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UDC-DCSL Hosts Environmental, Urban Sustainability Law Brainstorm Session

Monday, December 7, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli & Jon Cooper
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(To join the list of those receiving information and invitations to future meetings, please email Joe Libertelli at


Washington, DC - On November 13, 2015, the School of Law hosted a Brainstorm session on what it might do to fill gaps in environmental law, urban sustainability and social justice legal and related services with a particular eye towards the development of replicable models for helping low-income residents as well as non-profits and government agencies. The meeting was attended by 30 participants and was supported by 29 non-attendees who sent or called in ideas and suggestions.  These individuals included representatives from local and national NGOs, federal and District government agencies, academics and practicing attorneys who were asked to provide specific ideas for both programmatic activities and what resources might be available to support such work. 

School of Law alumni director Joe Libertelli, a long-time environmental activist in his own right, and advisor to the UDC Law student Environmental Law Society, described present experiential learning programs at UDC Law that could be utilized for environmental law and justice action and experiential learning purposes.  These include the 40 hours of community service required of all 1Ls, paid summer fellowships available to all 1Ls and many 2Ls, the large amount of required clinic work, and the options of academic credit-bearing externships and seminars with practicums.  (Karim Marschall, Legislative Director with DC Dept. of Energy and the Environmental (DOEE), is working with the School of Law to create summer fellowship placements for three students next summer and six in the summer of 2017.)  Mr. Libertelli and Prof. Louise Howells spoke on how present clinics are incorporating many environmental issues.  


Mr. Libertelli was careful to explain that the brainstorming session did not indicate a present commitment to a new program by the School of Law, but that it wanted to hear about gaps, needs and opportunities in this area. He noted the School of Law’s longstanding commitment to social justice might make a focus on justice-related environmental concerns a natural outgrowth of present programs.


The participants provided many ideas, which included working as a convener of organizations and individuals, various means of educating the public on law and environment-related issues, initiatives with respect to impact of utility rates, possible legislative work, work in coordination with other UDC programs such as CAUSES, direct litigation and litigation support and more. 

Participants were also eager to express the need for students and the School of Law to help with on-going litigation and environmental concerns.  For example, Jacqueline Sincore Guild, Executive Director of The Chesapeake Legal Alliance (CLA) discussed her organization’s programs on environmental regulations protecting oysters and the effects of the expansion of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations, in this case poultry farms) on poor residents and the health of the Bay.  She invited participation by School of Law alumni as well as students and faculty.  Further, participants noted many students were needed to help DC residents navigate legal concerns that involved housing, air and water pollution and the siting of polluting sources in their neighborhoods.   Many comments reflected the need to balance improvement of the urban environment with combating the ill-effects of gentrification.


Attendees from public interest groups noted the need to keep communities informed and help them develop responses tailored to their interests. They also defined a need for a place such as School of Law to function as a place to convene groups and events that are relevant to environmental and social concerns.  


Former senior EPA official and General Counsel for DOEE (then DDOE), Bicky Corman (now at Venable), recommended that we take advantage of working with EPA on Environmental Justice, and also noted that major law firms have in-house foundations that might be willing to help fund the types of efforts we were reviewing.


Dr. Jon Cooper, a volunteer UDC Clarke School of Law Environmental Law Society advisor, shared his research of other environmentally related programs, both locally and nationally. Prof. James Kushner, former head of a program on Urban Policy Law at the Southwestern School of Law, and Prof. Paul Stanton Kibel, Center on Urban Environmental Law, Golden Gate University School of Law both expressed a strong interest in seeing a program in Washington and agreed to help guide our efforts. “There are a number of law schools already doing environmental clinics and several have developed very strong environmental law programs for their students, but none except for CUNY in New York, have focused on environmental law and social justice issues in the urban setting,” Dr. Cooper said. For the meeting he prepared a summary of other on-going programs and discussed in greater detail some of the gaps in environmental law programs. Fred Tutman, Pawtuxet River Keeper, and an alumnus of the School of Law, noted that there needed to be a much stronger efforts to show minority residents of DC that the environmental matters and that addressing concerns could help with many social justice issues.

The participants made many suggestions on possible funding for the efforts that were summarized in a summary of the notes from the program.  Dr. Cooper is currently analyzing the many programs in the private sector, government and non-profits that fund social justice and environmental efforts.


Thus a summary of ideas presented included: 1) Impacts of public utility decisions on poor people, 2) Air and water quality impacts on the health of residents in poor communities, 3) Legislation & monitoring of environmental regulatory processes, 4) Create a forum for public education on the environment, 5) Act as a convener for various constituencies on related issues, and 6) Research and testimony on environmental/social policy issues.


Implementing some of these ideas might lead to success with: 1) Training and implementing Environmental Justice programs, 2) requiring that public land be set aside for community gardens, 3) moving voluntary environmental efforts into mandatory actions such as other land-use and open space issues, 4) Using existing clinics at UDC or working with other law school clinics on environmental/social issues, 5) Coordinating efforts between sustainable energy and air and water pollution laws, 6) Developing energy law legislation, 7) Acting as a convener of relevant local and national conferences, 8) Training of residents on health, housing and life-style choices, 9) Coordination on science and law programs to help in environmental and social justice efforts, and 10) Training of students on environmental law related to the urban environment.

Former Congressman Richard Otttinger, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Law at Pace University Law School wrote that he would be glad to help and raised many of the salient questions, such as:

“Are you envisaging a clinic that would bring cases against polluters or governments to observe existing laws?  Lobbying for new laws?  Doing research projects?  Participating in governmental actions, as for example proceedings of regulatory bodies?  Is the Center to be designed to better educate and involve students?  Or to advocate or litigate to improve the environment? . . .  How would this Center interact with the Agriculture program you mention? – other university programs?”


Importantly, leadership from relevant programs at the EPA and the National Science Foundation also expressed interest in the ideas being considered, particularly with both environmental justice concerns and how the program might fit into either an environmental sustainability or a “law and social science” framework.  Susan Bromm (Director, Office of Federal Activities, EPA), Bruce Hamilton (Director, Environmental Sustainability Program, NSF) are supportive. Avi Garbow, General Counsel for EPA, called to express his eagerness to help with the program development.  Dean Sabine O’Hara of UDC CAUSES (College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Science) echoing Prof. Ottinger’s question on agriculture, expressed interest in how the School of law and her science programs might collaborate.   UDC Law Dean Jonathan Smith put us in touch with US DOJ officials who he thought would be interested in the program.  


People from a wide-range of programs expressed an interest in helping UDC think through and  to establish a program.  These include Lt. Commander Jonathan Shafler, US Coast Guard, Scott Hempling, energy law attorney, Bob Freilich, Environmental Attorney, Los Angeles, Russell Frye, Environmental Attorney, Washington, DC, Steve Shapiro, Attorney, Rockville, Maryland, Helena Silverstein, Law and Social Science, National Science Foundation, and Patrice Simms, Environmental Law Professor, Howard University School of Law.

We were honored to have Tom Downs, the former President of Amtrak and Chairman of WMATA, attend and remind us that we need to strongly develop the relationship between the environment and social justice, especially in light of the rapid gentrification of DC. He also noted that in environmental areas, such as energy, there is little control over how the water utility uses fees and that these represent an impossible burden on poor people.


In a subsequent email, DC People’s Counsel,  alumna Sandra Matavous-Frye, ’83, expressed her interest in helping to develop programming via an email cc’ing a number of her staff members.


Those in attendance included Bicky Corman of Venable, LLP; alum Adam Arnold, ’14; AU grad student Claudia Barragan;  Robert Goo, US EPA; Stacey Sublett, US EPA.;  Jackie Guild, Chesapeake Legal Alliance; Chris Weiss, DC Environmental Network;  Sherril Berger, DC Power; Diane Cameron, Audubon Naturalist Society;  Daniel Del Pielago, Empower DC; Susan Eisendrath, Montgomery County Sierra Club;  Rhonda Hamilton, DC citizen activist; Mike Hersh, Progressive Democrats of America;  Sanjay Jain,  open source software advocate;  Eileen McCarthy, pedestrian rights activist; Andrea Miller, People Demanding Action;  Chris Otten, DC activist; Robert Robinson, Power DC Coalition;  Linda Shade, activist and green real estate agent;  Anya Schoolman, DC Sun; Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Kent Slowinski, leaf blower and AU Park munitions clean up activist; UDC Law alum Fred Tutman, Patuxent River Keeper; Daniel Wolkoff, McMillian Park preservation activist; Tom Downs, retired, formerly head of Amtrak and WMATA Board; Joe Green, Consultant; Prof. Louise Howells, Director, UDC Law Community Development Clinic;  Adrienne Jones, Asst. Director, UDC Law Office of Career Services; Joe Libertelli, Alumni Director, UDC Law. 


29 people who could not attend expressed their interest and gave us comments.  These include Scott Hempling, Energy Attorney and law professor; Bob Freilich, environmental attorney, Los Angeles; Russell Frye, DC environmental attorney; alum Steve Shapiro, Attorney, Rockville, Maryland; alum Mike Ewall, ’12, Energy Justice Network; former Congressman Dick Ottinger, Professor Emeritus Pace University School of Law; Cellerino Bernardino, former City Administrator, Newark and Washington, DC;  Susan Bromm, Director, Office of Federal Activities, USEPA;  Sarah Campbell, Transportation and Urban Planner consultant;  Alexandra Dunn, Executive Committee, Environmental Council of the States;  Avi Garbo, USEPA, General Counsel; alum John Gregory, ’86, USEPA; Bruce Hamilton, Program Director, Environmental Sustainability Program, National Science Foundation;  Karim Marschall, Legislative Director, DC Dept. of Energy and the Environment (DOEE); Larry Martin, USEPA; alumna Sandra Matavous-Frye, ’83, DC Peoples’ Counsel; Brenda Richardson, Chozen Consulting;  Suzi Ruhl, Office of Environmental Justice, USEPA;  Jonathan Shafler, U.S Coast Guard, Community Outreach Coordinator, Ward 8; Helena Silverstein, Law and Social Science, National Science Foundation; Sabine O’Hara, Dean, UDC College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES);  Paul Stanton Kibel, Center on Urban Environmental Law, Golden Gate University School of Law;  James Kushner, Professor, Northwestern School of Law and Golden Gate School of Law; Nicholas A.  Robinson, Pace School of Law; Patrice Simms, Environmental Law Professor, Howard University School of Law; Emily Frank, Anacostia River Keeper; Hannah Lieberman, Director, Neighborhood Legal Services Program; Jalonne White-Newsome, We Act for Environmental Justice; and Corianne Setzer, Smithsonian Anacostia Museum.


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