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Law students win top two awards in environmental law writing competition

Since 2010, the Ohio State Bar Association Environmental Law Committee presents its annual Environmental Law Award to the best law student paper submitted on environmental, energy or natural resources law.

This year, UT law students wrote both the winning and runner-up papers. Rachel Hammersmith was named winner and received a prize of $1,000 from McMahon DeGulis LLP, a law firm with offices across the state that concentrates on environmental litigation and allied fields. Florianne Silvestri was named runner-up, taking home a prize of $250. Both will graduate this week.

Law students Rachel Hammersmith, right, and Florianne Silvestri took first- and second-place honors, respectively, in the Ohio State Bar Association’s environmental law writing competition.

Winning papers are to be of law review or higher quality, and all papers were scored on criteria that included quality of legal research, analysis and writing; relevance to Ohio legal practice; and importance and timeliness of the topic. The awards were announced at the recent Ohio State Bar Association Environment, Energy and Resources Seminar, and both papers were published in the seminar materials.

Hammersmith’s paper was titled “The Power Struggle Between Local and State Authorities to Control Oil and Gas Drilling and Fracking in Ohio.” She took issue with a 2015 Ohio Supreme Court decision, Morrison v. Beck Energy, that struck down certain municipal ordinances regulating oil and gas drilling on the basis that they were pre-empted by state law. Notwithstanding Morrison, she argued, Ohio municipalities can use their zoning powers to regulate oil and gas drilling and fracking within their borders.

Silvestri’s paper was titled “Ohio Wind Power and the Legal Challenges With the National Environmental Act and the Endangered Species Act.”

Ken Kilbert, professor of law, supervised both papers, which were written as part of the College of Law’s Advanced Research and Writing course work.

“Rachel wrote a terrific paper on a timely issue of legal, practical and environmental import,” Kilbert said. “We are very proud of both Rachel and Florianne.”

This marks the third time in eight years that a UT law student has won the Ohio State Bar Association’s Environmental Law Award. Hammersmith joins previous UT winners M. Zach Hohl, who graduated in 2012, and Alex Vogelpohl, who graduated in 2015. Silvestri joins previous UT runners-up Alex Savickas, who graduated in 2015, and James Madeiros, who graduated in 2010.