On a Clear Day, You’re Not in Beijing

Robert Fox C’82 was riding in a cab to his hotel in Beijing when the dust storm hit—a recurring consequence of deforestation around the Chinese city. “It was kind of like a sci-fi movie,” he recalls. All of a sudden, “This wall of brown was coming towards me.” Fox, coincidentally, was in town to teach a month-long seminar to Chinese lawyers and judges about environmental policies in that country and the United States. In China, he notes, “The environmental issues are palpable.
    “They only treat about 14 percent of their raw sewage, so basically you can’t drink municipal water or you get sick, and the air pollution is pretty significant. They continue to burn soft coal in Beijing, and during the winter months it’s pretty choking [from the] particulate matter in the air.”
    An environmental lawyer in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., Fox admits that he stumbled upon this specialty when he was simply trying to get out of working in the tax law department—which he considered boring—during a summer clerkship at a Philadelphia firm years ago. “They said, ‘We have this new environmental department. Would you do that?’” Fox became fascinated with environmental law and today is partner at Manko, Gold & Katcher, a firm that litigates over environmental issues, handles the development of “brownfields” and related real-estate deals, and helps people comply with environmental regulations. He was invited to teach the seminar through an arrangement between the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing and Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. 
    When Fox was in China, the National People’s Congress unveiled its five-year plan, and the top two priorities were economic development and the environment. Though some argue otherwise, Fox contends that, “Economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. There are ways you can industrialize and can grow economically without having to sacrifice the environment. It requires good planning, some capital investment up-front, and good engineering.”
   He spent the first part of the course describing to his students the philosophy of environmental protection and talking about how the United States has dealt—successfully or not-so-successfully—with many of the same problems China faces, before moving on to multinational issues. Though China has 16 environmental laws on the books, “the laws are just paper,” Fox says. “Somebody has to enforce them, and they do not have an enforcement regime right now that’s consistent and active.”
   Fox is also critical of the environmental record in this country, including the United States’ refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty, which would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by industrialized nations by about 5 percent over the next 10 years. “We are the major users of resources contributing to global warming, so the U.S. has to be a leader on these issues.”
    One of the founding members of the Lower Merion Conservancy, which works to preserve historic structures and open space in the local watershed, Fox devotes much of his time to environmental education. He has been an adjunct professor at Penn’s School of Law and he teaches at Vermont Law School every summer. Spending time in that relatively pristine environment reminds him of what’s worth saving. “When we were in Beijing, I never saw a clear blue sky.”

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