Earthrise Law Center, an environmental legal clinic, provides low- or no-cost legal services for nonprofit conservation organizations in virtually the entire spectrum of environmental and natural resources law. Students participate in all phases of the litigation process, including drafting motions and pleadings, formulating arguments and strategy, and contributing to discussions with clients and opposing parties.
Senior Staff Attorney, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign
When did you work at the clinic? What did you do?
I worked at Earthrise between May 2005 and May 2006 on a variety of issues, including helping to draft motions and memoranda in a Clean Air Act enforcement suit against the Owens Corning Corporation for constructing a highly polluting polystyrene foam insulation plant on the edge of the Columbia River Gorge without a permit.
Earthrise attorneys working on behalf of their client, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, successfully blocked the U.S. Forest Service in its attempts to authorize clear-cutting at Walton Lake. The Forest Service proposed to commercially log almost all of the large firs around Walton Lake, including the entire old growth fir forest.
What work are you doing now?
Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign is focused on retiring and displacing all of the nation’s coal-burning electric power plants with renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. I manage and litigate cases involving the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and related claims to force power plant operators to internalize the costs of air and water pollution. I also engage in public utility commission proceedings throughout the country to advocate for more affordable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel energy generation.
What parts of your clinic experience helped prepare you for your career?
As a staff attorney for Sierra Club, I’m involved in two separate lawsuits concerning unpermitted modifications and construction of coal-fired power plants in Texas and Louisiana. These cases involve the same enforcement provisions of the Clean Air Act as the Owens Corning suit. My experience at the law clinic definitely provided me with hands-on experience for real-world environmental litigation.
A memorable moment?
One of my favorite memories was accompanying a staff attorney on a site visit to part of the Malheur National Forest that was proposed to be “thinned,” a euphemism for clear-cutting. We spent the day with an expert arborist and biologist documenting species of trees and wildlife. All I could think was, if this is “just another day at the office,” sign me up. I was hooked. Granted, environmental lawyers don’t spend every day hiking in the woods, but our site visits are almost always the most interesting.
How do you view the clinic now?
There really is no substitute for the kind of “nuts and bolts” litigation experience you gain through working at the clinic. From case development and research, to drafting pleadings and motions, to moot court opportunities, and even drafting motions for attorneys fees, the clinic provided me with invaluable practical experience in virtually every aspect of public interest environmental litigation. To this day, I refer to draft and sample pleadings from the clinic. I wouldn’t be an attorney for Sierra Club today without the invaluable guidance, experience, and support I received from the law clinic’s amazing professors and attorneys.