Alumnus Joe Mendelson Discusses Environmental Law

Jenna K.

On March 23, Colgate Sus-tainability and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity sponsored a lec-ture given by Policy Director of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Joe Mendelson ’88. The lecture was followed by a recep-tion at the Phi Delta Theta house open to anyone who wished to speak with Mendelson.

Focusing on issues of climate change and possible careers in environmental advocacy, Men-delson spoke about his own ex-periences within the field of environmental law and his role at the NWF. Working with the organization’s climate and energy program, Mendelson and his col-leagues discuss and implement solutions to global warming.

“The scale of what we need to do with renewable resources is monstrous,” Mendelson said.

Despite the enormous work to be done, Mendelson’s lecture was hopeful, as he encouraged students of the notion that if significant changes are made, disaster from climate change is not inevitable.

“I’m not saying this to say it’s all over,” Mendelson said.

“We’ve got to do something about it. It’s going to be the central issue for your generation…in whatever you do,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson, who majored in political science and internation-al studies, was always interested in law but did not get into envi-ronmental advocacy until later in life. After graduating from Col-gate in 1988, Mendelson moved on to get his J.D. from George Washington University.

“I sort of launched into this career,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson’s interest in the field of environmental law was solidi-fied after taking an International Studies and Politics class with the founder of Earth Day.

“We talked about how health, economy, everything centered around the environment,” Mendelson said.

Among other accomplishments, Mendelson was instrumental in the Massachusetts vs. Environmen-tal Protection Agency (EPA) case. In short, the case began as Mendel-son and others at the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) reviewed the Clean Air Act and decided to write a legal petition to the EPA, encouraging them to revise the act to include carbon di-oxide as a pollutant. After the EPA refused to answer, Mendelson filed two lawsuits in 2002 and 2003, and finally made more progress in 2005 when 13 states filed separate lawsuits against the agency. Not discouraged by the court’s split decision, Mendelson successfully petitioned for the case to go to the Supreme Court.

Hearing the court had ruled in his favor, Mendelson was shocked at the exposure the case had received.

“We thought maybe we would raise some political momentum to get EPA to act and maybe Congress,” Mendelson said.

The court’s ruling solidified Mendelson’s claim that all green-house gases were pollutants and that according to the clean air act, the EPA had to act.

“It’s still not enough,” Mendel-son said. “We still need more leg-islation, but we’re looking at one pathway to change.”

After the lecture, Mendelson talked to students at Phi Delta Theta about possible career op-tions, environmental issues and any other remaining questions they had.

“A Colgate education opens you up to a lot of different ways to get involved,” Mendelson said. “There’s no running away from climate change but we can find solutions if we work at it piece by piece. You can help in your own way.”