City native writes book on environmental law in China

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A project director for the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks Foundation, Charles R. McElwee II works to promote public policies to prevent dangerous climate change and enhance global prosperity.

McElwee, who grew up in Charleston where his father is a partner at the Robinson & McElwee law firm, regularly works with environmental officials in China on grants to improve that country’s environment.

Oxford University Press just published his book, “Environmental Law in China: Mitigating Risk and Ensuring Compliance.” The book focuses on helping American corporations operating in China to understand and follow the country’s environmental laws.

“I was an environmental lawyer in the United States and made the acquaintance of this environmental law professor in China,” McElwee said during a recent telephone interview.

“The professor said, ‘Why don’t you come over and teach a class in American environmental law to my law students?’ Fortunately, the law firm I worked for then had just opened up an office in Shanghai,” he said.

“I worked for them part time and I taught part time. Then in 2005, I moved my whole family to China.

“Originally, we were going to stay for two years, but we ended up staying five years,” he said. “Now I know enough Chinese to order food and tell a cab driver where to go.”

James Fallows, a longtime writer for The Atlantic, said McElwee’s new book offers insights into differences “between the ambitious principles stated in legislation and the uneven realities of enforcement across the country, between the forces inside China willing and able to work with international environmental groups and those who shun outside ‘interference.'”

Teaching in China and the U.S. are very different experiences, McElwee said.

“I taught my law school class in English in China. I was talking away and the students were staring at me. I was worried. So finally, I cracked a joke and the students started to laugh.

“It was a fascinating experience. Originally, I thought I would teach law in China the same way I teach in the U.S., using Socratic methods.

“A professor starts a conversation by asking a number of questions about a particular point of law. There is no right or wrong answer. I try to get dialogues going in my classes,” he said.

But it’s completely different in China.

“Students didn’t believe me when I said there is no right or wrong answer. The idea of discussion in class is very foreign to them,” McElwee said. “Students are deadly afraid they would make a mistake, that they would give a wrong answer. It is really nerve-wracking for them. Students wanted to talk, but not in the class itself.”

English-speaking lawyers representing companies that invest in China are the new book’s primary audience.

“They realize China’s environmental laws are not strictly enforced. But my clients believe they need to comply with the laws of the country they are operating in,” McElwee said.

The book, at 331 pages long, costs $211.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A project director for the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks Foundation, Charles R. McElwee II works to promote public policies to prevent dangerous climate change and enhance global prosperity.

McElwee, who grew up in Charleston where his father is a partner at the Robinson & McElwee law firm, regularly works with environmental officials in China on grants to improve that country’s environment.

Oxford University Press just published his book, “Environmental Law in China: Mitigating Risk and Ensuring Compliance.” The book focuses on helping American corporations operating in China to understand and follow the country’s environmental laws.

“I was an environmental lawyer in the United States and made the acquaintance of this environmental law professor in China,” McElwee said during a recent telephone interview.

“The professor said, ‘Why don’t you come over and teach a class in American environmental law to my law students?’ Fortunately, the law firm I worked for then had just opened up an office in Shanghai,” he said.

“I worked for them part time and I taught part time. Then in 2005, I moved my whole family to China.

“Originally, we were going to stay for two years, but we ended up staying five years,” he said. “Now I know enough Chinese to order food and tell a cab driver where to go.”

James Fallows, a longtime writer for The Atlantic, said McElwee’s new book offers insights into differences “between the ambitious principles stated in legislation and the uneven realities of enforcement across the country, between the forces inside China willing and able to work with international environmental groups and those who shun outside ‘interference.'”

Teaching in China and the U.S. are very different experiences, McElwee said.

“I taught my law school class in English in China. I was talking away and the students were staring at me. I was worried. So finally, I cracked a joke and the students started to laugh.

“It was a fascinating experience. Originally, I thought I would teach law in China the same way I teach in the U.S., using Socratic methods.

“A professor starts a conversation by asking a number of questions about a particular point of law. There is no right or wrong answer. I try to get dialogues going in my classes,” he said.

But it’s completely different in China.

“Students didn’t believe me when I said there is no right or wrong answer. The idea of discussion in class is very foreign to them,” McElwee said. “Students are deadly afraid they would make a mistake, that they would give a wrong answer. It is really nerve-wracking for them. Students wanted to talk, but not in the class itself.”

English-speaking lawyers representing companies that invest in China are the new book’s primary audience.

“They realize China’s environmental laws are not strictly enforced. But my clients believe they need to comply with the laws of the country they are operating in,” McElwee said.

The book, at 331 pages long, costs $211.

“I am sure there will be some Chinese who will buy the book. But it is very expensive. That will be a hindrance,” McElwee said. “But there aren’t a lot of textbooks available, even in Chinese, that do a comprehensive sweep of environmental laws.”

McElwee’s book also offers perspectives on Chinese politics.

“The CPC [Communist Party of China] helped foster China’s modern environmental movement,” McElwee writes. “Indeed, the CPC’s Constitution provides that the ‘Party works to balance … relations between man and nature.'”

But the Communist Party rarely takes any action to promote China’s environmental laws.

The law-making process in China, McElwee writes, must “adhere to the ‘socialist road’ and promote economic development.”

Today, there are “about 100,000 lawyers in China, compared to 1 million in the U.S. The numbers are not comparable at all.”

The U.S. population recently topped 300 million, while China has more than 1.3 billion residents.

“China does not have the tradition of using law as a way to settle disputes. There is significantly less civil litigation in China than here in the U.S.,” McElwee said.

“The government is also wary of environmental lawyers. There are some public-interest environmental lawyers in China, but not nearly as many as in the U.S.”

McElwee said ClimateWorks operate in “four core geographies”: China, India, the European Union and the U.S. “Those are the regions that generate the most carbon emissions.

“We also work with another group to stop deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. That is a daunting task.”

Today, West Virginia University’s Business and Economic School has a Center for Chinese Business.

“Fifteen years ago, they started bringing Chinese officials over to Morgantown for business and institution-building courses. They started with a number of officials from the Shanghai municipal government. It was a phenomenal way to introduce West Virginia to an influential group of Chinese politicians”.

WVU also works with a consortium of clean-coal labs associated with universities and industries in China.

In 2009, Jiao Tong University in Shanghai gave McElwee its President’s Prize for Extraordinary Contribution. In 2008, he won the Shanghai Municipal Government’s Magnolia Award, the highest honor given to foreigners.

“I am sure there will be some Chinese who will buy the book. But it is very expensive. That will be a hindrance,” McElwee said. “But there aren’t a lot of textbooks available, even in Chinese, that do a comprehensive sweep of environmental laws.”

McElwee’s book also offers perspectives on Chinese politics.

“The CPC [Communist Party of China] helped foster China’s modern environmental movement,” McElwee writes. “Indeed, the CPC’s Constitution provides that the ‘Party works to balance … relations between man and nature.'”

But the Communist Party rarely takes any action to promote China’s environmental laws.

The law-making process in China, McElwee writes, must “adhere to the ‘socialist road’ and promote economic development.”

Today, there are “about 100,000 lawyers in China, compared to 1 million in the U.S. The numbers are not comparable at all.”

The U.S. population recently topped 300 million, while China has more than 1.3 billion residents.

“China does not have the tradition of using law as a way to settle disputes. There is significantly less civil litigation in China than here in the U.S.,” McElwee said.

“The government is also wary of environmental lawyers. There are some public-interest environmental lawyers in China, but not nearly as many as in the U.S.”

McElwee said ClimateWorks operate in “four core geographies”: China, India, the European Union and the U.S. “Those are the regions that generate the most carbon emissions.

“We also work with another group to stop deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. That is a daunting task.”

Today, West Virginia University’s Business and Economic School has a Center for Chinese Business.

“Fifteen years ago, they started bringing Chinese officials over to Morgantown for business and institution-building courses. They started with a number of officials from the Shanghai municipal government. It was a phenomenal way to introduce West Virginia to an influential group of Chinese politicians”.

WVU also works with a consortium of clean-coal labs associated with universities and industries in China.

In 2009, Jiao Tong University in Shanghai gave McElwee its President’s Prize for Extraordinary Contribution. In 2008, he won the Shanghai Municipal Government’s Magnolia Award, the highest honor given to foreigners.

Today, McElwee also runs a blog about Chinese environmental law at: www.chinaenvironmentallaw.com.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

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