ELAW Targets End to Coal Reliance

By Liz Mitchell

The demand for coal-based energy is relentless. To protect our climate and communities exposed to local air pollution, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) is working with advocates around the world on efforts to curb our dependence on coal. Campaigners in the US are successfully challenging plans for new coal-fired power plants, which is causing coal companies to turn to foreign markets. ELAW is providing critical support to grassroots lawyers around the world who are objecting to proposals for new coal facilities. Law students from the University of Oregon are a vital part of this work.

In many countries, coal-fired power plants are being fast-tracked without serious consideration of climate ramifications, impacts to air quality, or the true cost of coal. Some of these proposed facilities would use low- grade coal for fuel—escalating the impacts. Communities around the world are concerned about proposals for new power plants, destructive coal mines, coal transport facilities, and large-scale port facilities for coal import and export. These projects threaten the environment and many will displace communities that do not have secure land rights. 

ELAW supports a global network of lawyers defending the rights of local communities by providing legal and scientific information and training. Each year we are thankful for the good work of students from Oregon law who participate in the ELAW externship program.

ELAW externs gain practical skills and the opportunity to learn about legal issues from the point of view of an advocate. For many Oregon law students, the ELAW externship provides their first exposure to researching and applying international legal principles. Over the past year, Oregon law students have assisted in successful litigation to block construction of coal-fired power plants in India and to defend South Africans’ right to know about pollution emissions. Research provided by Oregon law students is being put to use in strengthening mining laws in Kenya, which faces new coal mining proposals; forcing regulators to more closely scrutinize plans for new coal- fired power plants in South Africa; and helping communities around the world that are being negatively affected by climate  environmental advocates.

Liz Mitchell, JD ’94, staff attorney, has been with ELAW since 2007, where she provides legal assistance to grassroots attorneys outside the US who are working to protect communities and the environment. Prior to joining ELAW, Liz was a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. She graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law with a concentration in environmental and natural resources law.