Speaking Regional Truth to Washington Power Over Federal Public Lands
19 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2018 Last revised: 29 Jan 2019
Date Written: July 24, 2018
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School, Professor (and former ELC Director) Richard Brooks delivered the Norman Williams Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Planning and the Law, entitled Speaking (Vermont) Truth to (Washington) Power. Like many of Professor Brooks’ works, this lecture explored common scholarly themes of federalism, sustainability, land use, and environmental activism, as well as topics unique to his work, including legal value assessments, environmental justice, social justice, and the nature of legal and institutional change. After exploring several examples of the inclusive, progressive nature of Vermont’s laws, Professor Brooks concluded that Vermont’s power to effect change on a national scale was somewhat disproportionate to its size (both geographically and based on population) and arose out of Vermont’s community-focused, inclusive, and progressive legal and social values. Brooks’ Williams Lecture relates in several ways to my own scholarship addressing the national crisis unfolding on federal public lands, driven by the current Administration’s zeal for energy development, mining, and unraveling the protections set in place by previous administrations. From the opening of coastal zones throughout the nation to offshore drilling to the President’s reduction of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the Trump Administration has charted a course nearly reminiscent of the disposal era of the late nineteenth century, stopping just short of outright transfers of public lands into private and state hands. This is a crisis not only because of the unprecedented speed and breadth of the Department of Interior’s efforts to erode environmental and natural resources protection measures implemented by previous administrations, but because of the permanence of some of these actions, inflicted on landscapes and ecosystems that might not ever be able to recover. Brooks’ Williams Lecture reflects similar themes in mid-nineteenth century Vermont, when industry ravaged the state’s natural resources (and particularly, its forests), leaving a denuded shell of the state’s pre-colonial natural glory, and contains an obvious parallel between that period of Vermont’s history and the present circumstances facing western public lands. This article explores Brooks' theme of speaking local truth to national power west of the 100th meridian, in the public lands states. I have organized this tribute in two parts: (1) an explanation of the Brooks principle of speaking local environmental truth to national power and (2) an application of this principle to the western public lands states.
Note: This article is part of a festschrift honoring the scholarship of Professor Emeritus Richard O. Brooks.
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