About the Clinic

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 2018-2019 academic year, the Clinic’s projects include:

Citizen Science:  The Clinic is in the midst of a multi-year, multi-pronged effort to promote individuals’ and communities’ ability to conduct their own environmental monitoring, an effort that 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.

In Fall 2017, the Clinic hosted a workshop that brought together federal, state, and local agency staff, representatives from environmental, environmental justice, and citizen science organizations, and technology developers to discuss legal and policy issues for environmental citizen science.  The workshop included presentations by current and former clinic students.  The Clinic has also presented the Manual at the 2017 Great Lakes Restoration conference in Buffalo, NY and expanded it to include an Appendix for Houston residents tracking air and water pollution after Hurricane Harvey.

This year, Clinic students are working on: 1) creating a supplement to the Manual focused on preparing for and responding to accidental or unpermitted chemical releases; 2) drafting a manual that explains when and how environmental plaintiffs can effectively use citizen science data in litigation; 3) updating the fifty-state survey of laws in the Manual as well as updating and revising previous student work on certain laws that create barriers to citizen science and laws, regulations, and policies governing when and how state environmental agencies will use citizen science, and 4) finalizing a model state statute to promote citizen science and the use of environmental citizen science data by agencies and courts.

Comments on 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 comments in opposition to a number of the most significant proposals.  We are presently working on comments opposing:

  • EPA Proposal to Replace the Clean Power Plan: On August 21, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration’s regulation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants—and to replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy (“ACE”) Rule, which takes a narrower view of EPA’s authority and would result in fewer emission reductions.  Clinic students are reviewing the proposed ACE rule and accompanying Regulatory Impact Analysis, researching how EPA considered costs and benefits when developing and evaluating the proposed rule, and evaluating whether EPA’s methodology is consistent with statutory mandates under the Clean Air Act and standards for cost-benefit analysis.
  • National Environmental Policy Act Regulations: The White House Council on Environmental Quality has solicited public input on potential revisions to the regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).  The Clinic is working on anticipating the content of such a proposal, proactively identifying issues to raise in comments, and developing arguments for defending a robust interpretation and implementation of NEPA.
  • 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’s comments focus on the proposal’s underestimation of the impact of the rule on climate change.
  • Clean Water Rule replacement: EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are preparing a rule that could dramatically reduce the number of water bodies that are protected under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule will likely remove protections from many headwater streams, which play a key role in—among other things—preserving the water quality in downstream National Parks.  The Clinic is partnering with the National Parks Conservation Association to submit comments on the proposal.

Hydroelectric Cooperative in Puerto Rico:  The Clinic is building upon the work begun by an interdisciplinary team of Harvard graduate students in Professor Wendy Jacobs’ Spring 2018 Climate Solutions Living Lab.  That student team conceived a project to rehabilitate two existing hydroelectric dams for the community of Utuado, which is located in a remote, mountainous region of Puerto Rico.  The project would begin with the formation of an electric cooperative for residents of Utuado and neighboring communities, and would lead to the production of more renewable energy, a more resilient electricity grid, lower electricity prices for the area, and more reliable access to clean drinking water.  Clinic students are currently researching the legal framework and requirements for a number of issues related to the project, including dredging the reservoirs, clarifying the water rights in the reservoirs, determining how a public-private partnership could be formed, and assessing requirements for critical project approvals and permitting.

Climate Change Disclosures:  In this project, a Clinic student is conducting an objective analysis of public companies’ obligations to disclose and act on climate change-related risks and any limitations on such disclosures and actions.  In addition to reviewing the current state of shareholder litigation and lawsuits in this arena, the student is examining the extent to which, if any, public companies are limited in what actions they can take regarding climate change by their fiduciary obligations.

Climate Displacement:  As the climate warms and seas rise, it will become necessary for significant portions of the U.S. population to retreat and relocate from coastal areas.  One place where coastal retreat is being taken seriously is in Alaska, where a number of Alaska Native villages face imminent destruction because of sea level rise, coastal erosion, the loss of winter sea ice, and permafrost melt.  The Clinic initially tackled this issue at the October 2016 Climate Displacement Conference (co-hosted with the Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic), where the Clinic developed a case study on Alaska Native Villages for discussion at the conference break-out workshops.  This year, Clinic students are focusing on assessing the relocation efforts of Alaska Native villages, including researching the laws, policies, and regulations that have presented unnecessary barriers for relocation; reviewing planning documents, permit and funding applications, and grants or denials of those applications; identifying any innovative solutions to challenges developed by the Alaska Native villages; and conducting extensive interviews with people who have taken part in relocation planning.

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.  For example, in the summer of 2018, the Clinic filed amicus briefs in two cases challenging former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive to exclude scientists who hold EPA research grants from serving on the agency’s science advisory committees.  In the 2018-19 academic year, the Clinic will file amicus briefs in litigation challenging the Trump administration’s decisions to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

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.  The Clinic is continuing this type of work during the 2018-19 academic year.

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, Alternatives for Community and Environment, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Former students talk about the Clinic:

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.