Environmental, Natural Resource, and Land Use Focus Area

The Environmental, Natural Resource, and Land Use Focus Area examines issues raised by increasing environmental pollution, by unchecked urban sprawl, by the depletion and contamination of natural resources, and by climate change. The object of the focus on the environment, natural resources, and land use is to develop a consciousness of the critical problems in these interrelated areas, and to immerse students in the fundamental ethical, legal, and policy perspectives that inform regulation and adjudication of disputes over environmental pollution and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. To this end, courses consider law and policy initiatives by federal, state, and local agencies; by tribes; and by international entities.

Although these courses on the environment, natural resources, and land use constitute one focus area, the curriculum is organized so that students may emphasize one of the three aspects of the program. Students are required to take the foundational courses -- Administrative Law, Environmental Law Fundamentals, and Land Use Planning -- but may concentrate on one of the three curricular directions through intensive study of environmental law, natural resources law, or land use law. In each case, students may undertake this work through a variety of courses, seminars, clinical experiences, and independent research projects.

An example of the interrelationship between the courses is illustrated by the following sequence, one of several possible combinations: Environmental Law Fundamentals introduces, among many other topics, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and its environmental-impact statement requirement. The Environmental Law NEPA/SEPA/ESA course studies both the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) and another area of environmental regulation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which provides for extraordinary environmental restrictions to preserve endangered species. All legislative schemes, particularly NEPA, are important components of the Land Use Planning course.

Students in the focus area must also take one of the following three skills courses: the Administrative Law Clinic, a Land Use/Environmental Law Externship, or the Environmental Law Drafting Lab.

In addition to the required foundational courses and the skills component courses, students who wish to complete this focus must take at least three courses from a list of electives.

Environmental Law Faculty

Career Faculty
Carmen Gonzalez Environmental Law Fundamentals, International Environmental Law
John Kirkwood Administrative Law
Henry McGee Environmental Law Fundamentals, Land Use Regulation, International Environmental Law
Catherine O'Neill* Environmental Justice Seminar, Natural Resources
Dean Spade Administrative Law

* Focus Area Chair

Adjunct Faculty
Tom Brubaker Municipal Law
Eric Laschever Climate Change; Envorinmental Law Fundamentals
Stephanie Nichols Alaska Natives and Environmental Law; Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act
Michael O'Connell Water Law
Clifford Villa Environmental Enforcement; Disaster Law

Focus Area Requirements

Plan the completion of your focus area with a focus area tracking form.

Course Descriptions

Foundational Courses (all courses required)

  • Administrative Law (3 cr)
  • Environmental Law Fundamentals (3 cr)
  • Land Use Regulation (3 cr)

Skills Component Courses (at least one course required)

  • Administrative Law Clinic (3 cr)
  • Land Use/Environmental Law Externship (3-4 cr)

Elective Courses (at least three courses required)

  • Alaska Natives and Environmental Law (4 cr)
  • Climate Change (2 cr)
  • Environmental Enforcement (2 cr)
  • Environmental Justice Seminar (2 cr)
  • Environmental Law: Growth Management Act (3 cr)
  • International Environmental Law (3 cr)
  • Municipal Law (3 cr)
  • Natural Resources (3 cr)
  • Water Law (3 cr)

Environmental Law Co-Curricular and Enrichment Opportunities

Externship Opportunities

Externships are law-related placements outside the law school, where students receive academic credit for performing legal work for an agency or court under the supervision of an on-site supervising attorney or judge. A number of outstanding part-time externships are available in the environmental, natural resource, and land use fields, including externships with the Ecology Division of the Attorney General’s Office, EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund, Central Puget Sound Growth Management Board, Land Use and Environmental Divisions of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Seattle Housing Authority, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Environmental Council, and the Center for International Environmental Law in Geneva, Switzerland, among others. Students interested in pursuing an environmental, natural resource, or land use related externship should visit the Externship Program TWEN site and meet with Professor Gillian Dutton, Externship Program Director.

Environmental Law Society (ELS)

In addition to externships, study in this area is enriched by numerous co-curricular opportunities, many of which are developed in conjunction with the Environmental Law Society (ELS). The ELS is a student organization comprised of students interested in the fields of environmental, natural resources, and land use law. The law school, ELS, and other organizations regularly sponsor speakers on current issues in the area, ranging from global climate change to local land use initiatives. ELS further contributes to intellectual exchange in this area by publishing the journal, Perspectives. This annual publication is a forum for scholarly work by students and faculty; it is entirely produced by students. ELS also sponsors the Mathew Henson Fellowship, a fellowship awarded each year to fund summer work in environmental law by a student committed to a career in the public interest.

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