Environmental Law Distinguished Speaker Series Concludes with American University Professor
Web Editor - Published: March 25, 2011
HughesHeatherOn Wednesday, March 23rd, 2010, American University Washington College of Law Associate Professor Heather Hughes delivered the final talk in the Environmental Law Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series on Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus. Her talk, “Paying for Suburban Sprawl,” was also broadcast to an audience of faculty and staff on the Delaware campus.

Following a brief introduction from Distinguished Professor and Environmental Law Center Director John C. Dernbach, Professor Hughes spoke about her current research for an article she is working on that examines a particular intersection between environmental and commercial law. Discussing the inspiration for her project, she said, “If you thought about ways to reform commercial finance laws, you might be able to change the way developers look at environmental impacts.”

Professor Hughes focused her remarks on the way that mezzanine financing often leads developers to pursue development plans that result in the creation of similar suburban developments without any particular consideration given to the impact of the way that the land would be used. She indicated that perhaps curbing the financial incentives that encouraged developers to pursue such strategies might allow the conversation about environmental impact and land use to catch up with the commercial environment.

Looking to refine the scholarship for her pending article, Professor Hughes solicited questions and commentary from the audience. Professor Juliet Moringiello drew a parallel between the situations Hughes described and the global financial crisis brought on by the collapse of mortgage-backed securities.

Following a question that touched on whether people have a moral imperative to protect the environment, Professor Hughes indicated that people display a “deep-seated paradox” that reflects “moral complexity, not moral bankruptcy.” She concluded by saying, “We love the environment and destroy the environment at the same time.”

A graduate of the University of Chicago, Heather Hughes earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She practiced in the business department of Morrison & Foerster, LLP in San Francisco before becoming an assistant professor at Florida International University College of Law. She teaches commercial law and property, and researches in the areas of commercial transactions, social justice, ethics, and critical theory.