The Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program offers students at the UGA School of Law the opportunity to work with legal and policy experts to address challenging environmental questions facing policymakers in coastal Georgia communities.
Paul Wildes, a third-year law student and Mandi Moroz, a second-year law student were selected as the 2016-17 Sea Grant Legal Fellows. They have been working in Athens under the advisement of Sea Grant Legal Program director Shana Jones. As they near the completion of their first semester, Wildes and Moroz take a moment to discuss their research and share future plans.
What spurred your interest in environmental and coastal law?
Wildes: During undergrad, I took many environmental courses, such as environmental science and environmental economics. Environmental law was a common sub-topic in these classes. I immediately became very interested in environmental law and the study of law in general. I have continued to pursue my interest in environmental law during law school.
Moroz: Environmental law and coastal law are very different from other types of law. These areas often challenge attorneys by forcing them to work with and understand the science at work within or behind the law. I have always been drawn to this interdisciplinary aspect of environmental law. I love science and like that this practice allows me to learn more about it. I also enjoy the work, because its effects are easily seen around us. Environmental law has a large impact on shaping our environment and coast. I love being able to practice law that I can see at work in the world around me.
How does the Sea Grant Legal Fellowship fit into your educational and career goals?
Wildes: To be a good lawyer, you need to be a good writer and a good oral communicator. One of my main educational and career goals is to constantly improve in these areas. During law school, I’ve tried to take courses that help me do so. Being a Sea Grant Legal Fellow, and the work it allows me to do, helps me improve in these areas outside of the classroom.
Moroz: The Legal Fellowship allows me to gain some practical experience with environmental law. There are not a lot of experiences like the Sea Grant Legal Fellowship, where I am able to do substantive legal work and then see the results of that legal work as it impacts local governments.
What does this fellowship entail?
Wildes: I help with various projects that Sea Grant is working on. Most of my time is spent researching legal issues and writing about my findings. I recently presented my research at a conference on Jekyll Island, which was a very rewarding experience.
Moroz: As a fellow, I work closely with Shana Jones and Scott Pippin on a variety of legal assignments. In these assignments, I have done legal research on anything from what laws protect sea turtles off of Georgia’s coast to studying a recent development in court opinions that may affect local decision makers attempting to handle coastal flooding issues.
What challenging environmental question are you addressing?
Wildes: Most of my work concerns the legal issues surrounding the actions that counties and municipalities are taking, and will take in the future, to adapt to rising sea levels. More specially, I’m addressing the legal issues surrounding the abandonment of flooding public roads by local governments in coastal areas.
Moroz: The majority of my research has focused on identifying a new and recent trend in takings law. Essentially, in this recent trend some courts have begun merging negligence principles and takings principles to create a new takings claim. If this trend continues, then this new rule could have serious impacts on local governments in coastal communities attempting to plan for flooding and natural disasters like hurricanes. My research is focused on identifying this trend and exploring some of the implications the trend could have on these local governments.
How are you working to inform decision makers?
Wildes: The goal of my work is to inform decision makers of the legal issues surrounding public roads. Due to rising sea levels, public roads in low-lying areas near the coast are increasingly flooded, causing damage and increased costs. The governing body in charge of the road may want to stop maintaining the road or abandon the road. I am working to identify the many legal issues that may arise in this situation, and to convey my findings to decision makers to help them make the most informed decisions possible.
Moroz: My research will help decision makers think more deeply about how the courts view their responsibility to prepare for sea level rise and coastal flooding. The goal is that I will write a white paper that is useful for these decision makers.
How would you explain the impact or value of your research to local residents?
Wildes: Local residents have certain legal rights related to public roads. These rights are at the center of many legal issues and controversies. Thus, for me to thoroughly inform decision makers of the legal issues surrounding roads, I must also inform them of these rights and emphasize how important it is for them to consider these rights when they make decisions. Hopefully, my work will help ensure that the rights of local residents remain one of the most important factors that decision makers consider when addressing these issues.
Moroz: With sea level rise, increased flooding and the recent events of Hurricane Matthew, my research will have a direct effect on how local governments will be able to plan and prepare for these issues in the future. For residents relying on their local decision makers to make informed decisions, my research will help ensure that these decisions are made with the best information possible.
What are your plans after you complete the Fellowship?
Wildes: I will begin working for a law firm in Atlanta. Although my firm does not practice environmental law, I hope to somehow continue to pursue my interest in the subject in some other way.
Moroz: After the fellowship, I will be joining Troutman Sanders in Atlanta. I hope to have a practice that is focused on environmental litigation.