Eugene Weekly : News : 3.06.08

Enviros convene in Eugene this week

Carrie Dann

Sophia Rabliauskas
Cynthia McKinney

March in Eugene brings not only the hope of spring and blossoming bulbs; it brings environmentalists flocking to Eugene the way Canada geese fly north at the end of winter. Law students at the UO work for months to bring in a coterie of enviros of all sorts: lawyers, scientists, activists, media, politicos and usually a couple of conspiracy theorists. The gathering begins Thursday.

This 26th Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) bills itself as the “premier annual gathering for environmentalists in the world!” That’s not really an exaggeration. This year’s event brings luminaries from Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney to Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman as keynote speakers, and the regular panels feature the top minds in environmental law, policy and activism.

Because the FBI has been known to show up at the conference and because last year the Bureau of Land Management allegedly secretly recorded a video at one session, the conspiracy theorists usually have some material to work with right at the conference. It’s not unheard of for panel conveners to welcome both activists and FBI agents at the beginning of a session, and it’s not entirely tongue-in-cheek. (Classic PIELC hint: FBI agents are the ones in the shiny shoes.)

The event is open to the public, so drop by to hear speakers and panels. Event organizers encourage registration ($25) for panels because it helps pay to for next year’s conference, but it’s not mandatory. Organizers are also asking people traveling to the event to make a carbon offset donation.

If you go, don’t miss the tables set up in the lobby at the Law School. You can wander around for an hour or two sipping organic free-trade coffee from Café Mam and chatting up the folks from Great Old Broads for Wilderness or the nice people from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (“May we live long and die out”). You can meet, greet and sign up to volunteer for local environmental organizations and learn about the protests against the liquid natural gas line planned for Oregon.

But don’t expect PIELC to be a bunch of tree huggers preaching to the choir: Panels often feature debates from all sides of an issue. Native Peoples discuss controversial whaling practices with ardent animal rights activists, and representatives from the BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other government agencies debate with tree sitters and activists.

To check out PIELC for yourself, download the program from or just stop by the UO School of Law on the corner of 15th Avenue and Agate Street. Keynote speeches will take place at the Erb Memorial Union (EMU) on campus, with seating first come, first served.

A quick run-down on the keynoters:

Thursday March 6, 7 pm: William H. Rodgers Jr. is recognized as a founder of the environmental legal field. He has produced the first volume of a planned two volume work, Environmental Law in Indian Country and recently co-authored The Si’lailo Way: Salmon, Indians and Law on the Columbia River. Carrie Dann, a traditional Western Shoshone grandmother from northern Nevada, has been at the forefront of the Western Shoshone Nation’s struggle for land rights and sovereignty for more than 40 years.

Friday, March 7, 12:15 pm: Georgetown law professor Edith Brown Weiss is active in public international, environmental and water resources law. From 2003 to 2007, she served as chairperson of the Independent Inspection Panel of the World Bank, which addresses complaints related to environmentally and socially problematic World Bank projects. She has served as associate general counsel for the EPA. James Milkey is the assistant attorney general and chief of the Environmental Protection Division of the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General. He served as counsel of record in the landmark Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, which addressed the EPA’s refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Friday, March 7,7 pm: David Cobb was the Green Party nominee for president of the U.S. in 2004. He is a co-founder of the Green Institute, which is a “center for research and policy based on the global values of the Green movement: nonviolence, grassroots democracy, social justice and sustainability.” This year’s Green Party nominee for president, Cynthia McKinney, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-2003 and again from 2005-2007, representing Georgia’s 11th and 4th Districts. She introduced articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush in 2006 at the end of her congressional term and left the Democratic Party in 2007 to join the Green Party.

Saturday, March 8, noon: Sophia Rabliauskas is a leader of her Poplar River First Nation in the boreal region of Manitoba, Canada. She has worked for the past eight years to get interim protection for their two million acres of undisturbed forestland. She and other community members are currently focusing on securing permanent protection for their land.

Saturday, March 8, 7 pm: Jane Williams is the executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, a network of 70 local environmental justice groups working to protect communities from industrial pollutants. Williams has organized dozens of communities to successfully fight the construction of polluting facilities like incinerators, landfills, nuclear waste dumps and industrial plants.

Sunday, March 9, 12:15 pm: The Rewilding Institute’s executive director Dave Foreman is probably best known as co-founder of Earth First!, which advocates nonviolent direct action for the environment. His book, Rewilding North America, was published in 2004.