Public Interest Environmental Conference Draws 200-Plus

Published: March 1st, 2004

Category: Feature

More than 200 people — including top environmentalists, State Senate Majority Whip Paula Dockery, law students (some from Costa Rica University and Harvard), UF undergraduates, Sierra Club members and assorted state VIPs — traveled to Gainesville Feb. 19-21 for the 10th Annual Public Interest Environmental Conference (PIEC).

The conference, “Shaping Florida’s Future: A Decade of Protecting an Eternity,” featured four sets of concurrent panels. “Florida’s Waters” addressed issues related to potable water availability in the state, while “Land & Development” dealt with population caps and zoning and enforcement issues. “Marine & Coastal” workshops showcased the latest developments in aquaculture and state-initiated coastal management programs. The catch-all series “Cutting Edge” offered workshops on alternative forms of energy, effects of mold in buildings, and global agriculture.

Tulane University Professor of Law Oliver A. Houck opened the event at a reception Feb. 19 at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Houck is former general counsel and vice president, National Wildlife Federation; a director of Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Law Institute; and member of the Environmental Defense Fund litigation review board and committees of the National Science Foundation.

Speakers also included Lee Arnold of Colliers- Arnold/Colliers International, chair of the Florida Council of 100 Water Resources Taskforce; Dr. David Guggenheim, conservation policy vice president, Ocean Conservancy; Sonny Vergara, former executive director of SW Florida and St. Johns River Water Management Districts; Dr. Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice; and attorney Jeanne Zokovitch, Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation.

The most anticipated event of the conference was Friday’s keynote banquet speech by Carl Hiaasen, Miami-Herald columnist and author of nine best-selling novels, who is noted for the strong pro-environmentalist stands reflected through his characters.

Hiaasen encouraged the audience to do what they could to hold politicians — and anyone else with decision- making authority — accountable for what happens to our environment. If nothing else, he said, we can confront the responsible person and make sure he has a horrible day.

Hiaasen said finding political indiscretions to write about is “like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s so much going wrong when it comes to the environment that it’s next to impossible not to find something to look into.”

After nearly an hour of clever stories and zany one-liners, a member of the audience asked Hiassen why he didn’t run for governor.

Laughingly, he responded that he is “morally and psychologically unfit to hold political office.” This reply came on the heels of comments about the relish with which he disposes of the villains in his books (one character is eaten by an alligator).

The UF Environmental and Land Use Law Society organized the event with funding from the law school’s Center for Governmental Responsibility, Florida Bar Environmental & Land Use Law Section, Law College Council, Law Center Association, UF Student Government, Jelks Family Foundation, and law firms of Hopping Green & Sams, P.A., Tallahassee; Lewis Longman and Walker, P.A., Tallahassee/Jacksonville/West Palm Beach; and Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell, Orlando.

PIEC co-chairs Erika Zimmerman and Ryan Osborne have passed the baton to Adam Regar and Ashley Cross-Rappaport, and planning for next year — along with a search for sponsors, speakers and volunteers — is already underway. For information, visit the conference website at or e-mail Adam ( or Ashley ( And mark the date for next year’s conference, scheduled for Feb. 24-26, 2005.

Tagged as: