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Environmental Advocacy Clinic Docket

May 12, 2020

Student attorneys in VLS's Environmental Advocacy Clinic (EAC) take on real-world cases to protect natural resources and the environment. Since the clinic announced a new partnership with the National Wildlife Federation in late 2019, it's been very busy: from tackling national cases for the leading conservation organization, to advocating on behalf of local community groups.


Fighting Environmental Rollbacks: EAC students are on the frontlines defending the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Known as the "Magna Carta" of environmental laws, NEPA has been instrumental in ensuring that federal agencies carefully consider the environmental impacts and alternatives to projects they approve or construct. NEPA also gives a strong voice to impacted communities and the public. It has yielded immense environmental benefits and wiser use of taxpayer dollars—from securing more sustainable public land and forest management, to the redesign of infrastructure projects affecting disadvantaged communities in ways that have allowed them to thrive rather than wither.

The Trump Administration has taken direct aim at this critical law. It has proposed rules that would eliminate review entirely for many projects, stifle public input, and turn qualifying reviews into check-the-box exercises ignoring impacts like climate change and harmful community development patterns. In response, students in the EAC are drafting extensive administrative comments—that may serve as a foundation for any potential court challenge—detailing why this unprecedented rollback is illegal and undermines the text and purpose of NEPA.

Developing Safe Offshore Wind: The clinic is working with the National Wildlife Federation to ensure that offshore wind—one of the most promising and plentiful sources of renewable energy needed to combat climate change—is robustly developed far off America’s coasts in a manner that protects wildlife every step of way.

Protecting Turkey Point: In January, EAC students filed a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit. They challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to extend the license of a coastal nuclear power station in Florida until the early 2050s—a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Preserving the Integrity of Vermont’s Watersheds: Student attorneys are working with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Connecticut River Conservancy, Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited, and National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center regarding legislation designed to proactively investigate Vermont’s surface water resources, current usages and users, and progressive management and conservation tactics in an era of climate change. Students will testify in front of the legislature multiple times throughout the spring, influencing the development of surface water diversion policies.