The Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School offers students the opportunity to practice environmental law through work on a variety of litigation, administrative, legislative, and policy projects. The Clinic works with scientists, medical professionals, nonprofit and public interest organizations, and government clients on environmental and energy issues at the federal, state, and local level. The work includes writing briefs and comment letters, drafting climate change mitigation and adaptation regulations and policies for municipalities, preparing guidance documents and manuals for non-lawyers, drafting model legislation, and preparing policy papers. The Clinic develops novel strategies to address thorny environmental problems; investigates new cases; works with scientific, economic, and policy experts to help them present their views about the impacts of legal reforms; advises citizen scientists; and convenes meetings of policy-makers and regulators. 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 the Clinic’s faculty and staff.
The Clinic’s recent projects include:
Developing Innovative Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies
- Promoting the Removal of Obsolete Dams in Massachusetts: In 2020, the Clinic released Legal Issues in Dam Removal: A Guide for Massachusetts Dam Owners. In the fall of 2022, the Clinic worked with a local NGO to investigate legal and regulatory strategies to promote dam removal.
- Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Building Sector: The Clinic has worked for several years to help develop strategies for Massachusetts municipalities to address greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector. Clinic students have analyzed pre-emption issues, written a white paper outlining the authority for municipal action, and drafted a model law for cities and towns to use as a starting point. In addition, the Clinic helped the City of Boston draft a proposed city ordinance, which led to the creation of the BERDO 2.0 building performance standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings enacted in October 2021.
- Assisting Tribes with Renewable Energy Development: For more than a year now, we have been assisting the Yurok Tribe of northern California with the implementation of its tribal energy plan, which involves installing both on-grid and off-grid solar and developing one or more clean energy microgrids. The Clinic has been conducting research into potential regulatory barriers, sources of funding, and options for the legal structure of the tribal energy entity. In connection with the Climate Solutions Living Lab course, we are now performing a similar analysis for the Quapaw Tribe in Oklahoma
- Assisting Coastal Municipalities with Climate Resilience Planning: This is another area in which the Clinic has worked for years, starting with a landmark white paper for the City of Boston more than a decade ago. Our recent work has included advising municipalities on procurement and cost-sharing to help inform their vulnerability assessments as well as research on green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, and incentives to protect fragile coastal areas and minimize climate change impacts.
Supporting the Transition to a Carbon-Free Energy System
The Clinic is engaged in several projects that address efforts to decarbonize the energy system. This work includes:
- Working with local organizations to (i) analyze financing mechanisms for transitioning natural gas systems to non-greenhouse gas emitting sources and (ii) draft legislation that advances funding, reporting and planning tools and prioritizations to support the evolution of natural gas systems for a carbon constrained world.
- Submitting comments on behalf of municipalities in DPU 20-80, an investigation before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities regarding the role of gas companies as the Commonwealth achieves its climate goals. Our current work focuses on developing a framework for measuring equity in the proceeding.
- Researching both the requirements and opportunities for municipal electric utilities in Massachusetts to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a focus on strategies for integrating electric vehicles and net metering policies.
- Working with an international NGO to develop U.S. corporate and securities law strategies related to overseas coal plant investments and greenwashing by asset managers.
- Assisting the Post Road Foundation with regulatory issues related to the implementation of a transactive energy pilot project in Maine.
Advocating for Strong, Science-Based Federal Environmental Regulations
For many years, the Clinic, together with its clients and partners, submitted comment letters and amicus briefs opposing the Trump Administration’s most significant rollbacks across all areas of environmental and energy law. Under the new administration, we continue to advocate for strong environmental protections. Sample projects include:
- Opposing the Weakening of Fuel Economy Standards: Under the Trump Administration, EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) significantly weakened fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks between 2021 and 2026. In January 2021, the Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of eminent climate scientists and economists, arguing that the EPA and NHTSA, in promulgating the SAFE Rule, ignored decades of science and their own conclusions regarding the perils of climate change, as well as the significant role that the transportation sector plays in U.S. emissions and global warming.
- Mercury and Air Toxics Standards: The Clinic has worked for several years with a group of scientists to submit comment letters and amicus briefs supporting the regulation of hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants. In the spring of 2022, we submitted a comment letter on EPA’s latest proposal.
- National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): In November 2020, the Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of three senior members of Congress in a case challenging the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) revisions to its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Clinic’s brief argued that the CEQ revisions were inconsistent with Congress’ intent in enacting NEPA, and that the regulations would significantly weaken the effectiveness of the NEPA process by lessening the frequency and scope of NEPA analyses, reducing public involvement, and limiting judicial review. The Clinic also filed an amicus brief in February 2021 in a suit claiming that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a proper NEPA analysis of environmental harms caused by a proposed transmission line bringing power from Canada to New England.
- Clean Water Act Protections: In 2020, the Trump Administration revised the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, dramatically reducing the number of streams and wetlands that are protected, with potentially catastrophic consequences for water quality across the country. The clinic had filed a comment letter opposing the proposed version of this rule in 2019. In December 2020 and May 2021, the Clinic filed amicus briefs on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in cases challenging this regulation. More recently, the Clinic filed comments on behalf of NPCA that are generally supportive of the Biden administration’s proposed revision to this rule.
- Farm Bill Recommendations: The Clinic is continuing its collaboration with the Farm Bill Legal Enterprise, a consortium of several other law school clinics and academic research programs (led by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic) to analyze the Farm Bill and develop policy recommendations for reforms in advance of the legislative debate over the next Farm Bill. The Clinic’s work focuses on the Farm Bill’s impact on climate change mitigation and resilience.
Advancing Access, Equity, and Environmental Justice
These themes run through many, if not all, of our projects. But they have been a particular focus in some:
- Promoting Equity in Offshore Wind Procurement: The Clinic researched mechanisms to integrate equity-based objectives into the procurement process for new offshore wind projects in Massachusetts.
- Lead in Drinking Water: Over several semesters, the Clinic has worked on developing strategies for reducing exposure to lead in drinking water. Clinic students previously drafted white papers on identifying best practices for water sampling protocols and on the authority of water utilities in 13 key states to use ratepayer funds to pay for complete lead service line replacements. In February 2020, the Clinic submitted comments focused on the health equity, environmental justice, and civil rights aspects of the EPA’s proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), the primary federal regulation addressing lead in drinking water. Last year, the Clinic worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a model Title VI administrative complaint that communities could file with EPA to challenge their water utility’s lead service line removal practices. EDF and other groups adapted this complaint and in January 2022 filed a complaint against Providence, RI, which EPA subsequently accepted for investigation.
Externships: In addition to the work that our 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. For 2021-2022, our Clinic students went to a variety of placements: the U.S. Department of Justice (Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section, and Environmental Enforcement Section), U.S. Department of Interior – Office of the Solicitor, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (the Environmental Protection Division and the Energy and Telecommunications Division), Conservation Law Foundation, the Clean Air Task Force, Earthjustice, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).