The Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program offers students at the University of Georgia School of Law the opportunity to work with legal and policy experts to address challenging environmental questions facing policymakers in coastal Georgia communities.
Over the summer, UGA law students Josh Rewis and Chris Bertrand worked with Shana Jones, associate director at the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government and Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program director, studying environmental law issues in coastal Georgia as part of their legal fellowship.
What sparked your interest in environmental and coastal law?
Rewis: My childhood was filled with camping trips and rambling through the woods. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel a deep connection to the wilderness. As I grew and learned about the many threats to our environment, I became protective and felt called to act. I have realized that a law degree is a great tool. What better way to act than to use that tool to protect something that can’t protect itself?
Bertrand: As a little kid, I spent time running around the creeks in my backyard with my brothers. In college, I started working at the Chattahoochee Nature Center and took an environmental ethics class. These had a significant impact on the way I thought about the non-human world of animals, plants, rivers and mountains. I want to be part of the solution to the many environmental problems our world faces, like diminishing biodiversity and climate change, through environmental law.
How does the Sea Grant Legal Fellowship fit into your educational and career goals?
Rewis: I plan to enter the Judge Advocate General’s Corps after law school. Part of my work involves researching Department of Defense programs and studies concerning land-use compatibility around military installations. Learning about the Department of Defense’s administrative framework and rule making procedures will definitely come in handy as I move forward.
Bertrand: The Sea Grant Legal Fellowship has been an excellent introduction to environmental law. I have learned about the Clean Water Act, oyster aquaculture law, living shorelines, military compatibility with the environment, various government agencies and how federal and state agencies balance responsibilities.
What challenging environmental question are you addressing, and how are you addressing it?
Rewis: I do research on state and federal programs that use various methods to improve compatibility between military installations and nearby communities by slowing development around those installations. I want to know how we use these programs to address habitat loss and mitigate the effects of climate change. It is my job to explain to decision makers how these programs, regulations and groups interact.
Bertrand: Georgia just passed a new oyster aquaculture statute. I compared Georgia’s new law with the old law. I also looked at other states like South Carolina and Florida to see how their oyster aquaculture laws compared to ours. I shared my findings during a national, public webinar on oyster aquaculture law.
How would you explain the impact or value of your research to local residents?
Rewis: Many of our communities are economically dependent on military installations, and slowing development near those installations is one way to promote compatibility between communities and military bases. Development near military installations can severely restrict military training. Light pollution, for example, restricts the military’s ability to conduct night drills. Slowing development near military installations is a win for the community because they continue to benefit from the installation’s presence. It’s a win for the military because their training is less likely to be restricted. And it’s a win for the environment because, by stopping development, the land is preserved in a more natural state.
Bertrand: My goal is to support a sustainable oyster industry. A thriving oyster industry in Georgia creates jobs while helping the environment. Oysters are ecologically important to Georgia waterways because they are excellent filter feeders that clean the water. Oyster farmers rely on clean water and Georgia’s extensive salt marshes to grow their product. Local residents benefit from the creation of jobs in the oyster industry, the abundance of tasty local oysters, clean waters and continued conservation of Georgia’s beautiful salt marshes.