Jeff Thaler, a visiting professor at the University of Maine School of Law, will travel to Haiti at the end of May to help lawyers, students, faculty, and government officials discuss ways to develop a new system of environmental protection. Professor Thaler will travel to Haiti with five other environmental attorneys and professors from across the United States. The visit is hosted by the University of the Aristide Foundation (UNIFA), which was founded by former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has 77% of its 10 million people living on less than $2 a day. Intensive logging beginning in the 1950s reduced Haiti’s forest cover from 60% to less than 2% today. The lack of trees causes huge soil erosion problems, threatening both food and clean water sources. Over 60% of Haitians depend on agriculture and small-scale farming, but most cannot produce enough food on the eroded hillsides to feed their families. The 7.0 Mw earthquake in 2010 added even more environmental challenges.
The visit comes at a particularly auspicious time for UNIFA, the Bar Association of Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital), and the country. There are no enduring environmental law programs at the universities; as a result, there are no student groups, clinics, or advocacy groups seeking to advance environmental rights. There are also no law firms and lawyers who focus on environmental law, nor is there an environmental section of the Bar Association. However, there is now developing interest in advancing environmental law in schools and in practice.
During the visit, Professor Thaler will meet with law students, present as part of a conference to the entire UNIFA student body, and meet with students who are doing a year between high school and university. He will meet with the Bar Association, as well as professors from two universities concerning the justiciability of environmental matters. The group also hopes to meet with former President Aristide and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, the former First Lady who is a graduate of Penn Law School and a founder of UNIFA’s law school.
At Maine Law, Professor Thaler teaches on topics such as Renewable Energy, skills-based courses on Administrative Law and Land Use Law, and Legislative-Regulatory law. He serves as Assistant University Counsel, and has been legal counsel for all of the University of Maine’s offshore wind projects for over eight years.