Last week’s Judge Frank M. Coffin Lecture, given at the University of Maine School of Law by John Cruden, was a great lesson in America’s history of environmental law.

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, Cruden negotiated multibillion-dollar settlements for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Volkswagen violations of the Clean Air Act.

Cruden noted that environmental law was invented in the U.S. in the 1970s, and that all of the original tools he used to protect the environment – the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, etc. – originated “top down,” from U.S. presidents and congressional champions from both parties (e.g., Democratic Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie; Republican Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee), generally following environmental disasters.

Cruden went on to point out that in our current era, we can’t count on top-down action. Instead, we must find the political will for bottom-up action to move our nation forward on climate and other critical issues.

We can be thankful for John Cruden and others who have been champions for us and the planet, but the job is not done. Bottom-up action is happening right now in Maine with organizations such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby and others. We need to make it happen.

Edward Pontius


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