Receiving a PILP stipend gave me a fantastic opportunity to return to the Delaware River Basin where I grew up. Volunteering with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network I worked on honing my legal writing and research skills and received constructive feedback all while helping to protect the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi. The 13,539 square mile Delaware River Basin is only about four-tenths of one percent of the continental United States land area, but supplies drinking water to five percent of the nation’s population, living in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Over the course of the summer I drafted research memos, participated in legal strategy meetings, sat in on a court-mandated mediation, and attended in court oral argument. I was fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of projects that DRN was currently working on and also assisted staff attorneys by researching potential new projects. I researched federal and state laws concerning combined sewer overflows in New Jersey, reviewed files for potential CSO violations, and gathered research on CSO policy from cities around the country. Legal questions posed by staff also lead me to look into regulatory takings claims, the public trust doctrine, and the awarding of attorney’s fees.
One of my assignments provided DRN attorneys with a first look at the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act and the conflicts currently surfacing between landowners and the Department of Environmental Conservation. My research and conversations with staff attorneys gave me a taste of real world legal experience and exposed me to significant environmental statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. However, I also learned about nonprofit advocacy by contacting state legislators concerning natural gas pipeline projects proposed to go through the watershed.
Most importantly, I had the opportunity to work with passionate and dedicated staff who care deeply about the Delaware and the communities that depend on the River for recreation, aesthetic enjoyment, and drinking water. I gained hands on experience and substantive knowledge that inspires me today and will make me an effective advocate for individuals, communities, and the environment in the future.