Students Launch Work Immediately; Experience Joshua Tree National Park



Environmental Law Clinic (“ELC”) students dove right into their work last quarter on cases involving complex issues as you’ll see below. The Clinic team also squeezed in a site visit to Joshua Tree National Park to learn more about the land (and it’s inhabitants) they continue to work to protect on behalf of clients. Read the details below:

Because of an imminent briefing schedule, Jason George ’15 and Elizabeth Hook ’15 began a whirlwind of work during the first week of the Winter quarter. In support of the claims of several plaintiff organizations, they drafted and filed an amicus brief challenging a regional transportation plan in San Diego. The case raises significant issues about the adequacy of the agency’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions analysis and the implications of that flawed analysis for public transit versus freeway building. The plaintiffs prevailed and asked the Clinic to file an amicus brief in the appeal. Elizabeth and Jason not only mastered the written material, but also worked with lawyers directly involved in the case, including the California Attorney General’s office. The case will likely be argued this Spring.

ELC’s long-standing, multi-pronged effort on behalf of the Pit River Tribe spilled into the Winter quarter spurring the return of students Evan Stein ’15 and Amanda Prasuhn ’15 as they finished their work on the complicated Ninth Circuit appeal brief. The case involves issues around a proposed industrial energy development on a sacred Indian site.  The Clinic’s clients’ challenge to federal energy leases was dismissed on prudential standing grounds and because the district court concluded that defendant Bureau of Land Management had no discretion to decline an extension of old leases, despite the lessees’ non-compliance with the lease provisions. To draft the Clinic’s opening brief, Amanda and Evan, along with clinic-mate Joel Minor ’14, waded through thousands of pages of documents, gained an understanding of a set of complex leasing regulations, and crafted a compelling story of the case. Anuja Thatte ’14 has teamed with Amanda this Spring to draft the reply brief. 

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On the lighter side, ELC staff and students visited Joshua Tree National Park and nearby lands in February to learn more about an area their client, the National Parks Conservation Association, is trying to protect. Years ago, Kaiser Eagle Mountain LLC proposed locating an enormous landfill just outside the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park to accept trash from the Los Angeles area. Kaiser initiated an exchange with the federal Bureau of Land Management to secure 3,500 acres of public land needed to make the landfill a reality. First at the District Court and then at the Ninth Circuit, the Clinic succeeded in getting the land exchange thrown out and in fighting off a petition for rehearing in the Ninth Circuit and a petition for cert to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the changing nature of landfill demand (due, in large part, to widespread recycling), Los Ang

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eles County ultimately has decided not to freight trash to the Mojave desert.

As part of discussions about what happens next, students visited some of the lands at issue and toured the resources they work to protect at and near Joshua Tree National Park. While the group didn’t see a desert tortoise on the trip, they saw horned lizards and Joshua trees, sampled Palm Springs’ famous date shakes, found abandoned Cal clothing in the desert, and learned (a little too late) to avoid cholla cacti spines.

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