that-and something else he hadn't anticipated: "I'm feeling more love for my country because of what I've learned about law," he says.
"I had almost a teenage-type angst about the status quo, but now I realize that, even though we're the biggest consumers of oil and have other awful habits, we also have a visionary constitution and a structure of law that allows for positive social change, provided people get behind good ideas," he says. "It's empowering to realize that I can help take us in a better direction in the future."
As a math and philosophy major at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Evan's environmental awareness was awakened by the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains that he hiked and biked through. With some friends, he hatched the idea of a biofuel project-using cooking grease from campus eateries to power campus vehicles. Through rallies and workshops, they raised enough student support to pass a referendum for a 50-cent tuition surcharge that produced enough biofuel to help power all 14 campus buses.
Then, working two years in Philadelphia for Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund, he saw "how a strong community can influence decision-makers so its rights are recognized and respected." Going door to door with clipboard in hand, he gathered opposition to an asbestos waste site and mercury contamination. In coat-and-tie, he lobbied the city council and found tactical approaches that worked: emphasizing the costs savings in recycling rather than the diminishing natural resources, discussing the dangers of a liquefied natural gas terminal rather than global overreliance on fossil fuels.
"Increasingly, I realized you need to be an expert to get something done-and lawyers, despite their reputation, are the movers and shakers in society," he says. He chose Vermont Law School because "it has the best environmental law program in the country." He has immersed himself in courses ranging from global warming to watershed management to land use. "I've never known a school where professors are so open-they give out their phone numbers and hang out in offices with their doors open," he says. "That's gives you an unlimited opportunity to challenge yourself and be challenged."
A summer internship in the Waste and Chemical Enforcement Division of the Environmental Protection Agency showed Evan first-hand the careful process of weighing and sifting that goes into regulation-writing.
In Moot Court, a law-school ritual at VLS that involves mock trials, he and his partner reached the final round of the competition. Unlike other law schools, the final arguments are made before the State Supreme Court. "It was a rush," he says. "I did my introduction, and within 30 seconds the first question came with a mean scowl from a judge. I took a deep breath and rode the adrenaline into it. It was a complete honor and an amazing experience."
In the summer of 2009, Evan extended those skills as an intern in the litigation division of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City. "NRDC immediately put me to work on cases involving contaminated chromium sites in Jersey City, a prospective coal-to-liquid power plant in Ohio, and widespread mercury contamination in a Maine watershed."
He is on the editorial board and business manager of the Vermont Law Review. He has been a leader in the Environmental Law Society, which organizes conferences and Earth Week, and chaired the Campus Greening Committee, working to make the school's operations even more ecologically sound.
Down the line, Evan envisions working for an environmental nonprofit or the EPA. "Understanding the law has shored up my understanding of where power lies and what type of law governs any given issue. I see just how much the law is ever-changing-and a potential to steer it in a direction I think is best for the Earth," he says.