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.
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 Wendy Jacobs, Senior Clinical Instructor Shaun Goho, and Clinical Instructor Aladdine Joroff.
2016-17 Clinic Projects
Citizen Science: The Clinic is examining the laws that facilitate or impede the practice of “citizen science,” which generally refers to the crowdsourcing of data collection and/or analysis for scientific research. During fall 2016, clinic students conducted a 50-state survey of applicable laws that affect the practice of citizen science, reviewed federal policies and practices, and identified trends and opportunities in the laws. In the spring 2017, students are expanding this research and preparing a manual to guide citizen scientists with information collection efforts, help them avoid legal pitfalls when they are gathering evidence and data “in the field,” and advise them about collecting data in manner that supports evidentiary standards associated with their goals. In coming semesters, students will draft model statutory language and permit terms.
Climate Displacement: The Clinic collaborated with the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program to hold an international conference on domestic and international climate change displacement and migration in October 2016. The conference examined governance challenges by applying emerging norms and standards to specific contexts in order to deepen knowledge and develop practical solutions to actively address climate change displacement. Clinic students conducted background research for the conference case studies on urban coastal retreat on the East Coast of the United States and the relocation of native villages in Alaska). In spring 2017, clinic students are building on the ideas and relationships developed at that conference through follow-up conversations with the conference participants, drafting a conference report, researching legal issues under the Stafford Act and the National Flood Insurance Program, and identifying clinical projects for next fall and beyond.
Analysis of the Markets for Renewable Energy Credits: The Clinic has been exploring controversial and critical issues surrounding the markets for and purchase of renewable energy by institutions looking to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions. Clinic students have been identifying and analyzing the legal frameworks for mandatory and voluntary purchases of renewable energy and associated “credits” for reduced or avoided emissions, exploring the extent to which such frameworks are binding on voluntary commitments, developing criteria to evaluate the credibility and efficacy of a range of renewable energy transactions, and analyzing contractual options for implementing such transactions.
Lead in Drinking Water: The Clinic is developing strategies for identifying dangerous levels of lead in drinking water and for replacing the service lines that leach lead into drinking water. Clinic students have been developing a paper with recommended best practices for testing household water for lead and identifying and analyzing legal strategies available to communities with contaminated water. Future work may include drafting comments on proposed amendments to the federal Lead and Copper Rule and its state analogues and developing arguments that utilities should be responsible for complete service line replacements.
Farm Bill Recommendations: The Clinic is collaborating with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and a consortium of clinics at other law schools to analyze the Farm Bill and develop policy recommendations for reforms in advance of the legislative debate over the next Farm Bill. Since the Farm Bill has significant implications for public health, the environment, and rural livelihoods, each participating clinic or research program is taking the lead to research one or more Farm Bill titles or policy areas. Our clinic students are focusing on climate change issues and impacts—a very large topic that has implications for and is affected by many aspects of the Farm Bill.
Underground Natural Gas Storage Policy Reform: The Clinic is partnering with the Environmental Policy Initiative and researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health on a project that is assessing the technical factors that best predict the risk of leakage or explosion at underground natural gas storage facilities; reviewing the regulatory landscape; identifying technical and regulatory best practices for reducing risk; and developing recommendations for regulatory reform. Clinic students are assisting with regulatory review and identification of best practices, and will draft a white paper targeted at regulators and elected officials.
Rural Adaptation to Climate Change Impacts: The Clinic is building on its extensive prior climate change adaptation work for several Massachusetts cities by focusing on issues and opportunities of importance to inland rural communities. Students are identifying legal strategies and opportunities that rural municipalities can pursue to enhance climate change preparedness; developing tools, such as model bylaw provisions and guidance documents, to implement such strategies; and creating knowledge “vaults” or other mechanisms for communities to share experiences and resources. Student work in the Spring 2017 semester includes presenting at a state conference for municipal regulators and analyzing the relationship between the science of climate change impact data downscaling and evidentiary rules.
Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Buildings: The Clinic is identifying and analyzing opportunities for municipalities to promote building operations with net zero emissions of greenhouse gases. Clinic students are developing market strategies, such as incentive-based programs and local carbon funds, regulations and guidance policies, to help cities implement cutting edge goals to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.
Municipal Ordinances: Many semesters, the Clinic assists municipalities (e.g. Boston, New York) with the drafting of ordinances, by-laws, and guidance documents. During the fall of 2016, a clinic student worked with the City of Boston on revising and updating its noise ordinance; during the winter semester 2017, a student worked with New York City on climate change adaptation guidance.
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.
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 and (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.
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 during the 2016-17 academic year 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, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
How to Register
The Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is offered in the Fall and Spring semester through the Helios preferencing process. The clinics is also offered in the Winter term on a By-Application basis. You can learn about the required clinical course component, additional requirements and requisites, as well as the clinical registration process, by reading the course catalog description and exploring the links in this section.
In the News
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Since I started, I have dealt with wonderful projects that I never would have expected, including everything from a petition to the Office of Management and Budget at the White House designed to reduce CO2 emissions from university research laboratories, to researching questions of whether synthetic rhinoceros horn is “derived” from a real animal product, to analyzing applications of the “Rights of Nature” section of the Ecuadorian constitution, to revising decades old noise ordinances in order to bring them into the 21st century.
Faculty and Staff
Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic
Harvard Law School
6 Everett Street
4th Floor, Suite 4119
Cambridge, MA 02138