Environmental Law Clinic
Students in the Environmental Law Clinic represent local, regional, and national environmental and community organizations working to solve critical environmental challenges facing the metropolitan region.
Clinic students represent clients on a broad array of issues including clean water, wetlands preservation, endangered species, environmental justice, "smart growth," and clean air.
The students' work is key for the New York City metropolitan region and the United States overall as a nearly inexhaustible supply of environmental troubles is present. At the urban core and in outlying areas, communities face diverse challenges such as alarmingly high asthma rates, scarce open-space resources, brownfield redevelopment, and sprawl.
In weekly seminars, students lead strategic discussions of the issues to be resolved in their cases. This clinic emphasizes litigation skills that have broad applications beyond environmental law, such as drafting pleadings, arguing motions, and negotiating settlements. Students are also exposed to mechanisms, such as citizen suits, that are prevalent in both civil rights and environmental cases.
Students in the Environmental Law Clinic have worked with community groups concerned about pollution and public health as well as with statewide and national organizations and coalitions dealing with such issues as land conservation and transportation. Here are some examples of the work in recent years:
- In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center, they counseled firefighters and others exposed to asbestos and other toxins.
- Students advocated for citizen and environmental groups before state and federal agencies to ensure that nuclear-power-plant owners maintain adequate resources to operate, maintain, and shut down the plants safely.
- With a heavy emphasis on client interaction, the clinic teaches students to counsel community groups to grapple with and settle their cases in ways that best achieve their goals.
- The clinic also addresses the interplay of economic development and environmental protection and the impact of contamination and regulation on communities of color and other economically disadvantaged groups.
"The Environmental Law Clinic showed me the broad range of roles that lawyers play. In one case, students litigated a case that went to trial. In another, we researched the law for several community and environmental groups so that we could advise them on the strategies they might use in convincing decision makers to do the right thing. We were also involved in filing formal complaints in a regulatory administrative process, which ultimately got the governor of New Jersey to come out and oppose the construction of a mall on wetlands."
– Ben Longstreth '02, Clerk, Chief Judge John M. Walker, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit
In Action: Students' Work In The Environmental Law Clinic
In Spring 2015, Professor Edward Lloyd and a group of students in the Environmental Law Clinic, Olga Basko, Surbhi Sarang and Polly Silverman, published a memorandum, Clarifying IRS's View on Climate Change as a Charitable Purpose in Order to Mobilize Program-Related Investments for Climate Change Solutions. Read the memo here.
Scott Sneddon '07 was part of a team working on a multiyear project that involved the Clean Water Act. In particular, he looked at the requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency regulate power plants that take in large quantities of water from oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams to cool hot machinery. For many years, the EPA has not met this requirement.
Read about their work and the Environmental Law Clinic In Action.
A Breakthrough in Pollution Control
The clinic represented a community group in lower Manhattan seeking to minimize the adverse health effects of the expansion of a power plant. First, students petitioned for a rehearing from the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment. The board had previously refused to consider the impact of the small particles, known as PM 2.5, that the plant would emit. The rehearing, however, was granted. It was the first time the board acknowledged the potential impact of these particles.
To prepare for the rehearing, students worked with medical and engineering experts on direct and rebuttal testimony on the effects of emissions. They also prepared cross-examinations of expert witnesses presented by other parties.
After four days of complex settlement negotiations, the utility decided to dedicate nearly $4 million to reduce air emissions from the plant. The settlement has become a model for similar cases throughout New York and the students’ work has since led to similar consideration at other state power plants.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Edward Lloyd
Edward Lloyd, the Evan M. Frankel Clinical Professor in Environmental Law, is the Director of Clinical Education at Columbia. He joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2000.
To read Lloyd’s full biography and to find his contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.
Faculty Highlight: Senior Staff Attorney Susan Kraham
Susan J. Kraham is a Senior Staff Attorney and Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School's Environmental Law Clinic. She has spent her legal career representing public interest clients, with a particular focus on environmental and land use law.
To read Kraham’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.