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Fulbright Scholar David Mears to Use Classroom, Litigation to Tackle Pollution in China

July 12, 2010

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- David Mears is an accidental Sinophile.

Never one to wander the globe, he's focused his career on teaching and litigation close to home, mostly recently as an associate professor at Vermont Law School and director of VLS's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC). Nonetheless, Mears finds himself about to embark on a year-long journey to China, where he will spend the 2010-2011 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar looking to beef up enforcement of China's anti-pollution laws and to expand university-based environmental law clinics.

"I never expected something like this, but if you're motivated by finding solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems, then China is a critical place to work," he said.

Mears' duties will be to teach and to assist the environmental law clinics at Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) and the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) at the China University of Political Science and Law. He also intends to reach out to other universities across China that are interested in establishing environmental law clinics.

Mears had never been to Asia until 2006 when he visited China with VLS's U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, which is at the forefront of American law schools working in China on environment and energy issues. He applied for the Fulbright scholarship because of his growing role with the partnership - this trip will be his fourth to China -- and because of the positive experience that Professor Jason Czarnezki, another VLS faculty member, has had as a Fulbright scholar in China for the past academic year.

Mears recently finished his Fulbright orientation program in Washington, D.C., and departs for China in early August with his wife, Nancy, and their children, Laura, 15, Isaac, 12, and Liam, 10. "Nancy and I had been thinking about taking the kids abroad, but not for a whole year," he said. "When this opportunity came along, we decided this would be a terrific chance to learn about another culture and to understand" the severe environmental impacts from China's economic boom. "I have no preconceptions that I'm going to change the course of history, but I hope to help give Chinese students and faculty some tools that may help them to solve these environmental problems."

Mears said it's unfair for the United States and European nations to point a finger at China because those countries have caused massive pollution during their own industrial revolutions. "That's not an excuse for China to pollute, but it's in the world's interests to help the Chinese develop and enforce a new generation of laws and regulations that could be even better than those in the United States," he said. "Why not?"

As director of the ENRLC, Mears helps Vermont Law School students hone their lawyering skills, while assisting nonprofit organizations, community groups and individuals with environmental problems and conservation projects. That's what he hopes to bring to China, where his Fulbright project will complement and enrich the U.S.-China Partnership's ongoing collaboration with SYSU and CLAPV. In June, the partnership received a $1.5 million federal grant to establish China's first public interest environmental law firm and to expand university-based legal clinics. The goal of the "green litigation" is to help ordinary citizens force polluting factories, mines and local officials to follow the law.

"The environmental regulatory system in China hasn't evolved quickly enough to keep pace with the pollution from rapid economic growth," Mears said.

Mears is one of about 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the J. William Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2010-2011. The program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. For more on the Fulbright program, visit http://fulbright.state.gov. For more on Mears, visit: http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Our_Faculty/Faculty_Directory/David_Mears.htm.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations
 802-831-1106 , jcramer@vermontlaw.edu

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