The Florida environmental law community suffered a devastating blow on September 8 when Christopher T. Byrd’s fight against cancer ended with his passing. Byrd was known to many for two headline-making controversies, first with his dismissal from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2013 and then with his role in an investigative news report that captured the attention of the nation concerning the use of the term “climate change” in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
But The Florida Bar’s Environmental and Land Use Law Section had long known Byrd as an environmental crusader who put his seemingly boundless energy to work on many causes, including as an ELULS Executive Council member. Fittingly, the ELULS Executive Council voted September 12 to rename its award recognizing notable public interest environmental practitioners the Christopher T. Byrd Memorial Public Interest Attorney Award.
“The Environmental and Land Use Law Section Executive Council overwhelmingly supported the decision to rename the public interest attorney award for Chris Byrd not only for the contributions he made to our section as a section member and as an executive council member, but also for his wholehearted work to protect Florida’s — and our country’s — environment,” Section Chair Vivien Monaco said.
Byrd’s contributions to ELULS include chairing its Public Interest Committee, presenting at the Annual Update — the section’s flagship CLE program — and co-writing an article in The Florida Environmental and Land Use Law Treatise. Byrd was also one of the first to lead the section’s Young Lawyers Committee.
After departing FDEP, Byrd opened a firm in Central Florida, concentrating on environmental and land use matters with a focus on clients representing public concern in governmental decisionmaking. He was also active in the fight against Fanconi anemia, a condition that contributed to his premature demise at the age of 34.
The award named for Byrd is presented annually to a lawyer who has made contributions to advocacy on behalf of Florida’s environment. Criteria to be considered in selecting the recipients include not only excellence in advocacy but a long-term commitment to protecting natural resources and the extent to which nominees serve as role models for other attorneys and aspiring attorneys. The next award presentation, scheduled to coincide with the Public Interest Environmental Conference at the University of Florida in early 2017, will include a special tribute to Byrd.