Our Students’ Work

Students in the Environmental Law Clinic have the opportunity to work on many different kinds of cases.  Our students have recently authored or co-authored complaints, briefs, and other documents in cases aimed at:

Challenging Big Oil’s attempts to give East Bay refineries a second life

The Environmental Law Clinic filed suit on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment and Center for Biological Diversity, challenging two major projects in the East Bay to convert defunct oil refineries to biofuel refineries. These biofuel refineries have significant implications for local air, water, and odor pollution, and create local safety hazards and upstream and downstream climate impacts.  ELC’s clients hope that this lawsuit will help rectify the deficiencies of these environmental reviews and provide the public with a full and honest assessment of the adverse impacts of these refinery conversions. Read more here.

Working to change California water policy

ELC is supporting efforts by Tribes and environmental justice advocates to reframe California water rights. ELC filed an amicus brief on behalf of the client coalition calling for reforming the water rights system to more effectively and equitably control the state’s water resources. The coalition‘s amicus brief argues that exempting pre-1914 water rights from state regulation and enforcement fails to grapple with the historical context of these water rights, which are rooted in systematic discrimination, exclusion, and violence against Indigenous peoples and communities of color.

The Clinic also submitted a Petition for Rulemaking to the State Water Resources Control Board to limit water diversions and exports to improve water quality, a comment to the State Water Resources Control Board on the Board’s scientific basis report on voluntary agreements for the Bay-Delta Plan, and a comment to the U.S. EPA on EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act regulations to protect tribal reserved rights through water quality standards.

Challenging highway project that exacerbates historical injustice in the Central Valley

ELC filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of California on behalf of Friends of Calwa and Fresno Building Healthy Communities, challenging state and federal approval of the State Route 99 Corridor Project in South Fresno. 

Pressuring EPA to adopt defensible standards for ballast and waste discharges from ships

In early 2023, ELC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth challenging EPA’s failure to adopt vessel incidental discharge regulations. Each year, cargo vessels dump about 52 billion gallons of ballast water into U.S. waters, in order to adjust buoyancy and compensate for changes in cargo loads. This ballast water, transported across oceans, often carries harmful plants, animals, and pathogens that can and do wreak havoc on local ecosystems, cause irreparable environmental damage, and spread disease. Studies estimate that aquatic invasive species have caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage globally over the last 50 years. Cargo ships also discharge scrubber wastes, cleaning solutions, and other discharges into U.S. waters. Read more here.

Encouraging responsible development in California’s deserts

ELC students represent the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in its efforts to protect California’s deserts from unwise development. In the past students have authored comments on large-scale solar and wind projects proposed for the Silurian Valley and advised decision-makers on the CEQA requirements for the Soda Mountain Solar Project.

Currently our students are representing NPCA as it tries to protect Joshua Tree National Park from yet another development project on its eastern flank. In 2014, ELC successfully defeated an effort to turn what was once an iron mine into a massive landfill for the Los Angeles region. Now ELC is helping NPCA fight a large pumped-storage hydropower project and miles of water supply and transmission pipelines across federal public lands. The project is too remote and too large to be useful for California’s long-duration energy storage needs and comes with serious environmental harms. It would withdraw 35 billion gallons of groundwater over its 50-year lifetime, disrupt fragile desert ecosystems, and further threaten iconic imperiled species like the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. 

As part of this effort, ELC students have filed motions and appeals in proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and prosecuted appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Defending Coastal Commission decision to end off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes

In four consolidated cases, ELC is defending the California Coastal Commission’s decision to phase-out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes. Oceano Dunes in San Luis Obispo County is part of the largest intact dune ecosystem in the world and is home to two endangered shorebirds. Most of the dunes have been specially designated as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas, a highly protected category of land on which development is extremely limited and activities that are inconsistent with coastal resource protection are precluded.

Saving the Medicine Lake Highlands

Our students have represented the Pit River Tribe and local environmental organizations in their decades-long effort to challenge potential large-scale energy development of a sacred Native American site in northeastern California.  In 2019, they prevailed on the merits in the Ninth Circuit.

In an effort to end the remaining handful of illegal geothermal leases in the Medicine Lake Highlands that were not part of the latest Ninth Circuit appeal, the Environmental Law Clinic also filed a new lawsuit last month on behalf of the Pit River Tribe and local environmental groups against the federal government and Calpine Corporation in the Northern District of California.

Learn more about the Environmental Law Clinic’s work: