Earthjustice and VLS Expand Focus on Community Environmental Justice Cases

In a move to advance environmental justice advocacy, VLS’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) partnered with Earthjustice, the largest nonprofit environmental law organization in the nation, to hire a full-time staff attorney for the clinic.

Attorney Rachel Stevens JD’13/LLM’16 will lead the environmental justice partnership and a team of ENRLC student clinicians to advocate for people and communities who have been disproportionately affected by environmental harms, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and drinking water contamination.

“All of our cases will have an environmental justice focus,” Stevens said. “And rather than waiting for potential clients to contact us, we will contact communities directly. We will engage in outreach to better understand community needs, to develop a deeper sensitivity to those needs, and to empower communities that need legal resources the most.”

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities, looks forward to working with the ENRLC to expand the national organization’s work at the community level. Like the ENRLC, Earthjustice represents clients free of charge.

"The Earthjustice partnership with the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at VLS will help advance the environmental justice movement with communities throughout Vermont, the Northeast, and potentially other regions of the United States,” said Garcia. “At the national level, Earthjustice has accomplished meaningful change as we challenge rulemakings and work on cases with national impact. Our work with the ENRLC will enable us to do more to support individuals and communities at the local level.”

The partnership is off to a tremendous start. Rachel Stevens, along with student clinicians Lauren Moore ’19 and Kyron Williams ’19, worked with Earthjustice and the Ironbound Community in Newark, New Jersey, this summer to submit comments on a local power plant. The letter asks the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to strengthen the Title V air permit to better protect the community’s health and consider the cumulative impact multiple air pollution sources are having on the neighborhood. This is a first in a series of comments the ENRLC will work on with Earthjustice and the Ironbound Community to protect their health and give them a voice in the regulatory process.