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VLS Receives Major Federal Grant for Chinese Legal Partnership

September 29, 2006

Focus Areas Include Environmental/Energy Issues, Citizen Participation

SOUTH ROYALTON—Vermont Law School (VLS) has received the largest grant in its history, a $1.8 million, three year award from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The funding will enable VLS and its partner institution, Sun Yat-Sen University School of Law (SYSU), to provide training in environmental law, with a particular emphasis on energy law. The program will also further the understanding, on a comparative basis, of how systems of environmental regulation and enforcement relate to the larger legal context in which they operate, and the crucial role played by adherence to the rule of law.

President and Dean Geoffrey Shields comments, “This substantial, international project heralds a new chapter for VLS. This will build leadership both in the U.S. and in China on solving problems of great consequence, which are of concern not only to our two nations but to the world as a whole.”

Shields continues, “We thank the American people for supporting this significant collaboration through the USAID, and we especially want to recognize U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy for his instrumental work in securing this highly competitive grant.”

Senator Patrick Leahy notes, “China's rapid economic growth and consumption of fossil fuels is causing serious environmental problems. I am delighted that Vermont Law School has been awarded this grant to expand its environmental program with Sun Yat-Sen University. By helping to strengthen China's environmental laws and policies and increasing the Chinese public's awareness of environmental issues, VLS will open doors for future cooperation between our two countries on global environmental challenges.”

China’s rapid growth in manufacturing has resulted in severe environmental problems, including the production of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and pollution worldwide. It is predicted that China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollutants within the next 20 years. Yet while China approaches parity in the economic sphere, it lags far behind in the legal structures and mechanisms that underpin American environmental law and policy.

The partnership will focus on southeastern Guangdong Province, and its capital, Guangzhou. VLS will work with Chinese legal educators, attorneys, lawmakers, utility analysts, and regulators to provide training in environmental law, with a particular emphasis on energy law; to develop an understanding of the relationship between environmental law and the legal systems and institutions required for effective application and enforcement of environmental law; and to promote citizen participation in China’s legal and political systems.

The grant application was developed through the joint efforts of the VLS Department of International and Comparative Law Programs and the school’s Environmental Law Center.

VLS Professor Bruce Duthu will serve as project director. Duthu has extensive international experience as a teacher, researcher, and presenter; he formerly served as VLS’s Dean of Academic Affairs and as an administrator of Dartmouth College. Professor Duthu comments, “The grant will enable us to work collaboratively with our Chinese partners in helping to develop greater capacity in that nation for citizens, organizations, and institutions to influence the development of environmental law through enhanced participation in government, while also enhancing understanding of the administrative and market mechanisms necessary to minimize the emission of greenhouse gas from the energy sector.”

Professor Duthu continues, “This project has the potential to showcase how nations of the world can identify ways to work more closely on the basis of trust and respect, if we are to solve the daunting problems that we face collectively. This program will help build professional and collegial ties between VLS and SYSU, and in doing so will serve as a forum for greater understanding between our two nations.”

Major components of the program include:

  1. A bilateral environmental law and policy steering committee, which will propose solutions to environmental problems of mutual concern;
  2. Workshops on policy-based clinical legal education conducted at SYSU for the faculty of the eight law schools located throughout Guangdong Province;
  3. Technical assistance to the environmental clinic staff of SYSU and other regional law schools;
  4. Collaborative workshops at SYSU on environmental law and policy, opportunities for reforms at the provincial and national levels in China, and their relationship to other areas of the law, such as comparative constitutional law, federalism, individual rights, corporate law, and international trade;
  5. Fellowships for Chinese faculty and students to study at VLS;
  6. Meetings in the United States and China to pursue technical training and joint research on regulatory reforms and energy alternatives that could cost-effectively minimize greenhouse gas emissions; and
  7. Joint clinical or research policy-based law projects for VLS and SYSU students and faculty.

VLS’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) will be a key contributor to the partnership, as will members of the school’s international and comparative law programs. Energy Institute Director Michael Dworkin comments, “China has installed more than 60 gigawatts (GW) of new, primarily coal-fired electric generation in each of the past three years, and it is on a path to continue that for the next decade or more. This is the equivalent of adding Vermont’s entire electric demand to the China’s electric system every month, month after month, for years to come. Every measure that helps China meet its energy needs with more efficiency will ease economic costs for China and the world, and reduce environmental strains for all of us.”

VLS will receive assistance from the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a Vermont-based nonprofit that advises policymakers in the U.S. and around the world on economically and environmentally sustainable energy policies, particularly as they relate to the electricity sector. RAP has been working with China’s central government and provincial energy regulatory agencies since 1999, and it will assist the Law School in arranging technical workshops and training sessions, and hosting meetings of Chinese law faculty, energy providers, and regulators.

The grant project’s interdisciplinary rule of law component will increase participants’ understanding of the interrelationships between the development of environmental law and regulation and the legal system in which it operates, advancing the effectiveness of developing systems of environmental regulation. This component of the grant is also designed to increase participants’ ability to effect change. According to Professor Linda O. Smiddy, director of the VLS International and Comparative Law Programs, “In order effectively to influence the development of environmental law and policy, citizens need to understand the relationship of environmental law and policy, on the one hand, and constitutional and governmental structures, individual rights, private property, and international trade on the other. This initiative is designed to advance that understanding.”

The Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, Vermont Law School’s online journal, will focus on issues related to the grant project in a conference, “China in Transition: Environmental Challenges for the Far East,” slated for March 1-2, 2007.

USAID’s history goes back to the Marshall Plan reconstruction of Europe after World War Two and the Truman Administration’s Point Four Program. In 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act was signed into law and USAID was created by executive order. Since that time, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.

The new VLS-Sun Yat-Sen collaboration builds upon preexisting ties between the two institutions. SYSU Professor Li Zhi Ping was a visiting scholar at VLS during the fall of 2004, and VLS faculty and students have traveled to Guangzhou for research and study.

Previous support for VLS’s China collaboration has come from the Lingnan Foundation. VLS student Heather Jarvis ’05 and her SYSU partner Wei Xu were the first participants of a Lingnan-supported environmental clinic student exchange, which involved students in collaborative projects. Together, the two law students produced a comparative analysis of air pollution trading in the United States and China, and shared their findings with faculty and students at SYSU.

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