Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has rescued $3.9 million to continue the work of two pioneering Vermont organizations that are helping to nurture the emergence of environmental advocacy in China.
Leahy, who chairs the Senate's committee on the budget for the State Department, foreign aid and other U.S. foreign operations, has secured about $15 million each year for several years to fund a competitive grant program for rule-of-law training in China, where the judiciary is often manipulated by corrupt officials and rapid economic growth has led to unprecedented environmental and public health problems. Under the Leahy-funded initiative, U.S. organizations devise and implement programs to partner with civic reform groups in China in fostering environmental advocacy and enforcement, in challenging official corruption, and in protecting worker health and safety.
Vermont Law School (VLS) and the Vermont-based Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) have been among the program's participants, forming the U.S.-China Partnership For Environmental Law, based at the VLS campus in South Royalton. Since 2006 their program has trained thousands of Chinese lawyers, citizen advocates and educators, giving them the skills and academic infrastructure needed to solve mounting environmental and energy challenges through the rule of law. The program helps empower ordinary citizens in China by building legal training capacity for lawyers and civic organizations there in challenging government corruption, local pollution and threats to worker health and safety. Leahy notes that another benefit is that emergence of environmental and safety standards within China helps in leveling the economic playing field with American firms who operate within U.S. environmental and safety standards.
The Vermont-based program was on track for another year's work, under appropriations for the overall program secured last year by Leahy, until it ran into a hitch in the U.S. House of Representatives in the congressional clearance process. Leahy this week succeeded in obtaining release of the $3.9 million for the VLS-ISC contract. He informed the Vermont groups of the good news on Friday.
Leahy said, "I am pleased that these funds have finally been cleared by Congress. This Vermont-based program is an impetus for reform and action. These funds will support the ongoing programs of two highly respected and innovative Vermont institutions, the Institute for Sustainable Communities and the Vermont Law School, which have trained Chinese lawyers and strengthened public advocacy in support of workers' rights and environmental health and safety. We are already seeing results, as Chinese citizens challenge both the industrial pollution that has poisoned the air and water, and the corruption that has enabled Chinese companies, sometimes with the knowledge of local officials, to undercut their American competitors. This program is an example of how a well-designed effort can be a catalyst for better laws and practices, even in an authoritarian country."