Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

University of Oregon Law School - March 5 to 8, 2015 (most recent PIELC)

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PIELC states that up to 3,000 people attend the conference. But recent PIELCs have had smaller audiences. Perhaps PIELC has peaked, and new holistic approaches for the conference — and the environmental movement — are needed for broader public participation.
— Mark Robinowitz

David Brower’s Legacy

David Brower, one of the main environ-mentalists of the 20th century, was a speaker at PIELC for many years. In 2000, at his final PIELC appearance, he said that environmentalism has merely slowed down the rate that things got worse and that wasn't good enough for our survival.
Brower helped expand the Sierra Club from a modest hiking club into a powerful force for environmental protection. After years of service, the Club kicked him out, his effectiveness was not universally welcomed.
Brower's last act on his deathbed was to vote for Nader for President, although he didn't live to see the theft of the election.

“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.”
— David Brower

Greenwash is Sustain-a-bull

Governor Kitzhaber’s resignation is an opportunity to look closer at greenwashing — false claims of environmental protection.  Cylvia Hayes was an energy consultant allegedly promoting green power, yet it was more of a get-rich-quick scam than a serious effort to mitigate fossil fuel depletion and climate change.  Hayes and Kitzhaber knew how to speak green(wash) while pushing highway expansions, clearcuts, incinerators and other toxic practices.
It’s likely that the new Governor, Brown, will not be truly green.  As Secretary of State, she was on the State Lands Board along with Kitzhaber where they voted to sell state forest lands to timber companies.

Helicopter Herbicide Sprays: Regulate or Ban?

For four decades, downwinder communities have tried to stop helicopter spraying of herbicides over clearcuts. Two bills in the Oregon legislature address this.
A bill promoted by Beyond Toxics and other groups would require better buffers for these sprays, although helicopter rotors can blow the poison for miles and the State Dept. of Forestry rarely enforces existing regulations. It also would require record keeping of the spraying.
After some downwinders complained that this bill would not prevent poisoning, a second bill was introduced that would ban aerial spraying — House Bill 3123.
Banning toxic abuses has been more successful for protecting public health than regulations. Air pollution from lead was reduced by banning it as a gasoline additive, not by permits to permit pollution.

Clearcutting the Climate

“Clearcutting the Climate” was a conference held in Eugene, Oregon in January 2008 co-organized by Josh Schlossberg, Shannon Wilson, Samantha Chirillo, and Mark Robinowitz. We brought together forest scientists and climate experts to discuss deforestation. An archive of videos is at
Slowing climate change would need to include bans on clearcutting and allowing tree plantations to grow back into forests. Deforestation not only emits carbon and methane, it also disrupts rainfall patterns.

Democrats vs. Forests

In 2014, Senator Wyden and other Democrats passed a rider that virtually eliminates safeguards on 45 million acres of National Forests, without opposition from environmental NGOs. Now they are pushing S.132 to increase BLM logging.



billboard sponsored by Eco Advocates Northwest, along Interstate 5

Freeway Fighters Bypassed

PIELC has repeatedly rejected panel proposals to discuss how to use federal transportation law to stop highway expansions. Instead, this year, there is a panel on “Funding Sustainable Transportation” with Karmen Fore, Governor Brown’s highway advisor, Travis Brouwer, ODOT’s spokesperson, and a road planner from the City of Eugene.
ODOT is planning over $18 billion in highway widenings and new bypasses. These expansions are ignored by Oregon environmental groups. Two new bypasses started construction in 2013: Newberg -Dundee Bypass through farmland and Sunrise highway in Clackamas County.
peak trafficThis writer did the technical work that resulted in “No Build” for the West Eugene Porkway, a bypass planned through the West Eugene Wetlands nature preserve. But this work was apparently not worthy of a PIELC panel to discuss highway laws.
Federal law requires federally funded highways to plan for traffic two decades in the future. If Peak Energy and Peak Traffic were included, this would negate the “purpose and need” for new bypasses and highway widenings. Nationally, highway expansion plans exceed a trillion dollars. Details:


City of Eugene: Carbon Neutral Highway Widening

In 2014, the City of Eugene passed a law declaring the City will become “carbon neutral.” This was done in response to pressure from Our Children’s Trust and was cheered by environmentalists. It sounds great unless you look at the details.
The City’s law requires purchase of “carbon credits” to supposedly offset pollution. The City plans to continue highway widening, overdevelopment and paving farmland. These plans include widening Beltline highway to 11 lanes. Giving public funds to consultants cannot offset this pollution. A serious examination of carbon credits is at and a satire is at Details on the City’s law at

100% renewable? Code for “energy depletion”

Many environmental groups advocate for “100% renewable” energy, but without mention that fossil fuels are more energy dense than the “alternatives.” This also distracts from the math of peak energy, since we will all reduce our carbon footprint as the oil, coal and unnatural gas deplete.
After using solar PV panels for nearly a quarter century, I’ve concluded the most important response to energy overshoot would be to relocalize food production since solar does not power food delivery trucks.

Keystone and XL Pipelines

While protests have focused on the Keystone XL pipeline segment, the rest of the Keystone project has been approved by the Obama administration and built, without much public awareness.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Pipeline, which powers motors in the Northwest, continues to decline toward “low flow” shutdown.
Discussion about tar sands pipelines ignore how it is “scraping the bottom of the barrel” now that the easier to get oil is mostly used up. Welcome to Peak Oil.

Import - Export - Import

Proposals to “export” oil, natural gas and coal through Northwest ports are based on the lie that there is so much fossil fuel that we can export vast amounts to Asia.
In reality, we import nearly half our oil, conventional nat. gas is in sharp decline, coal has peaked and fracking is a short term bubble that is near or at its peak.
The best work debunking these false “export” claims has been done by Post Carbon Institute, Fracking is toxic but the other half of the story is exaggerated estimates of supply.

keystone map (photos of Keystone’s southern part, opened January 2014)
Obama's Veto of Keystone XL Bittersweet for Texans Forced to Allow the Pipeline on Their Land


The Band-Aid Wing of the Green Growth Economy
Garden Variety Environmentalism

“The environmental movement needs shaming at this point.”
– Denise Boggs


It was 60+ degrees and sunny – had been for weeks – in western Oregon, as I arrived in Eugene for the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon Law School – the planet’s oldest such conference. The conference, attended by over 3000 attorneys, activists, wonks and government officials, is put on by law students at the UofO. Other students from other top environmental law schools (Lewis and Clark, Vermont Law …) also pitch in organizing and moderating panel discussions. The organizers did a remarkable job juggling speakers, attendees and all the little things necessary.

While suffering from a bigger than usual allergy attack brought on by many types of trees and flowering plants budding out at the same time; I, as usual, perused the conference brochure for panels and Keynote addresses that would take on the big eco-threats of the day.

Out of over 200 panel presentations and twelve Keynote speakers, there were 1) three panels on citizen activism (two at the same time); 2) one panel on Consumption; 3) one panel on Population; 4) one on the “false solution” of “Green” Energy;…and NONE at all on Biomass/Biofuels! Not at all promising.

The first sign that PIELC was headed down the rabbit hole was the Fund for Wild Nature’s panel presenting the Grassroots Activist of the Year Award. A grand total of five people attended as Arlene Montgomery was honored. Us five heard inspiring tales of how she and the two other women panelists have carried on with great success against all odds and little money.

I found it quite an irony that the award was presented by Doug Bevington, author of the “Rebirth of Environmentalism,” in which he wrote that the Center for Biological Diversity was the model for grassroots activism in the 21st Century. No one from the high-budget, big green litigation shop was there at the grassroots panel, though CBD staffers dominated the conference overall, appearing on five times as many panels as any other group. CBD has perfected the suing to get endangered species listings and garnering millions in Attorneys Fees in the process. Yet, rarely is there any critical habitat set aside in these listing victories – rendering them hollow, at best.

And, with the abject failure of the Clinton Option 9 Northwest Forest Plan to save the Northern Spotted Owl, there is deafening silence from CBD and the rest of the professional Endangered Species listings camp on an overdue Upgrade Petition for the owls, as Endangered, rather than the current more mild Threatened Status would result in real set asides – likely ALL old growth habitat remaining (8% of original, at best), if not all national forest lands in owl habitat – and the funders and Democrats will have none of that. The owls have no chance.

In a way, Bevington sadly was right. CBD is a new model, not of grassroots activism by any means; but of how to become an undemocratic, well-compensated big green outfit masquerading as a citizen membership group quicker than any predecessors.


Ultimately PIELC is a Job Fair for eco-law students. It is not the more activist entity is started out as. In those days, grassroots activists, like Cyril Scott and allies, identified an issue and set up resistance to it. When needed, legal teams were assembled to carry out the paperwork resistance. Now, it is inverted with high-paid pro-Democrat foundation agents dictating eco-policy and even what issues are on the radar and fundable. It has devolved into a multi-billion dollars per year growth industry run by big foundations (whose wealth came/comes mostly from energy production), lawyers and Democratic Party factotums. Many “green” groups have annual budgets in the tens of millions – The Nature Conservancy alone (one of the proponents of Biomass) has over $20 billion in assets while dogged grassroots activists show up whether paid or not, often getting undermined (or their efforts fund-raised upon) by the big greens.

The problem with having a “movement” lead by a professional class who collectively are a combination of General McClellans and Marshal Petains is that you get either hubris-ridden ineptness (paid to pull punches) or proud collaborators calling the shots and driving off the activists necessary to carry any issue to true victory. This top down mindset ultimately ends with: promoting, rather than opposing Biomass/Biofuel schemes; eliding consumption and population; failure to walk the talk… and planting milkweeds-in-a-garden being the only “victories.”

During the course of the job fair, some 800 species went extinct. The professional Green Growth industry is a dead end. It’s way past time to walk the talk. There are NO Law Jobs on a Dead Planet.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He was plaintiff in the first successful Ancient Forest lawsuit. He can be reached at


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