Environmental Law

Environmental Law Program

Environmental law plays a major role in structuring the relationship between human beings and the world around them. Almost every kind of legal practice today touches some aspect of environmental law.

Lawyers practice environmental law in large and small private law firms, in the offices of in-house corporate counsel in trade associations, in federal, state and local government agencies, in the offices of state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice, and in many non-governmental organizations. Whether future employment entails advocating the position of a public interest group, a corporate client, a government agency, or a private citizen, the Environmental Law Program is designed to meet the need for knowledgeable and skillful application of legal principles and techniques to environmental and natural resource problems.

The Environmental Law Program offers students the opportunity to develop their skills and understanding of environmental law and policy through a structured program of study and experience. Any student wishing to enter the Environmental Law Program, or simply to be informed of program events, should submit his or her name and email address to the Program Director as early as possible in law school. To receive recognition for completing the program, a student should include a statement of intent to complete the program to the Registrar's Office no later than the fifth semester in law school.

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Director: Professor Jessica Owley

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Required Foundational Courses

Students graduating in the Program are required to complete 18 total credits, which include the following:

Required Courses

  1. Environmental Law – Pollution Control
  2. Environmental Law – Natural Resources
  3. Administrative Law

It is best to take the above courses during the second year in law school because they lay important foundations for more specialized courses. Those three required courses have no prerequisites.

Research Experience

Students in the Environmental Law Program must complete one seminar or independent study involving a substantial research paper on a topic in environmental law. Offered seminars often differ by year—please check with the Program Director or Records and Registration if you have questions.  In some cases independent study papers may satisfy the requirement, but to count for the Environmental Law Program the topic of the paper must be approved in advance by the Program Director.

Practical Experience

All students are required to obtain some form of practical experience in environmental law to complete the Program. There are several opportunities in the curriculum. One or more clinical or practicum courses in environmental law are also available each year, and students are strongly encouraged to take them. Environmental placements are available through the externships in environmental law. In addition, in some cases, students may choose to work in a law firm or legal counsel offices of a government agency, corporation, or nonprofit organization in the summer or during the academic year. For law firm or legal counsel work to count for the program, students must seek prior approval from the Program Director and document the nature of the environmental work completed. The work must be primarily or exclusively environmental, and a signed letter from the attorney supervisor affirming the work will be required. Such experiences do not carry academic credit but can in limited cases provide the requisite practical experience to fulfill this requirement. The clinic, practicum, or externship courses will also satisfy the pro bono requirement for applicants to the New York bar.


In addition to the three required courses and the experiential courses, the following additional courses qualify for credit toward the total requirement of 18 semester hours of academic credit in environmental instruction to complete the Environmental Program. The list of qualifying courses changes as courses move into and out of the curriculum; in any given year, they may include the following (note that not every course is taught every year):

  • Greening Buffalo
  • Historic Preservation Law
  • Integrated Environmental Management
  • International Environmental Law
  • International Trade and the Environment
  • Introduction to New York State Administrative Law
  • Land Use Planning
  • Law and Economics
  • Law and Nature
  • Law, Space, Power
  • Local Government Law
  • Mass Torts
  • State as Environmental Advocate
  • State and Local Government Law

Other courses, both in the law school and in other parts of the University, may also qualify for Program credit. Students wishing to substitute a course should contact the Program Coordinator before registering. Prior permission from the Registrar's Office is also required to apply credits from a course taken outside the law school toward the J.D. degree.

To provide a wider array of specialty courses, the environmental law faculty organizes “Topics Courses” that consist of three separate one-credit courses taught in successive blocks of the semester. These one-credit courses can be taken individually so that students can explore an array of areas in environmental law and policy. These topics courses are planned to operate on a two-year cycle so that students have a substantial number special topics courses available during their upper division studies. Some specific course names are in the list of electives, but courses will be added based on opportunity and student interest.

UB has excellent interdisciplinary networks of researchers working on environmental law, policy, and science, and students are encouraged to participate in them as opportunities arise.

Environmental Program Faculty

  • Irus Braverman (law and nature, law and geography, animality)
  • Kim Diana Connolly (environmental law, environmental advocacy, wetlands and coastal law, and legal aspects of healthy housing)
  • Errol Meidinger (environmental law, international environmental law, international trade, private regulation)
  • Jessica Owley (environmental law, Indian law, property)
  • Rick Su (land use law, state and local government)