Icebreaker Wind Practicum Gives C|M|LAW Students Opportunity to Work on the Cutting Edge of Environmental Law

Posted 2017-12-06 4:56pm

The Icebreaker Wind Project, developed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), is slated to produce sustainable wind energy by installing and operating the first freshwater-based wind turbines in North America.  Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students Martin Bielat and Stacey King have firsthand involvement with the project through a first of its kind Pop-up Practicum developed by C|M|LAW Professor Heidi Gorovitz Robertson.

A pilot project for a larger vision, the Icebreaker Wind Project will place six 3.45 megawatt turbines eight to 10 miles offshore of Cleveland in Lake Erie.  In addition to being the first freshwater turbine project in North America, Icebreaker is the sustainable energy project that could help Cleveland become a leader in sustainable energy.  

“I did not realize how much of an innovator and trailblazer Cleveland is when it comes to offshore wind energy development,” said Bielat.  “Sitting at the Ohio Power Siting Board meetings, experts are saying this is going to revolutionize how we look at energy in the world.”

“This is a project I can really get behind because there are so many positive impacts,” said King.  “It is good for the environment, good for climate change, has such a low impact on wildlife and can provide a boost to the local economy.” 

Although Professor Robertson’s Environmental Law Clinic students have worked on the Icebreaker Project in years past, this practicum came about through Dean Lee Fisher’s conversations with LeedCo’s Director of Sustainability, Beth Nagusky, at the start of the fall semester.  With LeedCo’s offices located directly across Euclid Avenue from C|M|LAW, Professor Robertson’s experience with the project in the past, and substantial student interest in practical experiences in environmental and energy law, the relationship was an ideal opportunity for all.

The two practicum students work directly with Professor Robertson and Ms. Nagusky.  With Icebreaker currently in the permitting stage, much of the students’ work has focused on researching topics related to the obtaining federal and state permits.  In addition, Bielat and King have had the opportunity to attend an Ohio Power Siting Board public hearing, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Open House on its Draft Environmental Assessment for the project, as well as LEEDCo’s internal debriefing following the DOE open house. 

The law students’ work is critical because the project cannot move forward until the completion of permitting.  The students have found the research to be unique because there is little case law or other specific information covering many of the precise legal questions that have arisen concerning the permitting of this unique project. 

“My research projects throughout law school have all been pretty well-researched already with a wide amount of case law and research papers available,” explained King, who focuses her studies in health care compliance but also has an interest in environmental law.  “This project is different and has really forced us to develop our research skills.  It is great preparation for working in a field where there is not always going to be definitive documents to turn to.”

“We’ve had to look at every resource short of getting the Environmental Protection Agency on the phone and asking them how this is going to work,” said Bielat. 

Bielat is familiar with the EPA as well as the National Environmental Protection Act and other relevant environmental statutes, having already taken Professor Robertson’s environmental law course.  He came to law school interested in environmental law and enrolled in the practicum after Professor Robertson and some of the law school administrators reached out to him and expressed how the opportunity perfectly matched his career interests.

“I want to make an impact on the environment through legal means and this project really seemed like a good opportunity to get involved in the environmental law community, “ said Bielat.  “This project has shown me that there is an opening for environmental law and green energy in Cleveland.”

Bielat is interested in pursuing a career in environmental law and has used this opportunity to gain valuable networking experience in the field.  He now regularly attends Ohio Power Siting Board meetings and events such as the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s Greener Way to Work luncheon, and has met individually with several professionals in the field. 

“This opportunity is about so much more than writing memos and doing research, it is about getting involved in the community and seeing the hot topics in environmental and energy law in Cleveland,” he said.

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