Archive for the ‘VLS-China Student Research’ Category


In December I jointly published an article with Ashlee Stetser ’15 titled “On the Path to Sustainable Development: An Assessment of Cambodia’s Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Law” in the Cambodia Law and Policy Journal.  The article can be found here.

As summarized in the article, the Kingdom of Cambodia has experienced remarkable economic growth ever since the early 1990’s when it finally emerged from decades of turmoil brought about by colonialism, the destruction of the Khmer Rouge era, intervention by Vietnam, and civil war.  On average, Cambodia’s GDP has grown at about 7% per year since 1992, placing it at the forefront of post-conflict societies in terms of economic growth.  While such growth has helped to raise living standards in Cambodia and provide greater opportunities to alleviate poverty, it has also wrought untold damage on Cambodia’s environment and rich natural resources.  Moreover, the rapid influx of foreign direct investment to the country, predominantly from China, has only increased the pressure on Cambodia’s environment and people.

Cambodia is trying to address these issues and put itself on a more sustainable development path, in part by completely overhauling its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system and issuing a new EIA law.     Although Cambodia’s 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management and 1999 Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Process contain EIA requirements, they are often completely ignored.  Indeed, from 1999 to 2003 essentially no projects in Cambodia conducted the required EIAs, and from 2004 to 2011 only 110 out of about 2,000 projects conducted EIAs.

Accordingly, many people in Cambodia recognize the need for a stronger EIA system.  In 2012 Cambodia’s Ministry of the Environment and the Vishnu Law Group, Cambodia’s leading public interest law firm, drafted a new EIA law.  Vishnu and the MOE have since worked together to distribute the draft widely and hold a series of public consultation meetings in order to raise awareness of the law and to gather and incorporate concerns and comments from a variety of stakeholders.  In doing so, Cambodia is potentially ‘raising the EIA bar’ in the Mekong region with regards to both the process of forming the law and the content of the law itself.  Of course, the law still must be finalized and presented to the National Assembly for adoption, which is currently expected to happen in late 2015 or early 2016.  The article assesses the fifth draft of the EIA law, which provides clarity on institutional authority and EIA process, includes strong public participation and information disclosure requirements, expands the universe of impacts that must be considered in an EIA, and provides for monitoring and enforceability, among other things.

If you’re interested in learning more, please have a read and let us know what you think.



Read Full Post »

This post is from Andy Homan, a third year JD student at VLS and a joint research project (JRP) student for 2013-2014 with the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law. The JRP students recently traveled to China to meet their research partners and further their projects. These posts share the student’s experience on the research trip and provide insight into their substantive areas of research.

Of the four participants in this year’s Joint Research Program, I was the only one who had never traveled to China or studied Mandarin. While this led to some uneasiness, particularly during the days leading up to the trip to China, I felt certain that my areas of research—consumer protection law and food labeling—could contribute to improvement of the environmental impacts of food production in China. The Joint Research Program paired me with my Chinese research partner, Ding Tingting, and together we developed a research project to explore the question of whether strong enforcement of consumer protection laws, combined with third-party certification of “sustainable” farmed fish and seafood in China, could effectively reduce the environmentally harmful effects of this sector of food production. Tingting and I communicated by email and developed a first draft of our paper, “Making Aquaculture Accountable Through Consumer Protection Law and Third-Party Certification in China and the U.S.”

Aquaculture—the farming of fish and seafood—originated in China thousands of years ago. Today, China leads the world in the production of farmed fish and seafood. Inland aquaculture in China occupies hundreds of millions of acres. The average Chinese consumer eats well over 30 kilograms of fish and seafood per year, and the worldwide appetite for fish and seafood is increasing. Meanwhile, the supply of “wild caught” seafood is being depleted. As a result, the demand for fish has led to increasingly intensive forms of aquaculture, including marine-based “open net” systems as well as land-based ponds. Additionally, most fish consumed in the U.S. originates in China, and much of it comes from fish farms.

While farmed fish and seafood arguably decrease pressure on the world’s depleted wild fisheries, aquacultural production in its current, concentrated forms results in negative environmental impacts. While aquaculture encompasses a wide variety of practices, most commercial aquaculture involves heavy use of food and pharmaceutical inputs, which combined with the waste from the fish result in high levels of water pollution. The most common form of inland aquaculture, a simple pond system, involves filling a manmade pond with water, raising hundreds of thousands of fish it, then discharging the water, along with excess nutrients and antimicrobial pharmaceuticals, when the fish are harvested.

For this reason, both the U.S. and China require permits to operate large-scale inland fish farms, and aquaculture falls under the regulation of a variety of government agencies in both countries. Nevertheless, many facilities fall under the minimum size for permitting under the Clean Water Act in the U.S., and in China, many fish farms simply never acquire a permit. Recent food safety scandals—including contamination with pharmaceuticals banned in the U.S.–have raised public awareness of aquaculture—driving demand for certified, “eco,” or “sustainably farmed” fish in the U.S. But because the supply chains for fish are so opaque—recent studies have revealed widespread mislabeling of species of fish for sale in the U.S. –consumer can hardly know that the fish they are buying are the correct species, let alone from the claimed source. Indeed, a single container of fish imported from China may contain fish from hundreds of sources, and with millions of aquaculture ponds in China, traceability to the source is unlikely. And while the FDA has regulatory authority to inspect imported fish, it lacks the resources to inspect more than a few percent of the fish entering the marketplace. It is safe to say that while the governments of China and the U.S. regulate the safety and environmental impacts of farmed fish, for whatever reasons the regulation does not effectively result in raising the bar to encourage fish farmers to engage in practices that are safer and cleaner. Because aquaculture depends on clean water yet at the same time causes high levels of water pollution, without regulation, it will ultimately destroy the very conditions of its productive operation. Frankly, at the culmination of this research into the regulation of aquaculture, I was shocked at the discrepancy between the apparent care and regulation on the part of government, and the inability to provide the desired outcomes—safe food, produced without extreme environmental harm.

Having completed the preliminary research, I traveled to China for the last weeks of December, 2013. Upon our arrival in Beijing, Adam Moser, Assistant Director of the U.S-China Partnership for Environmental Law, greeted us at the airport and brought us to our hotel, directly across the street from the Chinese University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). The first evening, I experienced an initial taste of China that I will never forget—a spicy Sichuan-style hotpot, complete with organ meats and varieties of mushrooms and greens that defied translation. Observing the enthusiastic dining all around the busy restaurant, I felt comforted by the central, noble place of good food within a country that at the same time struggled to produce so much food in a safer and more environmentally responsible manner. I also resolved to fully appreciate food in China by eating everything—even unfamiliar and extremely spicy foods. (In full disclosure, I had “trained” myself on chili peppers for nearly two months before the trip—an effort that paid off in dividends.

The following morning, I finally met Tingting. She is a postgraduate student at CUPL, studying environmental law. At the time, she was finishing her exams for the semester and interning with a judge at the Supreme People’s Court—the highest court in China. We had a lovely time getting to know each other, and it was enlightening and fun to discuss the differences between the legal systems in the U.S. and China. Tingting showed me around the CUPL, which is an interesting counterpart to Vermont Law School because, like VLS, it is a school entirely devoted to law and policy. Tingting and I focused our paper on consumer protection law, and we looked at the ways existing consumer protection law in China and the U.S. would regulate—and motivate—third-party certifications and seals of approval which would effectively raise the bar for safer and more ecological aquaculture.

For all our research on the topic of aquaculture and its regulation, Tingting and I had never seen a working fish farm. She arranged for a very special opportunity for both of us—a visit to a lab operated by the National Engineering Research Center for Freshwater Fisheries. Director Wang, an official from the administrative section of the Research Center, drove us to the warm-water lab, which was over an hour away. During the drive—during which I was taking in the experience of Beijing traffic!–we discussed aquaculture in China, and Tingting translated as Director Wang explained the efforts taken by the Research Center to promote cleaner aquacultural practices. At the lab, we saw massive breeding tanks for ornamental fish as well as Nile tilapia, one of the varieties of farmed fish popularly consumed in the U.S.. Employees of the lab and Director Wang showed us the various systems they have developed for cleaning the water in recirculating systems, the technology they implement for monitoring water quality, and some (drained and frozen) outdoor ponds of the conventional “fill-and-drain” variety. Tingting’s advisor, Professor Hu, met us at the lab and we discussed our project with him. It was a rare experience to be shown this research facility, and in just a few hours, Tingting and I were able to see many aspects of the systems about which we had only read articles. It is one thing to read about a pond containing 200,000 fish; it is another matter to actually see one, and I was grateful for the experience.

After the visit, Professor Hu invited Director Wang, Tingting, and I for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Professor Hu cautiously inquired if I was a vegetarian or had other eating restrictions and I replied that I would eat anything. “Even very spicy?” he asked. “Especially very spicy!” I replied to his delight. We enjoyed dumplings, sweet fried squash coated in nuts, and the spiciest fish that I have ever eaten. Our conversation drifted from fish and water pollution to soil conservation. On the drive home, Director Wang pointed out a huge facility for indoor, winter growing of strawberries, subsidized by the government. I was struck once again by the cultural centrality of food, and by the scale and intensity of food production in China.

The trip also included other opportunities to hear perspectives on the state of environmental law in China, and to get feedback on my research from individuals on the ground in China. The research fellows visited the U.S. embassy and met with Phillip Gatins, who graciously offered feedback on our research. Another highlight was a dinner with Gillian Wong, an AP correspondent with an interest in food safety issues in China.

While the opportunity to meet Tingting in person and to develop our project further was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, I cherish a panorama of illuminating pictures of China: A grandmother bouncing a plump baby on her leg while she ate dimsum in a Guangzhou restaurant. An enormous, posh, and largely empty shopping mall in Beijing. The hazy smog of Beijing. The numbing spices of food on Ghost Street in Beijing; the stacks of dumpling steamers in Guangzhou.  Aged citizens playing pingpong in a small park only a few blocks away from where the Emperors sat on thrones in the Forbidden City.  The Emperors’ collection of exotic clocks. Beautiful, efficient, clean subways. The warmhearted conversation among students, professors, and environmental lawyers at a dinner; duck heads and pungent soup and so much laughter. The enthusiasm of the students and professors at CUPL and at Sun Yat-sen University (in Guangzhou), the heartfelt camaraderie at the end-of-year party at the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims in Beijing, and the engaged work of Tingting and the other research partners will remind me of the human beings whose efforts are striving to make improvements in the midst of economic forces that drive environmental impacts in China.

Read Full Post »

This post is from Heather Croshaw, a rising 3L at Vermont Law School (VLS). This summer she interned with WWF in Hong Kong. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of WWF or VLS. 

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how the poor air quality and visibility in Hong Kong marred the beautiful skyline and affected the quality of life for residents. Well, the air pollution got a lot worse, which I witnessed right before Typhoon Vicente and then again for Tropical Cyclones Damrey, Saola and Haikui. About a whole week passed with smog as the norm, as the typhoons churned out in the Pacific Ocean. While typhoons and poor air quality are not directly connected, the thick, heavy smog signals the approach of a tropical cyclone, as the air is trapped.

My first glimpse of how poor the visibility can get occurred right before Typhoon Vicente struck Hong Kong, one of the most intense typhoons in 13 years. I was amazed at how bad the visibility had degraded. On way to Victoria Harbor for a ferry trip, I spoke with the taxi driver about the poor visibility. He said this always happens before a typhoon (I didn’t even know one was approaching at the time!). I could barely see Victoria Peak from the Harbor. The smog created an eerie haze around Hong Kong.

A few days later, the severe Typhoon Vicente struck Hong Kong, even making international press as Hong Kong Observatory issued the typhoon signal 10 for the first time since 1999 and the farthest tropical cyclone since 1946.

Although the storm landed south of Macau (or 69 miles south of Hong Kong), the typhoon did disrupt Hong Kong with damaging winds and drenching rainstorms, but fortunately no one was killed. Typhoon Vicente even delayed the opening of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. After the storm passed, the air quality and visibility improved.

Interestingly, the summer in Hong Kong usually produces more brilliant “blue sky days than during other parts of the year,” due to winds blowing from the south. This weather pattern basically means that the air pollution is pushed out of the city, leaving the air seemingly cleaner than during other parts of the year. The absence of smog, however, does not equal clean air.

Meanwhile, another three tropical cyclones that passed north of Taiwan changed the weather patterns again. While Hong Kong did not feel the direct effects of the storm, the presence of the typhoon trapped the air pollution within Hong Kong. The smog had no where to go but sit in the downtown area rather than move out to sea. As a result, Hong Kong experienced the worst air pollution in two years, not since the dust storms struck the city in March 2010 and the worst since 1999, when the government began to monitor air quality. The air pollution indices topped 200, topping at 212 in Central.

The main causes of air pollution originate from regional sources in Guangdong Province (factories and coal-fired power plants in China) and local sources (coal-fired power plants and automobile exhausts, particularly from diesel engines). According to ECA International, Hong Kong has the third worst air pollution behind Beijing and New Delhi, and ranks world-wide with along with Santiago, Mexico City and Cairo for poor air quality. Additionally, Hong Kong has the second-worst road-side air pollution in China—only Urumqi in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region outranks Hong Kong. Despite Hong Kong being the third most livable city in Asia, international businesses and financial centers frequently cite the worsening air pollution as a block to not only recruiting talent, but also keeping current employees in Hong Kong. Singapore has become the more desired work location with its clean air and easy living conditions.

The poor visibility and air quality does lead to an increase in (non-accidental) deaths, according to researchers at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health. The concentration of PM 2.5 and 10, as well as NOx, combined with the humidity and heat (temperatures were 30º C), creates a hazardous combination.

The month of July experienced only 12 “clear days,” and so far 47 days out of 219 days have had pollution levels under WHO standards. As I am writing this post, the sky is somewhat blue, but the Hedley Environmental Index measures the air quality as “very dangerous,” meaning that the short-term measurements exceed the WHO annual interim target level 1 for roadside and roof-top pollutants (PM 2.5 and 10) and will have an impact on public health.

The Hong Kong Government knows this air quality is a problem, and has tightened air pollution standards. However, many of Hong Kong’s green groups believe these modest standards are not enough to improve the environment. Tellingly, the Hong Kong Government has not tightened their air quality standards in 25 years.

The impact of tropical cyclones on air quality demonstrates how Hong Kong relies on favorable weather to keep out the smog. Even when the storms passed, unfortunately the air pollution will not disappear without significant overhaul to local emission regulations for automobiles (i.e. old diesel buses) and fossil-fuel power plants.  The clearly visible air pollution and its physical effects on residents at least raise the awareness that Hong Kong has to take action to improve air quality. Not only will Hong Kong experience a “brain drain,” but also the long-term health of its citizens will be significantly impacted.  In this case, cleaning up the air pollution not only makes sense for environmental protection, but also for the financial and public health of Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient (東方之珠).

Read Full Post »

This post is from Heather Croshaw, a rising 3L at Vermont Law School (VLS) and currently interning at WWF in Hong Kong. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of WWF or VLS. 

This summer I decided to partake in an internship in Hong Kong at World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to work in their Climate Change program.

I had a few days to explore the Hong Kong area before beginning work. Considering the amount of activities and sites in Hong Kong, I decided to do some of the real touristy ones first. One particularly popular activity sits directly outside WWF’s Central office, the Victoria Peak Tram, or just known as the Peak Tram.

The Peak Tram services millions of tourists each year, who clamor to witness the famous Hong Kong city view from the summit (well, almost the summit) of Victoria Peak. The tram climbs at a very steep incline, where the buildings look practically sideways. Not a fan of heights, I just kept looking up and not down!

Once the tram reached the top, the views were indeed impressive. The observation deck was especially wonderful for seeing the different sides of the island. While it was a warm day (28 or 29 C), a slight haze marred the picturesque cityscape. The smog was ruing the impressive view of the cityscape. Indeed, air pollution is a problem in Hong Kong SAR and the Pearl River Delta region.

After I left the observation tower, I wandered along to another viewing point where a bunch of tourists gathered. After taking in the view for a few minutes, a young woman asked for my attention. She asked me if I wanted to take a survey. I agreed. After I glanced at the survey, I realized that it was about air pollution and the city skyline. As an environmentalist, I understand more about air pollution than the average layperson- I’d like to think- especially on causes of air pollution, regulatory controls, policy options and legal duties to protect clean air and the right to health. I was feeling in my element.

The student held up 5 pictures of Hong Kong’s skyline and asked me to compare the picture to today’s view. It was definitely smoggy compared to 3 other pictures, but two other pictures were worse, which actually demonstrated how bad the air pollution can be in Hong Kong.

The survey asked questions about the causes of air pollution and possible health effects; rankings on what kinds of natural hazards are “worse” than others; whether people would be willing to change behavior (i.e. drive less); and how much money would people be willing to pay to clean the air. I found it hard to answer some questions, especially about ranking the natural disasters. Do I think Climate Change is the number one priority or today’s air pollution or water contamination? What about maintaining affordable electricity while implementing SOx, NOx, VOCs, PPMs and CO2 emission controls? How much would I be willing to pay to clean the air?

After I completed the survey, I briefly told her about my professional background, as a way to connect as people interested in protecting the environment. I had a nice discussion with the environmental science student from University of Hong Kong about her studies and what she hopes to do after school. She finishes her university degree in August. I wished her luck.

Based on background reading, I knew that air pollution was particularly problematic in China as well as in Hong Kong. What I didn’t know was that Hong Kong’s air pollution violated WHO standards.

In 2011, Hong Kong only had 59 clear days in which all 5 categories of air pollutants (NO2, PM10, SO2, O3 and PM2.5) satisfied the WHO short-term air quality guidelines (AQGs).

Before, Hong Kong could blame development and uncontrolled air pollution in China. When the wind blows from the mainland, pollution definitely settles into Hong Kong’s city area. Power plants, industry, buildings and motorized vehicles emit the majority of emissions causing the air pollution. However, Hong Kong cannot blame mainland China for all the air pollution, as Hong Kong’s motorized vehicles and power plants emit a significant amount of pollution. Thus, Hong Kong suffers both local and regional air pollution in the Pearl River Delta (not to mention water pollution as well).

So, how does Hong Kong fix the air pollution? They have an Air Pollution Ordinance, but the law has to go further. The policy-making arena has made some progress. In 2012, the Hong Kong Government finally updated their Air Quality Objectives for the first time since 1987, but actually offered little improvement.

Policy-makers face tough choices as they have to deal with the short term versus long term issues, while satisfying their constituents.

Protecting the environment does not have to be a hard choice though, which can be a difficult concept for some policymakers to understand.  Hong Kong faces similar policy decisions as in the U.S., where people claim that protecting the environment kills jobs and hurts economic growth.

Read Full Post »

This post is by Heather Croshaw, a second year law student at Vermont Law School and a joint-research project student with the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law for 2011-2012.  

Since September, Wang Ye and I had been skyping and written numerous emails for our Joint Research Project (JRP) on USA-China participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for Energy Security Cooperation. We had talked for countless hours, emailed questions and research, and drafted a paper and presentation. All of this work was in preparation for my penultimate trip to China, where I would visit his university, China University for Political Science and Law (CUPL) in Beijing.

Before December 23, 2011, I had never been to China. Sure, I read numerous books and National Geographics and travel books about China, including the history, philosophy, and the best tourist sites. However, being in China in person cannot compare.

Hong Kong

My fellow VLS travel companions arrived in Hong Kong on December 23rd. Despite being jet lagged, we ventured out into the city to experience the nightlife and grab a bite to eat. This included a rather amusing experience trying to eat some kind of noodle soup with chopsticks. The whole time I was pining for my spoon… My chopstick skills improved greatly by the end of the trip! Anyway, wandering through the busy night-market was quite a change from snowy, dark, cold Vermont. Eventually we wandered over to the famous Hong Kong Harbor, which was a sight to behold.


The next day we left Hong Kong for Guangzhou to begin our journey into Mainland China to Sun-Yat Sen University. We walked a lot, which made my feet sore for the first couple of days, basically exposing our sedentary life-style as law students! The campus was filled with historic buildings and many green spaces and trees. We wandered to the Pearl River, where we watched people play games and socialize. Professor Czarnezki showed us the local market, where the fruit stand amazed me with all the different varieties. Dragon fruit was particularly my favorite! As my JRP partner was not located at Sun-Yat Sen University, I met up with the other students to tour the city. However, we explored the Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum, known China’s version of the King Tut tomb discovery. Also, we walked through a city park, exploring the sites Yuexiu Park, which contains the Zhenhai Tower, a part of the Ming Dynasty City Wall, and scenic views of the city. Also, I tasted the local cuisine, from the local exotic fruits to spicy Sichuan hot pot to bubble tea.

On the last day in Guangzhou, the Vermont Law Students and students from Sun-Yat Sen University met on the school’s satellite campus for the JRP presentation.  After the presentation, we headed to the airport to begin part II of our JRP journey.


I didn’t know what to expect when we left Guangzhou for Beijing. I’ve read and heard so many stores about Beijing, that many pictures were painted in my mind. However, experiencing Beijing for the first time really brought all those stories to life and I added my own. Beijing is so full of history, stretching back thousands of years. As a native of a “young” country, accessing these famous historical sites maximizes my intellectual curiosity! Also, with China being such a diverse country, there was so much food to taste.

Upon our arrival, Wang Ye, and a few other JRP students meet the VLS contingency that evening at our hotel. After Skyping for so many months, it was nice to finally meet Wang Ye in person. As we had a presentation to give in a few days, my trip transformed from tourist to business. Wang Ye and I had places to go, a preparation to prepare, and people to interview!

The next morning, I met with Jason Tower from the American Friends Service Committee. Pertaining to Wang Ye and my topic, Jason and I discussed China’s foreign investments abroad and their impacts on local communities. Then, in the afternoon, I met up with Wang Ye to meet with Professor Che’Er from Peking University to discuss the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and implications for Chinese foreign investment abroad and domestically. Wang Ye and I gained valuable insights into China’s foreign direct investment, particularly in the extractive industries, and how even EITI can impact China’s domestic energy governance.

Over the next two days, Wang Ye and I worked on our paper and preparing for our presentation on US-China participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  On the third day, Wang Ye and I delivered our presentation at the CUPL in front of 20 students. We were both nervous, but overcame any butterflies to talk about our research. Of course, after the presentation was over, we felt like we had reached a milestone in our JRP.

With the presentation at CUPL, my business trip to China had closed and I returned to my tourist persona. As I mentioned earlier, I had never visited China before but had studied Chinese history and politics. Other VLS students and I wandered around the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the famous Pearl Market, and the Great Wall of China, to name a few examples. The view from the Great Wall was fantastic! Also, I got to know the Beijing Metro very well, which is very impressive for its efficiency and newness.


After a few extra days in Beijing, a few VLS students and I traveled from Beijing to Harbin to see the famous Harbin Ice Festival. The ice spectacle definitely lives up to the hype! So much work and creativity goes into designing the ice sculptures and castles and buildings. I had never seen anything like this ice festival before! However, it was very, very cold with negative 13 celcius temperatures at night. As we toured the ice festival, we took as many pictures are possible before our feet froze. It was worth it! Harbin ended up as one of my favorite places to visit, as a unique blend of Chinese and Russian cultures. I would like to visit this place again in the summer, as I imagine it is just a beautiful.

At last, my trip ended back in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong harbor at night is truly a sight to behold. I still cannot believe the number of shipping crates carefully stacked throughout the different ports! I wish I had more time to explore Hong Kong, as it is an amazing city, before I returned to the States.

I cannot wait to return to Hong Kong this summer for my internship, as there is so much more to explore in the city. Also, I will try to return to Mainland China, as it captured my imagination and affection for its people, culture, food, and scenery. Hopefully, Wang Ye and I can meet up again soon, whether in China or in the United States!

Read Full Post »

This post is from Allison Cameron, a second year law student at VLS and a joint research project (JRP) student for 2011-2012 with the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law. The JRP students recently traveled to China to meet their research partners and further their projects. These posts will share the students’ experience on the research trip and provide an update on progress with the projects.

Luo Wei and I first met in August on Skype. We were about to embark on a year-long research project focused on hydropower development in Southwest China, in particular on the Nu (Salween) and Lancang (Mekong) Rivers, and how China’s environmental impact assessment law and related regulations impact this development. Luo Wei is a graduate student in Environmental Law at Renmin University of China School of Law. I am a J.D. Student at Vermont Law School. Luo Wei and I were selected to work together as part of Vermont Law School’s U.S.-China Joint Research Project (JRP).

During the fall semester, Luo Wei and I conducted research from our respective countries. At least once a week, we would share our findings either through email or Skype. While the ability to communicate using this technology was essential to the progress of our research, it was nothing compared to the opportunity provided by the China Program to travel to China and meet with our partners and their advisors in person, present our research to the students and faculty of Vermont Law School’s partner universities, and conduct interviews with professionals working in fields related to our research.

The six American JRP students traveled to Hong Kong the day after fall semester finals ended. The following day, we took the train to Guangzhou, where we were warmly met at the train station by students from Zhongshan University. During our time in Guangzhou, our classmate Sara and her partner, Wang Pianpian, worked furiously to put together their presentation. The rest of us fit in some sightseeing in Guangzhou, which had a pleasantly surprising amount of vegetation and green space for such a large city.

Shortly after Sara’s presentation, we flew to Beijing, where the remaining five JRP students still had to present our topics. Our first few days in Beijing were grueling. Since it was our first opportunity to meet our partners in person, it was also our first opportunity to really hash out our topics. Luo Wei and I conducted an interview with the Quaker International Representative for the Northeast Asia American Friends Service Committee. This organization is currently working on a project in Cambodia, using Chinese law as a model to help Cambodia develop environmental impact assessment legislation. We both appreciated the Representative’s balanced approach to our controversial and complex topic.

In both Guangzhou and Beijing, the Chinese and American JRP students also had the opportunity to meet with staff from an environmental division of the U.S. Consulate and Embassy. These meetings were fascinating and informative. This exceptional opportunity to meet with and hear the perspectives of professionals who work in the field on some of our research issues in China was invaluable.

Now, Luo Wei and I are moving into the next phase of our research process. Because Vermont Law School recently created a partnership with Renmin University, I have the rare opportunity to spend this semester in China working side by side with Luo Wei. We plan to conduct more interviews and work together closely to complete our paper. To close our year together, Luo Wei will come to Vermont Law School in the summer to take classes. Luo Wei and I are both grateful to the China Program for this extremely exceptional exchange experience.

Previous posts from Allison and Lou Wei concerning the Myitsone Dam in Myanmar can be found here.

Read Full Post »

This post is from Sara Imperiale, a second year law student at VLS and a joint research project (JRP) student for 2011-2012 with the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law. The JRP students recently traveled to China to meet their research partners and further their projects. These posts will share the students’ experiences on the research trip and provide an update on progress with the projects.

As I waded through websites and information packets from law schools touting their specialized environmental programs in the fall of 2009, trying to finalize my decisions about where to apply, one opportunity in particular made Vermont Law School (VLS) stand out.  This opportunity came in the form of the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law’s “joint research projects” (JRPs).  I had previous experience meshing time abroad with writing policy papers, and after spending time in Geneva, rural Bangladesh, and Copenhagen for the United Nation’s 15th annual climate change conference (UNFCCC COP15), I found the type of work that would cement my decision to attend law school: environmental justice.

In spite of my earlier experiences, I had never written a comparative paper with a partner living in the country of comparison.  The JRP program presented such a unique opportunity to not only study a country that has become a major player in environmental law, but to really understand it from the perspective of my equal on the other side of the world.  Knowing I needed to make this opportunity a part of my law school experience, I applied and was accepted during the spring of 2011.  Shortly thereafter, I was partnered with Wang Pianpian, a student at Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) in Guangzhou, based on our common interest in exploring the role of public participation and environmental justice in waste incineration facility siting decisions.

As one of the few JRP participants who had no previous experience studying or spending time in China, my partner graciously let me use a significant portion of the fall semester getting a grasp on the relevant Chinese law and the current state of affairs in the areas where the waste incineration facilities are being proposed and built.  Relying entirely on email and Skype, Pianpian and I developed a working outline of the paper, began to amass research, and set out on the writing process.  In spite of my partner’s incredible spoken English, we encountered the inevitable misunderstandings associated with this type of work, and we both looked forward to our face-to-face meeting at the end of the semester to sort through these challenges.

Along with several other JRP colleagues, I flew into Hong Kong the evening of December 23rd and arrived in Guangzhou by train on the afternoon of the 24th where our group was greeted by my partner and other students from SYSU.  I was the only VLS student partnered with a Chinese student in Guangzhou; everyone else would be meeting up with their JRP partners at their respective universities in Beijing later in the week when our VLS group traveled north.

The SYSU campus was quite unlike any of my own U.S. university experiences, attending first a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania and then coming to even smaller VLS.  Noticeably greener than anything I had or would end up seeing during my three weeks in the country, the campus met Professor Jason Czarnezski’s description as an oasis in the middle of urban China.  Although disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to spend much time exploring Guangzhou as my classmates, I feel lucky to have been able to experience the campus from a student perspective – using its café spaces to work and dining in its canteens with Pianpian.

After a big group dinner on campus the night of the 24th hosted by Professor Czarnezki and his family, Pianpian and I got to work preparing our presentation set to be given the afternoon of the 27th at SYSU School of Law.  The next day we were scheduled to meet with Pianpian’s advisor, and so we spent the morning preparing and editing a bilingual PowerPoint presentation on our paper as we had been writing it.  It became apparent during our afternoon meeting with Li Zhiping, Pianpian’s advisor, and Adam Moser from the US-China Partnership that there had been some misunderstanding about the core definition of “participation” in our paper.  Up until that point, I had been under the impression that we were broadly considering “public participation” while Li Zhiping stressed the importance of moving beyond public to the new realm of “community participation.”

Although Pianpian assured me otherwise, I was concerned her advisor would not receive our presentation well if we didn’t find a way to incorporate her recommendations and expectations on the 27th.  Both of us, tired from a long day and the prospect of reworking our presentation, opted for dinner at one of the SYSU canteens and calling it an early night in order to start fresh the next morning.

The weather on the 26th supported our renewed enthusiasm for the project as we spent the morning and afternoon enjoying the sunny warm weather working outside at a café on campus.  After having spent two days together we found ourselves in a comfortable working groove as we switched back and forth, sharing the tasks of reading, writing, and eating.  That afternoon we visited the Urban Planning Office for an interview to help with our project’s research.

Unfortunately, the representative did not speak English but Pianpian, as always, stepped in to help translate and ensure that I could participate effectively.  Our interviewee shed light on the factors that go into shaping facility siting decisions, indicating that his office seeks to strike a cost-benefit balance between the plans set forth by different levels of government, the societal costs associated with potential protests, the expense of transporting waste from urban to rural areas, and the opinions of the community along with other information retrieved from the EIA.

After a dim sum breakfast with guests Gloria Ma and Dan Cederberg from the U.S. Consulate Environmental Office, the JRP students traveled to SYSU School of Law located in the incredibly oversized university “mega center,” home to 11 Chinese universities.  After a tour of the law school and still full from the incredible process of our dim sum breakfast, we were presented with lunch in one of the law school’s conference rooms, and then it was time for Pianpian and I to give our presentation.  It prompted questions from both students and professors, Chinese and U.S. alike, and that process helped Pianpian and I clarify our own approach to the subject and provided new outlets for us to consider as we move forward this semester.

Ultimately through this process, our project has come to focus on first defining community, whether that be geographically, economically, or through common interests, and then considering the platforms available to differently situated communities to participate in the process of site selection for the incineration facilities.  This comes in the context of the general trend that wealthier communities tend to become involved after the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is complete, but prior to construction of the facility, often defining victory as preventing the facility from being built.  Poorer communities, on the other hand, tend to become involved in questioning a facility’s placement only after it’s been built and health effects are felt which can be tied, at least theoretically, to the nearby facility, often defining victory as being repaid for injuries.  Recognizing this pattern has similarly arisen in the United States, the paper will utilize a comparative method to determine what dictates success for different types of communities.  The paper will also seek to determine whether there’s a way to circumvent this pattern, which raises a host of environmental justice implications, to ultimately define success across communities by their ability to participate in an original and thoroughly completed EIA.

Shortly after our presentation, I said good-bye to Pianpian as the VLS students boarded the bus to head to the Guangzhou airport for our flight that evening to Beijing.  Having gotten my academic obligations out of the way during the first leg of the trip, I had the opportunity to spend some more time exploring areas of Beijing I would have never discovered on my own with Adam, the city’s resident and unofficial tour guide extraordinaire.  After my JRP colleagues gave their respective presentations at CUPL and Renmin University, I took the opportunity to spend some more time in the city with three other VLS students, eventually traveling to Harbin together to see the ice festival and ineffectively escape the conditions of a more typical Vermont winter.  I arrived back in Vermont on January 9th to start up the spring semester at VLS, and both Pianpian and I are looking forward to making big strides in our work for the VLS version of our presentation later this spring, and eventually for our completed project.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »