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Alum is finalist in national writing contest

November 04, 2008

Alex Smith, a 2008 graduate of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, was among five finalists in a national contest, the Judge John R. Brown Scholarship Award for Excellence in Legal Writing.

Smith, who is seeking a position as a natural resource/water/environmental law attorney, submitted the paper, "Programmatic Agreements Under the Endangered Species Act: Efficiency at the Expense of Informed Decision Making?"

In his paper, Smith looked into programmatic Section 10 permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. These permits allow private landowners to incidentally kill or injure endangered species during land development. 

Traditionally these permits were issued to individual landowners who worked directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Smith, this process has evolved into a major mechanism that allows the federal agency to balance development with endangered species protection. In order to achieve cost savings, some permits now are issued to third parties who independently administer the permitting process. One side effect of this is the restriction of U.S. Fish and Wildlife's involvement and expertise.

Professor Joe Feller said Smith went beyond easy generalizations to examine in detail these agreements, the process by which they are developed, and the way they are implemented. In so doing, Feller said, Smith uncovered very serious problems, which call into question whether such agreements, as currently written and implemented, are consistent with the purposes and the requirements of the Act.

"This kind of scholarship - digging deep to discover how legal and administrative processes actually operate in the real world - is a particularly unique and valuable kind of legal writing," he said in nominating Smith for the award.