Joseph DiMento
Joseph DiMento is a founding faculty member of the UCI School of Law and director of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society. The center's Oct. 9 event highlights environmental law and pollution in China. Kerrin Piche Serna / University Communications

Joseph DiMento believes the law is a powerful weapon in the battle to save the planet. That’s why he’s so enthusiastic about the creation of an environmental law clinic at the UC Irvine School of Law that will give students hands-on training in environmental legal and policy work.

“The law plays a very important role in slowing the degradation of the planet,” says DiMento, professor of law and planning, policy & design. “Over the last 50 years, it has achieved significant gains in pollution control and the protection of natural resources. For example, the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set air quality standards and deadlines for meeting them, has had major success throughout the U.S.”

DiMento has been a UCI faculty member for more than 35 years, teaching urban and regional planning and domestic and international environmental law. He is a founding faculty member at the School of Law, where he will teach international law and help shape the environmental law clinic. The clinic, which received $2 million in May, will allow students to work with lawyers on some of the most pressing local issues such as toll road extensions and water quality.

DiMento says learning about environmental issues early in their legal education will give students an advantage once they begin practicing law: “Our law school is practice-oriented. With this clinic, students will start with one foot ahead of the game.”

The Syracuse native also directs the Newkirk Center for Science & Society, which sponsors programs that bring science to the public. The next event on Thursday, Oct. 9, centers on environmental law and pollution in China.

Environmental law was in its infancy when DiMento attended the University of Michigan Law School. He initially chose to pursue law as a means of creating social change and promoting civil rights but shifted to international environmental law after taking a course from Joseph Sax, sometimes called the “father” of environmental law for writing Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act.

As DiMento sees it, environmental law “should be used not only to punish people but to provide incentives for positive actions, such as recycling and water conservation.”

UCI law professor Alejandro Camacho believes students will benefit from DiMento’s background: “Joe brings to the law school a wealth of knowledge about environmental problems, particularly from a comparative and international perspective. His expertise in planning will also help enrich students’ understanding of these issues.”