Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Make Environmental Education Interesting

The middle grade years are a fascinating time of life, full of change. Adolescents are developing new interests, some of which will have a long-lasting impact on their lives. As with adults, most do not take an interest in something that they consider boring or of little relevance to them. Teachers are challenged to make seemingly mundane topics—like the environment—interesting and captivating for young minds. This is in many ways easier said than done. 

Here are three suggestions for making a lesson on the environment both educational and entertaining for middle grades students.   

 1. Use visual media.This includes news and videos available on the Internet or through other venues. The media offers a wealth of information about the environment for teachers and students. Some government websites have sections dedicated to teaching children about various environmental topics, including those related to health, energy, air, water, recycling, ecosystems, and climate change. 

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a Students for the Environment webpage where young people can learn about the environment by playing games find a wealth of ideas for science fair project ideas. This site also has teacher resources and lesson plans for teaching about the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a Fun for Kids webpage with weblinks containing teacher lesson plans and educational resources pertaining to the Earth’s oceans and climate. The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has a Teach and Learn webpage with helpful teacher and student resources for teaching how the Department manages the land, water and wildlife in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Energy Kids webpage has fun games and facts for learning concepts about energy sources, consumption, and conservation. The EIA also has helpful teacher lesson plans. And finally, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Climate Resources and Climate Kids webpages have informative data concerning, the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change. The Climate Kids webpage is especially resourceful with hands-on activities for children learning about climate change and how it affects various species.

 2. Use hands-on demonstrations. For example, when teaching about consumer product safety, refer to the previously mentioned EPA site for ideas. In the Chemical Safety Resource for Middle School Teachers lesson, students do an inventory of the household chemicals and cleaners found around their homes with parental supervision. The students explain why chemical safety is important and propose ideas for preventing chemical pollution at home. The EPA’s Wastes – Educational Materials webpage has three units on waste, including facts and activities, such as composting and recycling activities. Other examples of hands-on demonstrations include the Washington Department of Ecology A-Way with Waste Resources webpage, which offers various lesson plans with demonstrations. 

3. Supplement textbooks with print books or ebooks. Most of the environmental concepts taught in classrooms are included in today’s science-based textbooks.However, few textbooks seem to introduce environmental topics in a fun and interesting way. Spark some interest by looking for supplemental reading material that is educational, thought-provoking and entertaining. Consider using a work of fiction tailored for upper elementary and middle school students to introduce environmental concepts.

These three tools can help make learning about the environment educational, engaging and fun. Accordingly, environmental education may be easily incorporated in a variety of subject curricula.

--- Contributed by Ashley Ivanov. Ms Ivanov is the author of From Pristine to Earth – an environmental fiction novel for upper elementary and middle grades students. The novel is available for purchase at or online at Barnes & Noble. The author may be reached at for questions or a lesson plan for her novel. 

Note:  This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of INSIDER by AMLE and has since been edited. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

The EPA Significant New Use Rule (“SNUR”): More Bureaucracy or Real Change?

The U.S. EPA recently promulgated a Significant New Use Rule (“SNUR”) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The SNUR would require companies to notify EPA prior to newly manufacturing, importing, or processing certain perfluorinated chemicals commonly used in carpet treatment and manufacture.  See Christopher L. Bell, Environmental Protection Agency(“EPA”) Promulgates Significant New Use Rule for Perfluorinated Chemicals – And Limits Its Applicability to “Articles,” Greenberg Traurig, LLP, The National Law Review, October 29, 2013. 

The newly promulgated SNUR is different from prior TSCA rules issued by EPA because it focuses on certain articles containing the chemicals, whereas in the pasts EPA was only concerned with the chemicals themselves. Id.  The proposed SNUR was broader in its effect on all articles that contain the perfluorinated chemicals.  The final rule was narrower in scope, affecting only identified articles, namely carpets and carpet pieces. Id.  Perhaps comments submitted by affected industries and others during the comment period on the proposed rule provided information or reasons for EPA to narrow the scope of the rule. 

Hopefully, this rule does not simply have the effect of creating more paper-work for industry.  It will remain to see what practical affect this SNUR or other newly promulgated SNURs will have on the ultimate goal of chemical safety in the United States. 

-- Contributed by Ashley Ivanov

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

From Pristine to Earth: A Fictional Adventure About Many Environmental Realities

I freely admit that the children's novel From Pristine to Earth by Ashley Ivanov was written by my research assistant. So this is a biased review.

The novel, written for upper elementary and pre-teen students, is a creative means to a real-world end. It was written teach environmental concepts in an imaginative and entertaining way to make children aware of the need for a safe, healthy and clean environment. 

The novel touches on various topics, including the benefits of recycling and the need for clean air and water. However, the primary messages are the need to minimize the risks associated with harmful chemicals by creating safer alternatives and the need for society to develop and use plastics that break down faster in the environment. 

In the end the author leaves us not knowing whether these reforms will have a successful impact or merely be words on paper. As she writes, “[t]ime will tell.”

Students can learn that reform can be accomplished in various ways, including voting for candidates who support change and through the media which can sometimes influence Congressional action. Grassroots activists -- in the trenches planting the seeds for change -- are usually involved in both.

As the book points out, there are current attempts being made to influence Congress to pass new federal chemical legislation. Current federal law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”), was enacted in the 1970s and has been ineffective as it does not ensure that only safe chemicals are used in the United States. It is estimated that approximately eighty thousand chemicals available in the United States have not been fully tested for their safety. See Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Of these eighty thousand chemicals, EPA has required testing for only an estimated two hundred (a quarter of one percent of the total) and has partially regulated only five (less than one percent).  Id.  

Congress is currently considering legislation to reauthorize TSCA. Perhaps, like the new law described in the book, a reauthorized TSCA would, among other things, shift the burden of proof from EPA to the chemical’s manufacturer to prove that that the chemical is safe and provide a means for adequate, independent validation and verification.  

You won’t find many (any?) books written for pre-teens that realistically addresses TSCA and other environmental issues in an entertaining story that engages kids. It could be used in science classes for upper elementary students to introduce these important environmental concepts through a good story with interesting characters.

The novel is available at and online only from Barnes & Noble.

Friday, September 20, 2013


The American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution announced the winner of the 2013 Boskey Dispute Resolution Essay competition. Sarah Gonski, a Harvard Law student, won the competition with her essay entitled “Easing Gridlock in the United States Congress Through Mediation: Letting Our Cities and States Teach Us Lessons On Getting Along.” 

The essay suggests that Congressional gridlock can be reduced by following the lead of several states and local governments by using mediators to mediate policy and legislative discussions, similar to the Negotiated Rulemaking Act (often called reg neg). Reg Neg was enacted to to encourage agencies to use negotiated rulemaking when it enhances the informal rulemaking process. (5 U.S.C § 561). 

The idea behind reg neg was set out in 1982 by Phillip Harter, an administrative law expert who developed the reg neg idea in a law review article, proposing negotiation as a means of alleviating the "malaise" that hindered the existing federal rulemaking process. See Harter, Philip J., Negotiating Regulations: A Cure for Malaise, Georgetown Law Journal, vol. 71, 1982 

Ms. Gonski’s essay sets forth some examples of successful uses of mediated legislative and policy negotiations by states and cities and the short and sad history of the few attempts to get Congress to establish a mediation office in Congress. She suggests that because of the institutional barriers in establishing a new agency, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), an existing federal agency that already provides mediation services in labor and employment disputes, could serve as home for legislative mediation.

I was directly involved in developing the legislation that authorizes FMCS to mediate reg neg and other federal sector policy issues by adding language to insure that the FMCS was specifically authorized to assist agencies by furnishing conveners, facilitators, and training in negotiated rulemaking. (See the Negotiated Rulemaking Act of 1990, reauthorized in 1996 and incorporated into the Administrative Procedure Act at 5 U.S.C. §§ 568 (b))

The need for mediation on the Hill is obvious. Gridlock is not good for anyone. 

While many issues will remain gridlocked because elections are the only way to resolve major public questions such as our budget priorities, not all legislation pending on the Hill is subject to those political pressures. If the appropriate stakeholders are involved in the negotiations over regulatory and other substantive issues, if the significant stakeholders on all sides of an issue can agree, then Members of Congress will not block the legislation. 

This would allow for Congress to actually conduct much of the business of the public, while, if they wish, continue to play their electoral/political games on the large (mostly budget-related) issues. 

Mediation on the Hill will not solve all issues and certainly will not eliminate the split between red and blue partisans. However, placing legislative/policy mediators in the FMCS and authorizing them to mediate legislative issues for Congress could result in better, less partisan legislation. 

This is a worthwhile goal.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Parisian of the Month

The Eye Prefer Paris blog is “an ex-New Yorker’s insider’s guide to Paris” by Richard Nahem.  One of the best blogs for and about visitors to the City of Light, Nahem produces a valuable resource about everything Paris.

A recent post, Parisian of the Month is about my son Daniel, whom he describes as “passionate about life.”

I agree. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fourth Circuit Affirms Ashley District Court Decision

In a much anticipated decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit finally issued a decision in the PCS Nitrogen v Ashley II of Charleston, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 6815 (4th Cir. 4/4/13) case.

The decision, however, did not provide the clarity that many were hoping for about the controversial decision by the District Court that the purchaser of the property, Ashley II of Charleston, did not qualify as a Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser (BFPP) and receive exemption from liability because it had indemnified a responsible party and, therefore, had an improper “affiliation” with that party.   

Larry Schnapf’s always illuminating blog, Business Environmental Law and Transactional Support, has a full discussion of the ruling and many of the other issues in the case here.

I served as a mediator for the parties to assist them in resolving the allocation issues and settle the case before litigation. I will not comment about the many issues in the case or the 4th Circuit decision – except to point out that, given the much ado about nothing results, as Larry described the decision, the parties could have resolved the case without litigation. Instead, no party “won” much and all parties lost something.

Certainly the cost of litigation could have funded some if not all of the costs of a negotiated settlement. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Abraham Lincoln and the Team of Rivals; Compassion, Wisdom and Peacemaking

While the Golden Globes may not have honored the genius of Stephen Spielberg’s direction of the movie Lincoln, I hope and believe the Oscar voters will.  As anyone who has a feel for history will, I think, agree, Lincoln is a uniquely moving portrait of Abraham Lincoln and the late part of the Civil War. 

Much of Spielberg’s movie is based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the wonderfully researched and written book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

For those who have not read it, Goodwin tells the story of “Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him, to repair injured feelings that, left unattended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates, to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes.” 
The movie makes the people and politics of the lame duck Congress in late 1864 and early 1865 understandable to viewers of today.  Before watching the movie I had doubts that the director and Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor who plays Lincoln, could make this iconic figure into a living, breathing human being. There is no doubt they succeeded.

The movie shows how Abraham Lincoln was different from other leaders, then and now. Goodwin writes that his “decency, morality, kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty and empathy” were “impressive political resources.” Lincoln may have said : “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” We saw him doing that in this movie.

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer – apparent in the movie – and that was a critically important part of his career; it helped shape who he was. He was famously quoted as advising attorneys to “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.  As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

Lincoln was a good man and a peacemaker both before and during the Civil War, and his wisdom, compassion and humanity were central to his greatness.