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.
In addition to the cutting-edge projects and case 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, U.S. Department of Interior – Office of the Solicitor, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Strike Force, Oceana, Conservation Law Foundation, the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE).
Past Clinic Projects
Challenges to Trump Administration rollbacks:
The clinic, together with its clients and partners, continues to submit amicus briefs in support of litigation challenging the Trump Administration’s most significant rollbacks across all areas of environmental and natural resources law, including:
- Weakening of Fuel Economy Standards: 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, thereby repealing the most important Obama administration regulation addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. 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.
- Refusal to Ban Chlorpyrifos. In February 2021, the clinic submitted a comment letter on behalf of scientific and medical experts urging the EPA to reverse its proposed registration decision for chlorpyrifos—a dangerous organophosphate pesticide whose use the Obama administration had proposed to halt on all food crops—and revise the underlying Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). The clinic’s letter calls into question EPA’s decision to use 10% red blood cell acetyl cholinesterase (AChE) inhibition as the basis for the toxicological point of departure, and argues that the HHRA’s refusal to rely on the findings of a key epidemiological study is irrational and contrary to EPA’s longstanding commitment to rely on the best available science.
- National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): In November 2020, the clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of three members of Congress in a case challenging the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) recent revisions to its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—the foundational federal law that imposes a duty to prepare environmental impact statements on all federal agencies. The clinic’s brief argues that the recent CEQ revisions are inconsistent with Congress’ intent in enacting NEPA, and that CEQ’s new regulations will 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. In December 2020, the clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association in a case challenging this regulation. The clinic argued that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because the agencies failed to conduct an adequate analysis of the rule’s impacts on the scope of protected waters, and of the serious environmental, ecological, and recreational consequences it will produce.
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:
- Monetizing Climate Change Adaptation: As state and local governments experience and learn more about current and projected impacts of climate change, they are increasingly integrating climate adaptation and resilience measures into public and private development. The clinic is working to develop tools to help public entities demonstrate the financial benefit of climate change adaptation and resiliency projects and design public procurement processes to best advance these goals.
- Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Building Sector: Advancing the clinic’s work on strategies for Massachusetts municipalities to address greenhouse gas emissions from both new and existing buildings of all sizes, including by delving into implementation issues raised by the clinic’s model ordinance. This work includes developing new programs and analyzing municipal proposals for consistency with state laws and policies. Cities and towns interested in exploring net zero building and related programs are welcome to contact the clinic to discuss the issue.
- Zoning and Environmental Justice: 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.
- Emergency Orders: Based on lessons from state responses to COVID-19, the clinic is looking at whether emergency orders can be used to proactively prepare for and mitigate a broad range of climate change impacts, such as storm events, heat waves and wildfires, and associated risks to public health, delivery of municipal services, business operations, and local economies.
Transitioning thermal energy systems to renewable sources:
The clinic is engaged in several projects that address the future of natural gas in Massachusetts in light of the Commonwealth’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least eighty-five percent by 2050. 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.
- Tracking proceedings 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. The clinic will publish a blog that summarizes filings in the case and highlights opportunities for public participation.
- Developing material to promote energy literacy and support greater participation in regulatory, ratemaking and other proceedings regarding the future of energy systems in Massachusetts.
Increasing Carbon Sequestration on Natural and Working Lands: Preserving and increasing the role of nature-based systems, such as forests and wetlands, to sequester, store and/or remove greenhouse gases will be an important component in meeting federal and state climate change goals. The clinic is working on several projects that examine regulatory and market mechanisms, such as offset programs and conservation restrictions, that public and private entities can use to increase the role of nature-based solutions in advancing climate change goals, while also supporting rural livelihoods and advancing tribal sovereignty.
Promoting Equity in Offshore Wind Procurement: The clinic is researching mechanisms to integrate equity-based objectives into the procurement process for new offshore wind projects in Massachusetts. The focus of the clinic project is on equity issues related to participation in and access to the economic opportunities presented by offshore wind development, ranging from equity ownership to work for subcontractors and other entities in the supply chain.
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. This year, the clinic is working with partners at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to explore strategies for addressing discriminatory lead service line replacement practices under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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. This year, the clinic’s work will focus on developing recommendations related to the Farm Bill’s impact on climate change mitigation and resilience.
Stormwater Permits and Climate Change: The clinic is analyzing opportunities for incorporating climate change adaptation into Clean Water Act General Permits for stormwater associated with industrial activities. Stormwater from industrial sites can carry toxic material that endangers public health, waterways and marine life, and may be disproportionately concentrated in neighborhoods that are overburdened by pollution sources and associated health hazards.
Work with Native Tribes: The clinic is working with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on projects related to tribal sovereign immunity, water rights, and subsistence rights in Alaska. The clinic is also working with the Yurok Tribe to support its renewable energy development plans.
How to Register
The Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is offered in the Fall and Spring semesters. The clinic is also offered in the Winter term but requires an application for winter enrollment (due October 31, 2023). You can learn about the required clinical course component, clinical credits and the clinical registration/application process by reading the course catalog description and exploring the links in this section.
Meet the Instructors
Faculty Director; Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor of Law
Andrew Mergen is Deputy Chief of the Appellate Section of the Environment & Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He has presented arguments in all thirteen federal courts of appeals and in several state Supreme Courts. He has also assisted in the briefing of numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases. In 2009, he was detailed to the White House Counsel’s Office to assist on the confirmation of the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Mr. Mergen has taught at American University, the Villanova University, the Catholic University of America, and most recently at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Mr. Mergen has written on federal water rights, A Misplaced Sensitivity: The Draft Opinions in Wyoming v. United States, 68 Colo. L. Rev. 683 (1997) (with Sylvia F. Liu); on energy development on public lands, Surface Tension: The Problem of Federal Private Split Estates, 33 Land & Water L. Rev. 419 (1998); and, more recently, on climate change and the Endangered Species Act, The Role of Climate Change in ESA Listing Decisions, 53 Rocky Mt. Min. L. Fdn. 67 (2016) (with Murray Feldman).
Mr. Mergen’s research interests include Environmental and Natural Resources Law, Administrative Law, and Environmental Legal History. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the George Washington University School of Law.
Sommer Engels joined the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic as a Clinical Instructor in August 2023. Sommer previously served as an attorney in the Appellate Section of the Environment & Natural Resources Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for six years. Her cases covered numerous pollution control and natural resource management statutes and touched on a range of jurisdictional and constitutional issues. Sommer authored 25 merits briefs and dozens of substantive motions and memoranda, and she presented 15 oral arguments in federal appellate courts across the country. She was also one of the Appellate Section’s law clerk program coordinators and has extensive experience working with and training law students.
In addition to her litigation experience at DOJ, Sommer was detailed to the White House Council on Environmental Quality early in the Biden Administration, where she served as Deputy General Counsel. She advised the Chair and other White House officials on the legal implications of environmental initiatives and emergencies nationwide, co-managed an interagency group tasked with developing guidance for federal agencies on Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and helped ensure that proposed regulations were consistent with the Administration’s environmental justice initiatives.
Prior to joining DOJ, Sommer was a law clerk for Judge Bruce M. Selya on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Sommer graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 2016 and was the managing editor of the Michigan Law Review. She received her B.A. from Colby College.
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In the News
Mentoring a new generation of environmental lawyers: Catching up with Environmental Law and Policy Clinic director Andrew Mergen
Catching up with Andrew Mergen, director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, who joined the clinic in January 2023 after over three decades in government.
October 25, 2023
The Supreme Court will hear a case that could overturn a 40-year-old legal doctrine
NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Andrew Mergen of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic about the “Chevron Doctrine,” an important legal precedent that will be taken up by the Supreme Court this term.
October 17, 2023
Catching up with Environmental Law & Policy Clinic alum, Frank Sturges ’20
Sturges reflects on how the clinic brought him to his current role at the Clean Air Task Force.
September 8, 2023
Finding a new path in the Environmental Law & Policy Clinic
By Kaylee Ding ’23 It felt like most people in the environmental law space came to law school with some sort of background in environmental science and knew they wanted to do environmental law—I was not one of those people. By some happenstance, I chose and got into the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic
May 10, 2023