June 01, 2008
Appalachian Voices (Asheville, NC)
My PILP stipend allowed me to work for Appalachian Voices this summer. Appalachian Voices is a grassroots organization that brings people together to solve the environmental problems having the greatest impact on the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. The group works on a wide range of issues but tends to focus on those related to the cycle of coal extraction, transportation, and burning. The organization is particularly committed to ending the radical form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal. Although Appalachian Voices focuses primarily on organizing and empowering community members to face the environmental problems where they live, the group also utilizes litigation as one aspect of their strategy.
Along with one other intern, I worked with Appalachian Voices’ in-house counsel on a variety of cases. In addition to performing research and writing internal memos, I was asked to write sections of briefs that were submitted to the D.C. Circuit, as well to draft 60-day notices of intent to sue to various agencies. The projects I worked on included challenging the Department of the Treasury’s failure to apply NEPA in its granting of tax credits to several “clean coal” facilities, suing the Office of Surface Mining for its failure to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the ESA in its issuance of a mountaintop removal mine permit, and even doing research on non-profit tax law to determine the permissibility of a website the group had created. Working in such an intimate setting with only one attorney and one other intern allowed me to work on all aspects of the litigation process while addressing a variety of coal-related issues. I was also given greater trust and responsibility than is sometimes afforded to interns in larger organizations. Overall, I gained valuable experience that will help me throughout my legal career while I was at the same time affecting positive change in a region that is in dire need of transformation. None of it would have been possible without the hard work of the PILP board and members.