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Vermont Law School Awarded Grant for U.S.-China Exchange on Environmental Law

August 21, 2009

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT-Vermont Law School (VLS) has been awarded a $350,000 federal grant to support a U.S.-China exchange program for young professionals working in environmental law. Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State, the educational and cultural exchange will provide leadership training opportunities to 18 Chinese and American women and men, particularly members of minority groups, who are active in environmental justice efforts. Participants in the program will jointly examine the environmental burdens, including climate change impacts, on minority communities and low-income populations in the U.S. and China and will propose ways to advance environmental justice for those communities.

"This program creates a rare opportunity for young legal professionals in China and the U.S. to learn from each other and to work toward a common goal of advancing environmental justice. It will position them for further leadership within their communities and countries," said Vermont Law School Dean and President Geoffrey B. Shields.

Minority groups and low-income populations in China and the U.S. are disproportionately bearing adverse health and environmental effects from pollution. As China overtakes the U.S. in the production of greenhouse gases, the challenges of climate change and clean energy will further affect these marginalized groups. While the environmental injustice problem in China has not attracted the same level of attention as in the U.S., environmental impacts are awakening Chinese citizens to speak out for their right to environmental justice and to seek solutions through laws and regulations.

The program aims to cultivate leadership among these young legal professionals and to provide them with opportunities to gain insights into legal tools, policies, and activism that can assist vulnerable communities in addressing environmental challenges. The participants in the program will attend a series of roundtables, study tours, and hands-on internships in both the U.S. and China. They will examine the issues of environmental justice and climate change through a comparative and collaborative approach and will participate in experiential learning exercises to build mutual approaches to the issues. The participants will spend a total of six weeks together: three weeks in South Royalton, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., and three weeks in Beijing, Yichang, and Guangzhou.

VLS has over five years of experience in China, with strong partnerships and a demonstrated commitment to advancing environmental law to effect short- and long-term improvements. The six-week educational and cultural exchange program was developed by the law school's U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law as part of its ongoing effort to strengthen the rule of law in environmental protection in China. Launched in 2006 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the partnership aims to build capacity among individuals and academic, government, and private-sector institutions to solve pollution and energy problems in China. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy helped secure the funding for the partnership. Professor Tseming Yang, director of the partnership, says, "The ECA grant from the State Department will expand our efforts to assist Chinese citizens and grassroots organizations to influence the development of policies and laws that affect environmental justice communities."

Organizations participating in the six-week educational and cultural exchange program include the China Environment Forum (CEF) at the Woodrow Wilson Training Center, the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) at China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), and Sun Yat-sen University School of Law (SYSU). With extensive networks of energy and environmental practitioners in the government, business, NGOs, and research sectors in the U.S. and China, the CEF will contribute important outreach resources. CLAPV is the leading environmental public interest litigation center in China. Its director, Professor Wang Canfa, one of China's most respected environmental leaders, is an honorary distinguished lecturer in environmental law at VLS, and heads the CUPL environmental law program. SYSU, a leading Chinese educational institution located in Guangzhou, established one of the first environmental law clinics in China and now has developed a juris master program in environmental law.

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