Earth Day is an annual event that focuses on environmental issues. April 22, 2022 marked the observance of the 52nd Earth Day. This day challenges people and governments to establish protocols to improve the earth by reducing human impact. The Earth Day theme for 2022 was “Invest in Our Planet.”
Kim Delfino, an adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law and the President and Founder of Earth Advocacy, spoke with Clémence Kucera, the Assistant Dean for Graduate, Online, and International Programs, for an Earth Day webinar. Their conversation highlighted ways that McGeorge’s online MSL degrees in Water and Environmental Law and Government Law and Policy can contribute to making tomorrow a better place.
About Professor Kim Delfino
Professor Delfino is a 1993 graduate of McGeorge School of Law. She began her practice as an attorney in Washington, D.C. at Meyer & Glitzenstein. For almost four years, she represented environmental organizations focusing on the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act. She then moved away from litigation and worked with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) as their conservation advocate.
After several years, Professor Delfino returned to California and worked as the program director for the California office of Defenders of Wildlife. She later started her own advocacy firm, Earth Advocacy, where she is a consultant for nonprofit environmental organizations and foundations. She represents organizations in the state legislature and helps foundations with strategy and policy over the long term.
Environmental Careers That Do Not Require a JD
Although Professor Delfino started her law practice in litigation, she emphasized that the work she is currently doing does not require a Juris Doctor degree (JD). However, this does not mean that knowledge of the law is unimportant or unhelpful – quite the opposite is true. There are several career paths in environmental work that do not require a JD, but absolutely benefit from having a legal background. For example, Professor Delfino’s legal knowledge helps her write laws (statutes) that she then seeks to have enacted by working with the legislature. Her legal knowledge also helps her understand how laws and policies come together in practice.
Some careers that benefit from legal expertise, but do not require a JD, include:
- Environmental Policy Advocate
- Environmental Consultant
- Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Analyst
- Public Information Officer
- Land Use Planner
- Public Agency and Legislative Staff
- Policy Advisor
- Environmental Policy Specialist
The state legislature also offers several opportunities on committees, agencies, and boards where a foundation in law is beneficial for those working with the branch of government enacting law. Conservation organizations and environmental nonprofits have positions where a legal background would also be an asset, as do state and local agencies. This is especially true in California, where environmental protection is greatly valued, and many policies are tested at the state level before moving to the national level.
How a Legal Background Helps with Environmental Work
In the state legislature, having a legal background helps in understanding how laws are made. It provides an awareness of the specific meaning of specialized terms, and how they should be used, whether in litigation, at the legislature, or working with agencies or the public. This knowledge helps to guide language when drafting a bill, so that the bill is clear and precise.
There are many statutes and laws that govern complex environmental issues pertaining to water, air, and land. It is important to comprehend how the statutes that affect each issue work together. Earning a master’s degree in Water and Environmental Law will strengthen your knowledge base while showing others in the field that you have valuable insights and can design policy initiatives that succeed.
A legal background also helps with interpreting the numerous rules and regulations established by local agencies, and state and federal administrations. You need to know what actions are required by the regulations, and why the requirements exist. Knowing how regulations affect the water or environmental sector where you work is essential. Understanding how the legal framework intersects with business and public agencies is also critical in environmental work.
By now, it should be clear that a legal background is incredibly helpful in this field. However, if not a JD, then what? How does someone interested in a well-rounded approach to environmental careers get this knowledge? Let’s look at two options.
McGeorge’s MSL in Water & Environmental Law Program
The Master of Science in Law, Water and Environmental Law program covers the legal principles of critical environmental and water issues. The program is taught by experts in the fields of water and environmental law, who are focused on developing and changing policies in both areas.
A unique feature of the program is that McGeorge is one of very few law schools that emphasizes water resources law and offers a legal degree for non-lawyers. Some of the topics covered include surface and groundwater rights, drought management, tribal rights, rights for federal lands, reasonable use, waste, the public trust doctrine, and water storage projects.
The Environmental Law courses focus on air pollution, solid waste management, fish and wildlife resources, environmental impact analysis, and related topics, with particular attention to common law doctrines and public rights.
Professor Delfino teaches Environmental Law in McGeorge’s MSL in Water & Environmental Law program. Her policy expertise is in state and federal endangered species, land use planning, water, and other natural resource laws.
The course focuses on federal law by providing an overview of the most prominent environmental laws, such as:
- CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act)
- National Environmental Policy Act
- Administrative Procedure Act
- Clean Water Act
- Clean Air Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Environmental citizen suits
- Climate change
The course focuses on how these laws work and the court cases that interpret different provisions within the laws. Students are given the opportunity to understand how the laws are applied in a real-world setting. Delfino’s Environmental Law course has a group project that poses important questions to the students. They are asked to devise strategies to accomplish an environmental goal and how different sectors might respond to those strategies. The project pulls students into actual environmental legal situations and makes them look at all the parties affected.
Understanding these laws and how they are enforced prepares students to influence new laws, policies, and regulations governing water and environmental issues.
To learn more about Professor Delfino’s course, listen to the webinar.
The Online Master of Science in Law Program at McGeorge
McGeorge’s online MSL program allows students to build marketable expertise in government law, water resources law, or environmental law. The courses are guided by expert faculty chosen for their outstanding teaching and depth of knowledge in their fields.
The courses in the MSL program emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations and want to further their education and advance their careers.
For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916.739.7019.