Environmental Law

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The Environmental Law and Policy Clinic gives law students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of environmental law to real world problems involving such issues as pollution abatement, storm water regulations, brownfields development, land use and development, etc. The Clinic undertakes projects for local environmentally-focused non-governmental organizations.

Clinic projects are usually carried out in teams of two students. The students meet and work regularly with the Clinic Director, clients, and in some cases representatives of federal, state, or local government. For recent projects, students have also had direct contact with the representatives of administrative agencies and members of the local business community. These meetings provide students with opportunities to interact, as lawyers, with clients and others, while working on actual environmental legal problems.

In addition to work on client projects, students meet in a weekly seminar to explore various lawyering skills and law practice issues, and to discuss ongoing student work in a law-firm type setting. Skills covered include effective client communications, factual investigation, interviewing, and specialized research techniques. Preparation for and participation in client and other meetings are a special focus of training, which involves advance discussion of what kind of research the students should do, what kinds of questions they should ask clients and others, and generally how they should handle themselves as soon-to-be lawyers in the outside world.

Students keep time sheets and research/work logs and are expected to "bill" 180 client-related hours to earn their 4 credits for the course.

Enrollment in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, limited to six students per semester, is open to second or third-year law students who have completed Environmental Law (LAW 671). The Clinic is also open to non-law students currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Environmental Studies or Master of Science in Environmental Science programs, provided they have completed the Environmental Law course which is part of their core curriculum. The Clinic is generally a four-credit course, but there is some flexibility available depending on the needs of students and clients.

Projects students have worked on in recent semesters include:

1. Climate Change

A local environmental non-profit that works to reduce air pollution by participating in the market trading opportunities sought the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic’s assistance in understand the development of voluntary markets in carbon emission reductions throughout the United States. Clinics students surveyed the growing number of programs and developed a comprehensive data file regarding the various programs and their requirements. Students also did research on the world carbon markets and developing mandatory markets.

2. Land Application of Sludge

A local environmental organization asked the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic to investigate reports it had received regarding Ohio allowing or even encouraging the land application of sludge. Sludge is the solid or semi-solid material that remains after wastewater is treated. Sludge can be dangerous because it contains all of the hazardous materials removed from wastewater. Land application of sludge, one form of disposal, would allow certain qualities of sludge to be applied, sometimes as fertilizer, to crop lands.

The two students assigned to this project were asked to determine the status of the federal statutes and regulations, state statutes and regulations and any local rules concerning land application of sludge. They were asked to determine standard practices and agency recommendations in Ohio and other states as well.

3. Incineration of Scrap Tires

Scrap tires are old, out of service tires. They are a problem in terms of disposal because they take up huge amounts of space and, because they capture water and allow it to stagnate, serve as breeding grounds for vectors. Some industries have been experimenting with burning scrap tires as fuel, or as a fuel supplement.

The two students assigned to this project were asked to determine: 1) the status of federal, state and local programs on the subject; 2) whether the applicable agencies had been issuing permits for test burn tires; 3) what those permits required in terms of specifications and conditions; and 4) what kind of information has been gathered regarding emissions generated by the burning of scrap tires.

4. Dioxin Emissions from Medical Waste Incineration

Many hospitals incinerate their waste in on-site or off-site incinerators. Because many of the incinerated products are plastic, dioxins are emitted, although usually in fairly small quantities. An environmental group was concerned about this topic because a local hospital operates two such incinerators on-site and there have been significant health problems in the nearby community.

Students on this project were asked to summarize and evaluate U.S. EPA's recently released dioxin reassessment report and the report of EPA's Science Advisory Board and to determine what standards were set at federal, state and local levels regarding dioxin emissions from medical waste incinerators. In addition, the students read numerous international studies on the health effects of dioxin exposure and did research.

5. Sustainable Cleveland

Several neighborhoods in Cleveland are burdened by a disproportionately high degree of environmental risk. An environmental organization is attempting to help those neighborhoods become aware of the environmental risks they face and to teach them to talk with agencies and represent their own interests. To do this, the group wanted to create a series of documents to teach citizens how to find out what kind of pollutants and environmental hazards exist in their neighborhood. They also want to teach citizens what kind of spills, emissions, dumping, etc., are reportable to state, local and federal agencies and how to make those contacts.

Students assigned to this project researched laws and agencies in order to create the documents needed to carry out this task.

6. Brownfields Redevelopment

This project involves an attempt to assess how great or small a factor the environmental status of downtown sites is to decisions made by industry regarding expanding facilities in downtown Cleveland or moving to the cleaner suburbs. Recent legislation to encourage redevelopment of urban brownfields land is premised on the assumption that environmental liability is a huge factor in these decisions, perhaps even the only factor. The clinic students’ research shows that assumption is incorrect and that environmental liability is just a piece of a very complicated combination of factors that sway decisions in favor of greenfield suburban lands.

Students on this project created a template for discussions with business decision makers and a detailed list of companies that recently made these decisions. To do this, they spoke with representatives of the Cuyahoga County Brownfields Working Group; the Economic Development Officers in Cleveland and many surrounding suburbs and with the state EPA regarding the specifics of the state brownfields law.

7. Storm Water Management Regulations

US EPA’s Phase II storm water regulations require certain communities to develop Storm Water Management Plans. The minimum criteria for these plans acknowledge the importance of the non-structural storm water management options on which one local group focuses. For this reason, and because over 1/2 of this group’s members are affected by these new rules, the group needed to understand the ramification of these regulations on local land use authorities. Towards that end, clinic students wrote a memorandum addressing the implications of the Phase II regulations on the land use control powers of Ohio townships, counties and municipalities. In addition, students addressed the question of whether these levels of government have the authorities necessary to implement the new storm water regulations.

Registration And Further Information

To register for or learn more about the Environmental Law Clinic, contact Associate Dean Heidi Gorovitz Robertson, LB 130, 216-687-9264, heidi.robertson@law.csuohio.edu

 

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