The School of Law's Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic offers excellent opportunities for students to obtain hands-on experience in environmental law. Working with many nonprofit and government agency partners, the clinic has been very successful at training environmental lawyers while helping to protect the environment. Students who take the six-unit environmental law clinical course work on large and small cases, involving both federal and state law. The clinic teaches conceptual frameworks that support particular lawyering skills, while at the same time exposing students to real-world environmental law practice through intensive work on particular environmental issues. In this way, the clinic trains the next generation of environmental lawyers.
Selected Wells Clinic Work
Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District
The Clinic filed a successful amicus curiae brief in the 2010 California Supreme Court case Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District. The Clinic argued—on behalf of a broad coalition of environmental advocacy groups—that the review of environmental impacts of new factory processes and equipment must compare the pollution emitted by new processes and equipment against actual existing conditions, rather than against whatever emissions hypothetically would have been allowable under old permits. In March, 2010, the Court adopted the Clinic's position in this opinion.
American Coatings Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District
In spring 2010, the Clinic filed an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in American Coatings Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District. In the brief—filed on behald of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council—the Clinic argued that the Air District has the authority to implement "technology-forcing" regulations for the retrofitting of existing factories. At issue is regulations that require the industrial coatings industry—an industry whose practices create significant smog—to develop and implement cutting-edge technology.
Black Mesa Mine
In Fall, 2009, the Wells Clinic, under Sean Hecht's direction with assistance from Cara Horowitz, blocked a coal mining permit on Native American lands in Arizona. The twelve clinic students and their supervisors collaborated with private counsel on this nationally-prominent matter, the Black Mesa Complex coal mining project in Arizona.
This project, located on Hopi and Navajo tribal lands in Arizona, involves federal leases of coal mining rights to Peabody Energy Corporation. Decades of strip-mining of coal on Hopi and Navajo lands in Arizona resulted in severe impacts on water supply, water quality and other resources. Some tribal members and environmentalists spent decades fighting to return the land to proper stewardship.
The clinic convinced an Administrative Law Judge at the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining to issue a decision vacating an agency action approving a new permit that would have consolidated two coal mines on Hopi land into one mining operation and set the stage for future mining activities on the site. The ALJ ruled that the Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate, adopting the arguments that our clinic made in its motion. Although previously-permitted mining activities will continue on part of the site, the decision is an impediment to future new approvals of strip-mining and a rebuke to an agency that had been making decisions without sufficient input from local interests and without sufficient regard for the environment. This is a significant victory that will affect both the policy and politics relating to future mining in the area.
The clinic drafted the motion that won this case, the latest chapter in the Black Mesa Mine saga. We were brought into the case to assist local counsel. Our legal team represented a collection of individual members of the Hopi tribe, including former tribal chairman Ben Nuvamsa. We argued that the Environmental Impact Statement failed to consider alternatives to the proposed action and that it failed to inform the public adequately about the nature of the action being taken. The motion was extremely complex and required hundreds of hours of work on the part of the students and instructors.
The students helped to devise the strategy for our brief, conducted legal and factual research, and drafted the vast majority of our motion themselves. Delving into an administrative record that was several thousand pages in length, the students wrestled with complex legal, technical, and procedural questions. The project gave them extremely valuable experience in researching, writing, editing, strategizing, working with co-counsel, and assimilating difficult scientific and technical materials. They also developed a deep understanding of the National Environmental Policy Act, one of our most important environmental laws.
Other recent clinic work
Drafting an appellate brief in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council in an important Clean Air Act case.
Conducting research on the legal context for management of the Los Angeles River, in support of efforts to ensure that the River continues to be protected under the Clean Water Act and that public access to the River is improved.
Drafting briefs and administrative comments in two complex land-use matters involving the California Environmental Quality Act.
Working with both the California Air Resources Board and the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity on two separate projects relating to regulation of pollution from locomotives.
Conducting research in support of cutting-edge efforts to ensure that California's local air regulators are properly requiring regulated facilities to comply with the law.
Older clinic cases
The clinic filed a successful amicus curiae brief in an important case before the California Supreme Court, Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood. The Court's opinion adopted the clinic's position. The clinic's brief supported the position that a city must conduct environmental review of a development project before making decisions that might limit the alternatives and mitigation measures that the city would have available to reduce or eliminate the project's environmental impacts.
UCLA Environmental Law Clinic students traveled to the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast to provide legal services. In the spring of 2007, clinic students under the direction of Professor Tim Malloy and assisting instructor Ethan Elkind have been working worked with a Mississippi Sierra Club chapter to evaluate and provide comments for a proposed Chevron refinery expansion permit. As part of the trip to the gulf coast, the students participated in a public hearing on the proposed permit in front of Mississippi regulators, local officials and members of the public.
In 2006, clinic students under Sean Hecht's supervision drafted an analysis of the extent to which City of Santa Monica retains power to regulate the operations of Santa Monica Municipal Airport to protect air quality in the face of federal preemption. This analysis, prepared for City of Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and presented to City officials, concludes that the City likely has some authority to regulate airport operations in order to protect public health and safety.
Clinic students in 2006 also submitted comments on a draft permit for the Exide secondary lead smelting plant in the City of Vernon, a facility that affects low-income communities nearby including the densely-packed City of Maywood, which is located only a short distance from the plant.
During spring 2005, the clinic's primary project involved representing Sandy Steers, who is affiliated with an environmental organization in the San Bernardino Mountains that has succeeded in halting a development in the Big Bear Lake Area. Sandy was named as a defendant in a lawsuit aimed at attacking her right to petition the government and aimed at intimidating others who attempt to prevent projects from being developed without proper environmental review. The dismissal of the case in April resulted in a published federal district court opinion in the case Marina Point Development Associates v. United States et al., in which the court articulated that providing information to an administrative agency in support of a particular result, as our client is alleged to have done, is conduct protected by the First Amendment. The Clinic, under the direction of Sean Hecht and Adam Wolf, was one of two lead counsel in her defense against the frivolous lawsuit. Students found this to be an excellent case for learning the nuts and bolts of litigation, as we conducted research in support of our the motion to dismiss the case, working with co-counsel and our clients on an issue of significance for many Californians. The case was covered widely in the Los Angeles Times and other media (with the Times writing an editorial on our side of the case), and the California Attorney General's Office filed a friend of the court brief on our side of the case. The UCLA Law Magazine published an article discussing the case.
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