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 2019-2020 academic year, the Clinic’s projects include:
Citizen Science: The Clinic’s multi-year, multi-pronged effort to promote individuals’ and communities’ ability to conduct their own environmental monitoring is especially important in a time of reduced federal emphasis on environmental enforcement and declining budgets for many state environmental agencies. Clinic staff and students—with input from the Environmental Law Institute and Environmental Defense Fund—have developed an interactive, electronic “Manual for Citizen Scientists Starting or Participating in Data Collection and Environmental Monitoring Projects,” available at https://citizenscienceguide.com/homepage. This interactive tool helps individuals and organizations identify, design, and implement citizen science projects. The Manual is supported by a fifty-state survey of laws relevant to the activities of citizen scientists that includes regulatory and evidentiary standards applicable to uses of environmental data.
Student activities this year will include exploring and developing opportunities for integrating citizen science into settlement agreements for violations of environmental laws, analyzing techniques for utilizing citizen science in litigation, and responding to questions from members of the public engaged in citizen science projects. The Clinic will also continue to participate in presentations and webinars focused on tools for citizen scientists.
Science and the Law: Building on its prior research, client advice and comments on federal regulations, the Clinic is developing material to help scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and members of the public protect and advocate for the appropriate use of science in federal decision-making that affects public health and the environment. From interacting with federal advisory committees to responding to internal and external sources of information, the federal government is required, often by statute, to provide experts a meaningful opportunity to provide input on science-based decisions and to adequately consider and respond to such input and other sources of information. Students are creating guidance and toolkits that can be used by lawyers, scientists, policy advocates and others to ensure the appropriate use of science in all stages of government decision-making.
Municipal Climate Change
The Clinic continues to support cities and organizations developing innovative programs to advance climate change mitigation and adaptations goals. Examples of ongoing projects include:
- Advancing the Clinic’s work on strategies for Massachusetts municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector by delving into implementation issues raised by the Clinic’s model ordinance, such as mechanisms to protect affordable housing and low-income residents and the appropriate use and contours of carbon offset projects. Cities and towns interested in exploring net zero building programs are welcome to contact the Clinic to discuss the issue.
- Developing zoning tools that advance climate change mitigation and adaptation goals while protecting and improving the health and resilience of residents and environmental justice communities. Drawing lessons from zoning initiatives across the country, Clinic students will draft ordinances and outline policy and legal support for the proposals.
- Examining opportunities to optimize the location, design and operation of levees along the Mississippi River to reduce the damage from large rain and storm events. This year saw extreme flooding in the Midwest, caused in part by large snowmelts, significantly higher than average precipitation, and long periods without interruption in rainfall. The flooding has had significant economic, public health and safety impacts and, with the impacts of climate change projected to increase, there is concern that this year’s flooding events will not be anomalies. Clinic students will be researching state laws relevant to the construction and maintenance of levees and creating strategies for coordinating efforts to promote regional resilience to flooding.
District Energy: The Clinic will be advancing work done last spring in Professor Jacobs’ Climate Solutions Living Lab on developing regulatory and policy strategies to advance the development of district energy for heating and cooling buildings in Massachusetts, with particular emphasis on district energy systems powered by ground source heat pumps. A Clinic student will be analyzing several legal and policy questions related to district energy systems, such as the legal implications of a variety of ownership structures for these systems; the types of district energy systems in place in the U.S.; the regulatory requirements and approval processes that would apply to these systems; and available state and federal incentives for financing and promoting ground source heat pumps 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. This year, a Clinic student will be working on comments on EPA’s expected revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, the primary federal regulation addressing lead in drinking water.
Trump Administration Rollbacks: The Trump Administration is attempting to push through unprecedented regulatory rollbacks across all areas of environmental and natural resources law. This year the Clinic, together with its clients and partners, will be submitting amicus briefs in support of litigation challenging a number of the most significant rollbacks, including:
- EPA Repeal of the Clean Power Plan: On July 8, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its repeal of the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration’s regulation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants—and replaced it with the Affordable Clean Energy (“ACE”) Rule. The ACE Rule takes a significantly narrower view of EPA’s authority and would result in virtually no emission reductions. The Clinic submitted comments on the proposed rule in the fall of 2018 and will be filing an amicus brief in the current litigation in the D.C. Circuit.
- Weakening of Fuel Economy Standards: EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have proposed to freeze fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks between 2021 and 2026, thereby repealing the most important regulation addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. The Clinic submitted comments on the proposed rule, focusing on the incoherence of the proposal’s recognizing the impacts of climate change while simultaneously proposing to do nothing about them. When the proposal is finalized, as is expected later this fall, the Clinic will submit an amicus brief in the subsequent litigation.
- Refusal to Ban Chlorpyrifos. On July 24, 2019, EPA released a final order in which it refused to ban the remaining agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide. EPA had previously, under the Obama administration, proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos food tolerances under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which would have effectively banned its use on food crops. The Clinic will be filing an amicus brief in challenges to this final order, following up on a brief it filed in a previous round of litigation.
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, Conservation Law Foundation, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Environmental Defense Fund.