The Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic offers students an opportunity to do real-life and real-time legal and policy work. Clinic offerings include local, national, and international projects covering the spectrum of environmental issues. Depending on the project, students may undertake litigation and advocacy work by drafting briefs, preparing testimony, conducting research, developing strategy, and reviewing proposed legislation. Students present their work to clients, stakeholders, and decision-makers, including federal, state, and local officials.
Some students work off-campus with government agencies and nonprofit organizations, while others work on-campus on cutting-edge projects and case work under the supervision of Clinical Professor and Director Wendy Jacobs, Deputy Director and Senior Clinical Instructor Shaun Goho, and Clinical Instructor Aladdine Joroff.
For the 2017-2018 academic year, the Clinic’s projects include:
Citizen Science: With input from the Environmental Law Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, Clinic staff and students developed an interactive, electronic “Manual for Citizen Scientists Starting or Participating in Data Collection and Environmental Monitoring Projects.” This interactive tool helps individuals and organizations identify, design, and implement citizen science projects and is supported by a fifty-state survey of trespass and other laws relevant to the activities of citizen scientists and includes regulatory and evidentiary standards applicable to uses of environmental data. The Clinic hosted a citizen science workshop in October 2017 that brought together various “thought leaders” on the subject; presented the manual at a conference in Buffalo, NY; and expanded the manual to include an Appendix on Hurricane Harvey. During 2018, the Clinic will further expand the manual to help citizens monitor and prepare for natural and man-made disasters across the U.S.
Hurricane Harvey Response: The recent natural disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey has created a public health and environmental crisis in Texas. In response, the Clinic assembled a team of students to work on developing and implementing strategies for obtaining critical information from federal and state agencies through FOIA requests, as well as to generally locate and analyze the obligations of agencies and companies to provide information to the public under a variety of laws.
Dam Removal: The Clinic is working with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) to develop a guide for dam owners that addresses legal questions related to removing dams and restoring free-flowing streams. By providing greater legal clarity to dam owners, the process of dam removal in the Commonwealth will proceed more quickly and efficiently. Clinic students will present their research and guide both to staff at DER and to dam owners themselves, through a workshop and/or webinars.
Science and the Law: The Clinic is researching and developing strategies and tools that scientists, nonprofit organizations, and other interested parties can use to fight back against assaults on science and its role in decision-making. The focus is on the role of federal advisory committees and the various statutory and regulatory standards applicable to the use of and reliance on scientific data by federal agencies. In addition to advisory committees, other tactics will be examined, such as the use of non-peer-reviewed science and the manipulation of peer-reviewed science in ways that undermine requirements of key environmental statutes.
National Monuments and Other Natural Resources: The Clinic is researching and drafting briefs to challenge presidential and agency actions that will open public lands and waters to development, particularly by the coal, oil and gas industries. Clinic students are identifying and developing procedural strategies for challenging adverse presidential and agency actions regarding the monument designations; oil and gas leasing, and seismic testing; developing arguments on the merits to overturn such actions; and working with scientists, fishing groups, and others to develop the factual support for challenges.
Net Zero Buildings: The Clinic is continuing to develop strategies to help Massachusetts municipalities implement cutting edge goals to eliminate greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions from the building sector, and will build on the significant contributions by prior clinical students who researched and developed strategies for achieving net zero objectives in a manner that is consistent with federal, state and municipal laws. Topics include: (i) existing federal and state requirements regarding building energy efficiency, energy use and/or greenhouse gas emissions from building operations, and any resulting preemption of local action; (ii) the legal authority of towns and cities to require or incentivize actions related to net zero buildings; (iii) the legal authority of towns and cities to create and administer local carbon offset markets; and (iv) opportunities for incentivizing behavior through local tax laws.
Amicus Briefs: The Clinic regularly writes and files amicus briefs in high-profile litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal courts of appeals, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In the winter of 2017, clinic students prepared a brief for the D.C. Circuit on behalf of several scientists in support of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants and for the Sixth Circuit on behalf of municipalities and small businesses in support of EPA’s Clean Water Rule. In June 2017, the Clinic filed an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals on behalf of five former Massachusetts attorneys general in a case involving a claim by Exxon Mobil that the current attorney general, Maura Healey, should not be allowed to use a civil investigative demand (a key investigatory tool) to compel Exxon to release information regarding its climate change-related disclosures and claims. Other briefs will be prepared in 2018.
Litigation Strategies: The Clinic frequently assists non-profit environmental groups in developing confidential litigation strategies that address (i) specific substantive topics, (ii) methods for developing factual records; (iii) procedural issues that organizations must address to ensure or create meaningful participation in ongoing review of state and federal rulemakings, enforcement actions and legal challenges to or defense of laws and policies; and (iv) citizen suits.
Externships: In addition to the work that students perform under the direct supervision of Clinic faculty and staff, some students work off-campus in the offices of federal, state, or local government agencies or with non-profit environmental groups. Placements include the U.S. Department of Justice—Environment and Natural Resources Division, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Strike Force, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination, Alternatives for Community and Environment, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Former clinical fellow Leah Cohen speaks about her experiences in the clinic:
The Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is committed to the full inclusion of students with disabilities. Students requesting accessibility resources or accommodations in any of HLS’s Clinical and Pro Bono Programs may work with Accessibility Services in the Dean of Students Office. If you are a student with a documented disability and you are requesting accommodations, please contact HLS Accessibility Services to discuss and register for accommodations.