The explosion at the West Fertilizer Company facility in West, Texas, on April 17 provided Professor Ellen Margrethe Basse of Denmark with a comparative law lesson for the students enrolled in the College of Law's foreign enrichment course, International Perspectives on Urban Law and Policy. The explosion that killed 14 people, injured 160 and destroyed homes, businesses, a middle school and a nursing home in the small town community has led to many news stories about whether regulators could have prevented this disaster.
However, Basse used the West Texas disaster to illustrate to students the difference in European land use law and American land use law. Using an USA Today news article with a map of the area surrounding the West Fertilizer Plant, Basse was able to show the students just how close the homes, nursing home and hospital were to the plant. Pointing to homes less than 1,000 feet away from the plant, Basse told the students, "In Denmark, you cannot have homes and businesses located so close to dangerous activities. There is a European Union law, the SEVESCO Directive, which has been implemented into all member states legislation that prohibits hazardous activities within 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, of residential areas, including schools and hospitals."
The International Perspectives course is an interdisciplinary class drawing graduate students university wide to learn about environmental, land use, and growth management issues in other countries and features three internationally recognized foreign visiting professors. Basse was the last of three foreign visiting professors to teach in the course this semester. Her lectures provided students with a European perspective on urban law and policy. "The European Union is the most urbanized region in the world; about 80 percent of people live in cities and towns," said Basse.
To set the stage for her course segment, she began with an overview of the constitutional and institutional framework for the development of environmental law at the European Union level, comparing it to the law in the United States. Basse then shifted her lectures to smart growth, explaining Danish traditions in spatial planning and the implementation of EU environmental directives into Danish law. Her last lecture focused on environmental liability and the rules for compensation.
Basse is a professor in Environmental Law at Aarhus University in the School of Business and Social Sciences in Denmark. Her research and teaching focuses on growth management, environmental law, and the impact of globalization on the development of environmental legislation in Greenland. She is one of Europe's most prolific writers in the fields of land use and environmental law.