West Virginia Professor Wins 2016 Svitlana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award

March 5, 2016

Pat McGinleyProfessor Patrick McGinley of West Virginia University Law School is the 2016 winner of the Svitlana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award.

Land Air Water announced the award to Professor McGinley at the 34th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, a world-renowned event held each March at the University of Oregon.  The announcement said:

This year’s award winner exemplifies the same qualities that Svitlana Kravchenko exhibited – legal expert, activist, law professor, mentor to generations. Professor Patrick McGinley litigated the first mountaintop removal case — and won. His endowed professorship is named after the courageous judge in that case, Judge Charles Haden. He represented a citizen’s group in litigation that preserved the Cranberry Backcounrty in West Virginia’s Highlands as federal Wilderness. He is the leading expert on freedom of information in West Virginia.  As an example of his FOIA work, representing the Associated Press he obtained emails between a state Supreme Court Justice and a coal baron named Don Blankenship — while Blankenship was appealing a multimillion dollar verdict against his company. After he obtained some, but not all of the emails, McGinley appealed to the Supreme Court seeking disclosure of the rest of them. On appeal, the Supreme Court said that the emails should not be disclosed, based on the language of the statute. In response, McGinley helped draft legislation passed last year amending the statute and overturning the Supreme Court’s earlier decision.

Professor McGinley served on the Governor’s independent investigative team for both the Sago Mine disaster and the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster, where a total of 41 miners lost their lives due to  cavalier practices of the mine operators and failures of government to enforce mine safety laws.  During the UBB investigation, Pat McGinley asked tough questions. At one point, during a break in the interviews, a government investigative team member initially commented, “Who does he think he is, Clarence Darrow?” However, before long, the federal investigators were so impressed with the wealth of information that McGinley was obtaining from witnesses that they adopted his questioning style, and dug out the truth.

Like Svitlana Kravchenko, for more than four decades Pat McGinley’s work as a legal scholar, teacher, and public interest environmental litigator has been committed to the rule of law, speaking truth to power, mentoring law students and lawyers and empowering families and communities marginalized by discrimination based on race, wealth, and ethnicity.

The award is named in honor of Ukrainian and American law professor Svitlana Kravchenko, longtime international expert and law faculty member at universities in Ukraine and the United States.  As the American Bar Association said in posthumously recognizing Professor Kravchenko in 2012 for “Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy.” She was “a pioneering legal scholar” who helped build the connection between human rights and environmental protection. A professor for over 35 years, in addition to her international work, Kravchenko was a reformer advocating democratic principles in her native country, Ukraine.  Professor Kravchenko also played a central role in creation and implementation of the United Nations’ Aarhus Public Participation Convention.  As a scholar, she authored 12 books and over 190 scholarly articles and book chapters.  She authored  the first textbook used in law schools worldwide to combine study and analysis of human rights law and environmental law.

The Svitlana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award was presented on March 5, 2016, to Professor McGinley as a person who exemplifies the ideals and work of the late Professor Kravchenko, including not only important scholarly and reform work, but a special attention to the mentoring of law students.  Previous Kravchenko Award winners have included Professor Raquel Gutierrez of Mexico, Professor William Rodgers of the U.S., and Professor Antonio Oposa of the Philippines.

The award is given to “those who carry on in Svitlana’s spirit: having exquisite qualities of both head and heart; mixing academic rigor with spirited activism; and speaking truth to power, while exhibiting kindness toward all.  Also in that spirit, the award winner inspires young adults to reach for the stars, while keeping their feet firmly planted in the Earth they want to protect, as Svitlana did.  The award goes to a person who makes broad impacts in the law, while working to support local communities.”

The 34th Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), held at the University of Oregon School of Law, drew more than 2000 attorneys, students, legal scholars, scientists, and community activists, from throughout the U.S. and many foreign countries to share their ideas, experience, and expertise. With keynote addresses, workshops, films, celebrations, and over 130 panels, PIELC is world-renowned for its energy, innovation, and inspiration. In 2011, PIELC received the Program of the Year Award from the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, and in 2013 PIELC received the American Bar Association Law Student Division’s Public Interest Award.

The Kravchenko Award winner is selected by the Co-Directors of Land Air Water after nomination by and consultation with the staff of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and Professor John Bonine, the professional partner and husband of Professor Kravchenko