Clinic Updates

For more recent Environmental Law Clinic news, please visit the Stanford Mills Legal Clinic Blog


2022-2023 Year in Review

The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic has been hard at work to protect the environment and local communities from pollution and environmentally damaging projects. Read on to learn more about our students’ impactful advocacy.

Environmental Law Clinic Weighs in on EPA’s Effort to Reduce Light-Duty Vehicle Emissions

The Environmental Law Clinic filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the International Council on Clean Transportation supporting EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles. The transportation sector is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and about half of those emissions come from light-duty vehicles, a category that includes cars, SUVs, and most vans and pickup trucks. “Reducing transportation emissions is one of the most important things we can do to meaningfully address climate change,” said Raul Quintana (JD ’24), who drafted the brief. “EPA’s standards are critical to these efforts, and it was an honor to represent our clients in explaining why they should be upheld.” Read more here.

Clinic Pressures EPA to Adopt Defensible Standards for Ballast and Waste Discharges From Ships

In a Major Environmental Law Clinic Victory, the Second Circuit Orders EPA to Rewrite Rules on Ballast Water Discharges 2

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.

ELC Challenges Big Oil’s Attempt to Give East Bay Refineries a Second Life

The Environmental Law Clinic filed opening and reply briefs 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.

ELC Successfully Challenges Toxic Rodenticide

Wildlife Advocates Win Favorable CEQA Ruling in Challenge to Toxic Rodenticide
ELC student Alana Reynolds (’23) argued the case.

A California Court of Appeal has ruled in favor of Stanford Environmental Law Clinic client, Raptors Are The Solution, finding that the discovery of new scientific information on the rat poison diphacinone requires the state to conduct proper environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before deciding whether to renew the rodenticide’s registration.

Diphacinone is one of seven anticoagulant rodenticides used in California to control rat populations. But rats that ingest diphacinone and other anticoagulant rodenticides are often hunted by “non-target wildlife” – birds of prey, bobcats, coyotes, and other predators. The decision brings hope for improving the health and avoiding secondary poisoning of non-target wildlife populations throughout the state. Read more here.

Other recent student highlights include:

  • Complaint filed 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. See media coverage here and here.
  • Comment to the State Water Resources Control Board on behalf of the Bay-Delta coalition on the Board’s scientific basis report on voluntary agreements for the Bay-Delta Plan.
  • Comment to the U.S. EPA on behalf of Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, and Save California Salmon on EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act regulations to protect tribal reserved rights through water quality standards.
  • Opposition briefs and oral argument on behalf of California Coastal Commission, defending the Commission’s decision to phase out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes.
  • Protest on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission challenging the Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project.

We look forward to another year of impactful student work in 2023-2024!

2021-2022 Year in Review

The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic has had an impactful year, winding up many complex and multi-year battles with victories for imperiled species and human and environmental health.

Read more below about our students’ amazing work and regulatory and judicial wins.

Native Bumblebees Become First Insects Protected Under the California Endangered Species Act
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In a major win for Stanford Environmental Law Clinic clients, biodiverse ecosystems, and everyone who eats food, a California Court of Appeal has ruled that the state can protect bumblebees under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  In a unanimous published opinion, the Court of Appeal explained that CESA’s protections for fish can include insects because the California Legislature defined the term “fish” as “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”  Thus, CESA’s definition of “fish” is a legal term of art that extends beyond the commonly understood meaning of “fish.”  In reaching its conclusions, the Court cited examples of other land-based invertebrate species that are protected under CESA, vast legislative history, controlling case law applying the definition of “fish” to CESA, and courts’ obligation to give liberal meaning to the terms of protective statutes like CESA.

Sam Joyce (JD ’23) helped argue the case, building on the work of many Clinic students throughout the trial court proceedings and appeal, including Jules Ross (JD ’22), Jim Santel (JD ’22), Caroline Zhang (JD ’22), and Joe Ingrao (JD ’21).

The court’s ruling comes at a critical time: over one-third of California’s food production requires an animal pollinator, but many pollinator populations are plunging.  The Fish and Game Commission can now move forward with protecting the four bumblebee species and other pollinators before it is too late.  Read more here.

ELC Win Compels Federal Government to Reconsider Endangered Species Act Protections for the Bi-State Sage Grouse
ELC Win Compels Federal Government to Reconsider Endangered Species Act Protections for the Bi-State Sage Grouse

After a several-year battle, Environmental Law Clinic students have shown that bi-state sage grouse – large, striking birds known for their distinctive mating dance – warrant reconsideration for federal protection as a threatened species.

The bi-state sage grouse’s habitat has been decimated by mining, grazing, and other development, leading the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conclude in 2013 that the species should be listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.  But two years later, in an abrupt about-face, the government withdrew the listing proposal.  ELC and the Center for Biological Diversity, on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups, sued the federal government challenging the Service’s withdrawal decision.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the Service failed to rely on the best available science, as the Act requires, in concluding that that the sage grouse’s population is above the minimum threshold for viability.  The Fish & Wildlife Service must now go back to the drawing board and issue a new final listing decision.

Clinic students Daniel Ahrens (JD ’23) and Zach Rego (JD ’23), building on the work of Chris Meyer (JD ’22) and Mikaela Pyatt (JD ‘22), co-wrote the summary judgment briefing and presented oral argument in federal court.  Read more here.

ELC Reaches Settlement to Protect Endangered Coho Salmon
Coho salmon

The Clinic, on behalf of clients Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) and Center for Biological Diversity, has agreed in principle to a settlement with Marin County to ensure adequate protections for imperiled salmon and steelhead in the San Geronimo Valley under Marin County’s countywide development plan.  The settlement spells out important terms of an ordinance that would regulate streamside development in sensitive riparian corridors and provides for other measures to protect essential salmonid habitat, like County-provided inspections.  If it is finalized, the settlement will be the culmination of the Clinic’s decade-long effort on behalf of clients to advocate for urgently needed habitat restoration and stronger regulation of future development in areas that are key to the survival of these species.

Many students have worked on this matter, including most recently Leehi Yona (JD ’23) and Mariah Mastrodimos (JD ’23), who negotiated the terms of the settlement this spring. Marin County’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will consider the settlement at public hearings this summer.  Read more here.

ELC Students Work to Change Racist California Water Policy
I am a Journalist 42

Stanford Environmental Law Clinic is supporting efforts by Tribes and environmental justice advocates to reframe California water rights. Clinic students Alison Cooney (JD ’22) and Sydney Speizman (JD ’22) filed an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal on behalf of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Little Manila Rising, and Restore the Delta 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 Review and Revise Bay-Delta Water Quality Standards.  The San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta drains nearly half the surface water in California, covering a watershed that stretches from the Cascade Range to the North to the Tehachapi Mountains to the south. The Petition requests that the State Water Resources Control Board immediately begin a comprehensive review of water quality standards governing the Bay-Delta and revise those standards in consultation tribes and environmental justice communities to ensure protection of beneficial uses and public trust resources.  Read more here.

Local Oil Well Ban Goes to CA Supreme Court
Fracking Ban Survives Challenge by Big Oil, But ELC Continues to Fight to Ban Other Harmful Oil and Gas Industry Practices 2

In response to concerns about the safety and environmental impacts of certain oil and gas industry practices in Monterey County, Clinic client Protect Monterey County successfully galvanized the community into action.  The result was Measure Z, a 2016 ballot initiative that bans new fracking, prohibits new oil wells, and phases out oil-industry wastewater disposal.  The trial and appellate courts upheld the fracking ban, but struck down the ban on new oil and gas wells and wastewater disposal, finding that these portions are preempted by state and federal law.  In an exciting development, though, the Clinic’s Petition for Review to the California Supreme Court was accepted on the key preemption argument.  Read more here.

EPA taking steps to regulate leaded aviation fuel
Reports on war crimes should use language that reflects a moral, not legal, orientation, Stanford expert says

Clinic students Ada Statler (JD ’22), Mat Simkovits (JD ’23), and Rachel Bowanko (JD ’22) have been representing the County of Santa Clara alongside environmental and community groups represented by Earthjustice in efforts to obtain a federal ban on leaded aviation fuel.  Leaded aviation fuel is the last remaining leaded transportation fuel and accounts for 70% of the country’s airborne lead pollution.  Clinic students drafted a comment letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), signed onto a petition for rulemaking that aims to eliminate lead pollution from aircraft nationwide under the Clean Air Act, and submitted a letter of support for the petition to the EPA on behalf of a coalition of public agencies.  The EPA announced this winter that it will grant the petition for rulemaking, with plans to finalize what’s known as an “endangerment finding” for leaded aviation fuel in 2023.  Read more here.

ELC Works to Halt Logging of Pacific Fisher Habitat
Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program 21

Last spring, the Clinic filed suit on behalf of client Unite the Parks to protect the Pacific fisher, a geographically isolated and endangered mammal with critical habitat in the Southern Sierra Nevada.  The Pacific fisher faces an uphill battle as their already diminished habitat gets destroyed by wildfire and logging.  The Clinic sought a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt 31 logging projects and to compel the US Forest Service to take a hard look at how logging will impact the fishers’ dwindling population in light of new wildfire impacts in the region.  The Northern District denied the motion, but after oral argument by JD ’22 students Sidni Frederick and Christopher Meyer, the Ninth Circuit reversed in part this spring, giving the Clinic another chance to halt logging of Pacific fisher habitat.  Read more here.

We look forward to another productive year in 2022-2023!

2020-2021 Academic Year in Review

As described in more detail below, this year students secured a victory in Superior Court for endangered salmon, helped end damaging off-highway vehicle use on the world’s largest intact dune ecosystem, successfully supported efforts in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to avoid the repeal of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, and began efforts to protect the Pacific Fisher, a small, endangered mammal that lives in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Protecting Endangered Salmon

Over the past several decades, the population of coho salmon and steelhead trout in the San Geronimo Valley Watershed has rapidly declined due to habitat degradation. This degradation, primarily the result of development, led California to list the coho salmon as endangered and the steelhead trout as threatened. In spite of this, Marin County approved a countywide development plan that failed to analyze cumulative environmental impacts. Stanford Environmental Law Clinic students have been battling to ensure proper consideration of impacts to the salmon for years, and with ELC students Kate Gaumond, JD ’22, and Maddie Coles, JD ’22, securing a victory for the imperiled salmon and steelhead in Marin County Superior Court in April 2021. The court ruled that Marin County’s development plan lacks adequate protections for the declining species and their habitat. This ruling is the culmination of the Clinic’s decade-long effort on behalf of clients to advocate for urgently needed habitat restoration and stronger regulation of future development.

Ending Off-Roading on Oceano Dunes

ELC Students Help Spur Coastal Commission Decision to End Off-Highway Vehicle Use at Oceano Dunes 1
Taylor Jaszewski, JD ’21, presenting to the Coastal Commission via Zoom

After a nearly 40-year battle waged by local environmentalists, the California Coastal Commission issued a historic decision on March 18 to phase-out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes in San Luis Obispo County. The Oceano Dunes are part of the largest intact dune ecosystem in the world, and off-highway vehicle use was degrading the coastal habitat and killing endangered shorebirds. ELC students Mikaela Pyatt, JD ’22, and Taylor Jaszewski, JD ’21, prepared a detailed written legal analysis to the Coastal Commission and presented oral comments on behalf of the Dunes Alliance, a group of local community, tribal, and environmental organizations at a 12-hour Coastal Commission hearing. The analysis detailed not only how off-highway vehicle use is incompatible with the provisions of the Coastal Act, but also showed that legal mandates require off-roading areas to be closed when soil conservation and wildlife protection standards are not being met.

Striking Down the Trump Administration’s Carbon Rule

On January 19, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Trump Administration’s attempt to repeal and replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan established nationwide limits on carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel power plants. The Trump administration sought to replace it with the misleadingly named Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which placed no meaningful limits on carbon pollution and would have actually increased pollution from many coal-fired power plants. Environmental Law Clinic students Nick Wallace, JD ’21, and John Hare-Grogg, JD ’21, penned an amicus brief on behalf of a group of nationally renowned administrative law professors.

Protecting the Pacific Fisher

The clinic is representing a coalition of environmental nonprofits to protect a tiny, isolated subpopulation of the Pacific fisher that inhabits the southern Sierra Nevada from U.S. Forest Service logging. Over the last decade, drought, beetles, wildfire, and logging have dramatically altered the forest landscape where the species resides. With a total size of no more than a few hundred adults, the southern Sierra Nevada fisher faces an uphill battle for survival and highly uncertain prospects for recovery. For successful reproduction, fishers depend on features like large tree cavities found only in old-growth conifer and hardwood forests. In spite of this, and in spite of the fisher being listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2020, the U.S. Forest Service continues to log, remove forest vegetation, and build roads across at least 45 projects in the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests. Clinic students Sidni Frederick, JD ’22, and Catherine Rocchi, JD ’22, drafted the preliminary injunction motion calling on Eastern District of California to pause logging activities while impacts to the fisher are assessed.

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Zerbe and Gallagher after their 9th Circuit oral argument

This past year, Environmental Law clinic students also had the opportunity to appear—via Zoom—before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the federal government approval of a large pumped-storage hydropower project and miles of water supply and transmission pipelines that would seriously impact Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding desert area. Amanda Zerbe, JD ’21, and Ryan Gallagher, JD ’21, test-drove their arguments in more than a dozen practice sessions during the months of leading up to oral argument, fielding questions from fellow advanced Environmental Law Clinic students and supervising attorneys and supervising attorneys from the Stanford Supreme Court Clinic.

We have a full docket once again this upcoming year, and we are looking forward to training our future environmental leaders.

Fall 2019 Quarter Review

Saving Imperiled Species

The Bi-State Sage-Grouse has fared poorly in recent decades, with its habitat increasingly destroyed and fragmented by wildfires, mining projects, invasive species, pesticides, and off-road vehicles. In response, the U.S. Forest Service drafted a National Forest Plan Amendment to protect the sage-grouse, including measures that limit the times when off-road vehicles may travel through prime sage-grouse habitat and set a wide buffer around breeding grounds.  Off-road vehicle groups sued the Forest Service, and the Clinic intervened to defend the National Forest Plan Amendment on behalf of our environmental coalition clients. Clinic students Larry Liu and Thomas Schubert wrote and filed a motion for summary judgment in federal district court in Nevada this fall, with further briefing to continue in the winter quarter.

In response to the precipitous decline in bee populations, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recently determined that several native bee species are eligible as candidates for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. A broad coalition of entities that support and promote agricultural interests sued, alleging that making the bees eligible for protection will harm the farming community. Clinic clients the Xerces Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety, which petitioned the Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect the bees, are seeking to intervene in this case to support the protection of these imperiled bees. Clinic students Chelsey Davidson and Joseph Ingrao drafted a motion to intervene and conducted substantive research into the relevant legal issues.

On behalf of Clinic clients Salmon Protection and Watershed Network and Center for Biological Diversity, ELC filed a new case in Marin County Superior Court. This case renews our efforts to protect critically important, un-dammed habitat for imperiled anadromous fish, alleging that Marin County failed to mitigate impacts to endangered Coho salmon and threatened steelhead in its August 2019 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for its Countywide General Plan. Clinic student Will Spelder represented ELC clients in a case management conference and in settlement negotiations.

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Larry Liu, Anna Patej, and Daniel Irvin outside of N.D. Cal for the Medicine Lake hearing

Protecting Sacred Tribal Lands

After a recent win in the Ninth Circuit upholding the invalidation of 26 geothermal leases that threaten Clinic client Pit River Tribe’s sacred Medicine Lake Highlands, ELC was back in federal district court with a new case this fall. This new case seeks to end the remaining geothermal lease in the Medicine Lake Highlands that the government and leaseholder have failed to diligently develop under the Geothermal Steam Act. Clinic students Larry Liu, Anna Patej, and Daniel Irvin argued in the Northern District of California this fall, opposing a Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Transfer this case.

Enforcing California’s Water Quality Laws

Unregulated pollution from intense agricultural practices has severely contaminated drinking water sources and creeks and rivers, harming millions of California residents who rely on surface and groundwater for drinking and millions of creatures who rely on unspoiled habitat. To combat this agricultural pollution, ELC and its coalition of environmental clients filed an opening brief in a new case in Sacramento Superior Court in December. This lawsuit alleges that, once again, the permit issued by the Regional Water Board – which allows agricultural runoff polluted with nitrates and pesticides from 835,000 irrigated acres of mostly large farms in the Central Valley – violates state law. This volley is the latest in a multi-year effort to enforce the California Water Code’s Nonpoint Source and Antidegradation Policies. Building on the work of Brittany Cazakoff, Daniel Rubin, and Bryan Shpall, advanced student Lori Ding drafted the opening brief on appeal and will work on the reply in the spring.

Other Clinic Projects

  • Clinic students Sam Gorsche and Thomas Schubert drafted two local land use initiatives designed to discourage urban sprawl and encourage preservation of open space and agricultural land.
  • Thomas Schubert drafted an amicus curiae letter in support of the petition for review to the California Supreme Court in Golden Door Properties, LLC, et al. v. Superior Court, No. S258564. The letter defended the government transparency and accountability requirements embodied in the California Environmental Quality Act and detailed the need for further review to clarify the scope and effect of the Act’s administrative-record requirements. The California Supreme Court granted the Petition for Review.
  • Chelsey Davidson and Will Spelder researched and evaluated the State Water Board’s recent adoption of expanded protections for state wetlands.

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    Fall 2019 Clinic Students on a field trip and client visit to the Medicine Lake Highlands (from left: Sam Gorsche, Anna Patej, Daniel Irvin, Thomas Schubert, Joe Ingrao, Larry Liu, and Will Spelder)

2018-2019 Academic Year in Review

The Environmental Law Clinic had another productive and impactful year in 2018-2019. Updates on our amazing student work are below!

Protecting the California DesertOn behalf of client National Parks Conservation Association, Clinic students challenged the federal government’s approval of a large pumped storage hydropower project and miles of water supply and transmission pipelines that would seriously impact Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding desert area (read more here).  Thomas Miller (JD ‘20), Bryan Shpall (JD ‘20), and Joe Zabel (JD ‘20) also worked closely with the National Parks Conservation Association to formulate a policy strategy to fight development in the desert, including drafting fact sheets for legislators summarizing the issues with this pumped-storage hydropower project and an op-ed in opposition to the ill-conceived Cadiz groundwater pumping project, another proposed major project in the California desert (read more on the Cadiz project here).

Fighting Agricultural PollutionOver one million Californians statewide are drinking unsafe water from wells contaminated by agricultural pollution. To help address this humanitarian and environmental crisis, Clinic students, representing conservation, environmental justice, and fishing groups, sued the State Water Resources Control Board, alleging that it has failed to adequately regulate agricultural discharges in the Central Coast, in violation of state law. This fall, the California Court of Appeal agreed, finding that the state must do more to control agricultural pollution being discharged into California’s central coast waterways (read more here).  The battle continues, though, with clinic students Daniel Tirosh (JD ’19), Brittany Cazakoff (JD ’20), Lori Ding (JD ’20), Daniel Rubin (JD ’20), and Bryan Shpall (JD ’20) engaged in a multi-pronged administrative and judicial attack against both the state and various regional water boards to ensure more stringent pollution control requirements.  Building on the written public comments from the fall student team,Michael Golz (JD ’20) and Emily Gruener (JD ’20) delivered a detailed presentation at the Central Coast Regional Water Board this winter on the legal requirements for the Regional Water Board’s proposed new Agricultural Order for the Central Coast. Getting the Agricultural Order right is critical because it is the mechanism through which the Regional Water Boards regulates agricultural dischargers.

Protecting the Bi-State Sage Grouse: This summer, a federal court agreed with the Clinic that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly denied the bi-state sage grouse protection as a threatened species (read more here).  Threats to the sage grouse continue, however, with off-road vehicle organizations challenging a National Forest Plan Amendment that includes many protective measures for the sage grouse, including limiting the times when off-road vehicles may travel through prime sage-grouse habitat and setting a wide buffer around breeding grounds.  Representing our environmental coalition clients, clinic students Michael Golz (JD ’20) and Joe Zabel (JD ’20) filed a motion in federal district court to intervene on behalf of the federal government to defend the Forest Plan Amendment.

Defending the California CoastClinic students have engaged in a number of policy and litigation matters to defend the California coast from short-sighted development threats, from large scale commercial desalination projects to offshore oil drilling to blufftop mansions. These matters include:

  • Clinic students, on behalf of coalition of coastal protection groups, are fighting a large-scale commercial desalination project in Huntington Beach. Clinic student Peter Gilchrist (JD ’19) argued in California superior court this fall that a large-scale commercial desalination project in Huntington Beach has not undergone adequate environmental review.  Annelise Corriveau (JD ’20) and Will Setrakian (JD ’20) drafted our opening brief on appeal, which will be filed this summer.
  • The California Court of Appeals sided with Clinic client Surfrider Foundation and unanimously upheld land use policies that encourage public access and restrict coastal armoring in Solana Beach (read more here).
  • On behalf of Surfrider Foundation,Thomas Miller (JD ’20) and Annelise Corriveau (JD ’20) drafted an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal in litigation that will likely set important precedent on how California beaches are managed and protected in the face of sea level rise. Lindstrom v. California Coastal Commissioninvolves permitting fora new blufftop home in San Diego. In order to protect public access and use of the beach below the home, Surfrider urged the court to uphold the Coastal Commission’s development permit conditions requiring an adequate setback and a restriction on future shoreline armoring.
  • Lori Ding (JD ’20) drafted an amicus letter to the California Supreme Court this spring, urging the court to grant a petition for review of an appellate decision that could eliminate judicial review of certain aspects ofmandatory environmental impact analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • In response to the Trump administration’s plans to open up California to offshore oil drilling, Katherine Worden (JD ’20) and C.J. Biggs (JD ’19) drafted a model land use ordinance that is being adopted by several local governments in an effort to use local land use restrictions to limit offshore oil drilling.
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Geothermal Development in Medicine LakeThe Environmental Law Clinic represented its long-time Native American and environmental clients in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this spring, seeking to uphold the invalidation of 26 geothermal leases that threaten the Pit River Tribe’s sacred Medicine Lake Highlands. ELC students Sam Lazerwitz (JD ’20) and Caleb Wright (JD ’20) argued the appeal in the Ninth Circuit on May 14 in Seattle.  Watch them in action here!  In an effort to end the remaining handful of illegal geothermal leases in the Medicine Lake Highlands that were not part of the appeal, the Environmental Law Clinic also filed a new lawsuit in Spring 2019 on behalf of the Pit River Tribe and local environmental groups against the federal government and Calpine Corporation in the Northern District of California.  The new lawsuit seeks to invalidate the remaining federal geothermal leases within the Highlands, arguing that Calpine has violated federal law by failing to comply with the lease requirements for more than 25 years and that the federal government has unlawfully abdicated its obligation to oversee and terminate the leases for noncompliance.  ELC’s clients are seeking an order from the court directing the federal government to terminate Calpine’s lease rights (read more here).  Clinic students Sam Lazerwitz (JD ’20), Caleb Wright (JD ’20), Daniel Rubin (JD ’20), and Thomas Miller (JD ’20) drafted the complaint in the new case.


Fall 2017 Academic Quarter

ELC Works to Get Federal Protection for the Bi-State Sage-Grouse 1
Sage-grouse, courtesy of SierraWave

This year, the Clinic challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to list the Bi-State Sage-Grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. As with all ELC projects, students have played a leading role in the litigation.  Last year, clinic students Faaris Akremi (JD ’18), Kirsten Dedrickson (JD ’18), and David Popkin (JD ’18) argued preliminary motions in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  This year, Faaris and Kirsten helped draft summary judgment motions.  Oral argument is scheduled for March, 2018.

This summer, the Environmental Law Clinic was instrumental in achieving a historic victory for the California coast. After nearly 100 years of extensive sand mining—which has ravaged the coastline and decimated local sand supply—CEMEX’s sand mining operations in Marina, CA will finally be shut down.  In response to increasing public concern and the emerging scientific consensus on the adverse impacts from sand mining, the City of Marina engaged the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic to assist with a legal analysis concerning whether the impacts from sand mining constitute a public nuisance.  Many students contributed to this analysis, most recently Shannon Galvin (JD ’18), Faaris (Fares) Akremi (JD ‘18), John Ugai (JD ’17), and Miles Muller (JD/MS ’18).  The city took bold action to pass a resolution declaring the Cemex operations to be a public nuisance.  This step, combined with mounting pressure from state entities, led CEMEX to reach final settlement agreements with the city and state that will close down the last coastal sand mining operation in the United States.

CEMEX sand mining dredge pond in Marina, CA.

ELC is also continuing to combat the agricultural pollution contaminating California’s waterways.  Just this fall ELC student Faaris (Fares) Akremi (JD ’18) appeared before the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District, arguing that the Superior Court ruling holding a local water agency accountable for its role in agricultural contamination should be upheld.  In a separate but related case, the Clinic just filed suit against the State and Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Boards, alleging that the water boards have systematically failed to adequately regulate agricultural discharges throughout the state, in violation of the Porter-Cologne Act and various statewide policies.

Other recent Clinic highlights include:

  • In a major victory, the California Supreme Court ruled that federal laws governing railroads do not preempt CEQA, California’s bedrock environmental statute. ELC students’ diligent representation of one of the Plaintiffs led to a reversal of an appellate decision that would have exempted public rail from environmental oversight.  Read the opinion here.
  • In another environmental win, the California Supreme Court ruled that homeowners forfeited their challenge to a coastal development permit’s conditions when they accepted the permit’s benefits and built a seawall on their properties.  ELC filed an amicus brief on behalf of Surfrider Foundation supporting the Coastal Commission and documenting the negative impacts from seawalls. Read the opinion here.
  • The Clinic is serving as counsel to the City of Oakland in the City’s efforts to defend an Ordinance it passed to ban the storage and handling of coal at Oakland facilities based on health and safety concerns to local residents.  A developer at an affected rail-to-ship terminal has challenged the Ordinance for violating an existing development agreement and burdening interstate commerce, as well as being preempted by federal law. Clinic students are currently drafting a motion for summary judgment.  The case is scheduled to go to trial in January.
  • ELC is currently fighting a large-scale commercial desalination project in Huntington Beach, challenging a water infrastructure project that will further harm the imperiled San Francisco Bay Delta, and taking on major oil companies to defend a voter initiative that restricts oil and gas operationsin Monterey County, CA.

Winter 2017 Academic Quarter

ELC has had a busy two quarters, running full-time clinics during both the Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 Quarters.  Some highlights of our work follow, but for more details, check out the ELC blog.

First, the Clinic helped to derail a large solar project on pristine desert lands, highlighting the perils the project would have on species and habitat on Soda Mountain.  The Clinic drafted a memorandum advising San Bernardino County of the litigation risks the County could face if the project moved forward, owing to the fact that the proper mitigation measures recommended by the state wildlife trustee agency and required by the California Environmental Quality Act had not been incorporated into the project.  In a decision referencing ELC’s memo, the County withheld CEQA approval of the project. The County’s vote will significantly delay or permanently derail this ill-advised development in critical desert habitat.

ELC Helps to Derail Development on Pristine Desert Lands 1
Desert Bighorn Sheep. Photo credit CDFW.

The Environmental Law Clinic also took another step to defend the California coast against shortsighted development protections.  Representing Surfrider Foundation, the Clinic joined the City of Solana Beach to defend City policies that encourage public access and restrict the use of seawalls and other shoreline protective devices.  Shoreline protective devices, which encompass a range of coastal armoring structures including seawalls and bluff retention devices, may offer short-term protection from erosion for coastal homeowners.  However, armoring also contributes to adverse impacts on the shoreline by accelerating the erosion and loss of beaches and bluffs. This poses significant long-term threats to coastal infrastructure, property, sensitive ecosystems, and public trust resources.  After a hearing on the merits in San Diego Superior Court in November, Judge Casserly issued a ruling that upheld most of the provisions challenged by bluff-top homeowners. Advanced clinic student Rose Stanley helped draft the trial brief in this case.

Next, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic teamed up with the U.C. Irvine Environmental Law Clinic to submit an amicus on behalf of a coalition of environmental organizations in the Florida v. Georgia interstate water war. The Clinics’ clients in this dispute include the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper.  These groups want to see more water coming downstream into Florida to feed the incredibly ecologically diverse Apalachicola River Basin and Bay, which represents one of the most unspoiled river systems left in the United States.  In recent decades, however, this ecosystem has suffered from the lack of water flowing through the river system.  The goal of the amicus, drafted by Claudia Antonacci (JD ’17), is to make clear that Georgia’s unchecked use of the river system has resulted in substantial ecological injuries to the unique Apalachicola ecosystem and compel the Court to step in to rectify the ongoing harm occurring to this precious resource.

And, finally, after a nearly two-decade long battle – the Eastern District of California declared that the 26 idle geothermal lease extensions within the Pit River Tribe’s sacred Medicine Lake Highlands are invalid.  The Medicine Lake highlands, which have been sacred to the Tribe for over 10,000 years, are now protected from the geothermal development that the Clinic, environmental groups, and tribal members have been fighting for years.

ELC Invalidates Geothermal Lease Extensions Surrounding Sacred Medicine Lake 1


Spring 2016 Academic Quarter

During the spring quarter, our advanced students continued to carry the torch, drafting briefs, petitioning the State Water Resources Control Board, advocating at hearings, and even arguing at trial.

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Pit River Tribe members speaking to supporters who had gathered for the hearing.

In April, the Clinic was back in court, with Mari Takemoto-Chock (JD ’17) advocating to save tribal lands from industrial geothermal development. Surrounded by tribal members and environmental advocates, the District Court Judge indicated that he will grant the Clinic’s motion for summary judgment, invalidating 26 geothermal energy leases on sacred tribal lands. This is a major victory for our clients: the environmental impacts from geothermal development would significantly degrade the value of the Medicine Lake Highlands, an area that has been used by the tribes for spiritual guidance, religious ceremonies, and traditional doctoring practices for thousands of years. Check out our blog for more information.

In May, advanced clinic students Nikki Leon (JD ’16) and Richard Griffin (JD ’17)  went to trial in an effort to bring a desalination plant in Cambria, California into compliance with state law.  The plant, which was hastily built without any environmental review under California’s bedrock environmental statute, has led to a number of avoidable impacts to water quality and other public resources.

Surrounded and energized by ELC’s clients and public grassroots advocates, the students had the opportunity to speak multiple times, successfully fending off objections from opposing counsel and providing strong rebuttals to opposing counsel’s claims.

Leon and Griffin have been hard at work on this case for five months, taking depositions, filing motions and trial briefs, and arguing in both a hearing on a motion and a merits hearing. “It was a great experience to completely immerse ourselves in this case and get to see it through to trial,” Mr. Griffin said. “I can’t think of a better way to have spent my last official day of law school,” Ms. Leon added.

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From left: ELC Supervising Attorney Alicia Thesing, Nikki Leon, Richard Griffin, and ELC Director Debbie Sivas outside of the San Luis Obispo Courthouse

Winter 2016 Academic Quarter

The Clinic kicked off the Winter Quarter with a trip to California’s Central Coast. It was an action-packed week: students toured the Salinas Valley, attended a Salinas River conference, took depositions, and met with a new client. In San Luis Obispo, Clinic students took depositions for our lawsuit against the Cambria Community Services District for illegally constructing a brackish water desalination facility without the proper environmental review or permitting.

Richard Griffin, JD ’17 and Nikki Leon, JD ’16, deposed a planning official from San Luis Obispo County. The next day, advanced clinic students Lauren Tarpey, JD ’17, and Julian Aris, JD ’17, deposed a witness from the District. The information uncovered in the two depositions will be vital to the case moving forward.

On the final day of our trip, we split into groups. The student teams working on water and endangered species issues attended the Salinas River Symposium in Paso Robles to learn more about the Salinas River, its history, the current challenges it faces, and the stakeholders invested in its well-being. Both teams are working on cases aimed at improving the river’s quality and restoring its formerly abundant wildlife.

The other students headed down to Nipomo to meet with new clients—the Mesa Refinery Watch Group—who are working to stop a proposed rail spur project at a nearby refinery. Phillips 66 is trying to construct a facility that would enable them to acquire crude by rail, a project that faces widespread community opposition.

A few weeks after the field trip, Claudia Antonacci, JD ’17, and Rylee Kercher, JD ’17 drafted a letter and gave a presentation at a County Planning Commission meeting, providing a thorough, well-reasoned explanation of why the County is legally entitled to deny the project.

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Claudia Antonacci, JD ’17, speaking to County officials at a public meeting in San Luis Obispo

Next, two full-time students,  Elizabeth Vissers, JD-MS ’17, and John Ugai, JD ‘17, headed to Monterey for a “Uncommon Dialogue” on the Marine and Coastal Impacts of Desalination in California. Students learned about the complicated debate on the role desalination will play in California’s future water supply and to better understand the perspectives and concerns of varying stakeholders. This new knowledge will be vital in helping the students represent clients who are grappling with the environmental issues implicated by desalination in their own communities. Check out our blog and a paper summarizing the dialogue’s findings for more.

The clinic closed out the quarter with an argument before the Ninth Circuit to secure enhanced attorneys fees for specialized environmental law expertise under the Equal Access to Justice Act.  Our fee petition arose from ELC’s successful lawsuit, filed in 2006, to protect fragile vernal pool ecosystems from development.  Up to 90 percent of California’s endemic vernal pools –seasonal, temporary wetlands – have been irreversibly lost.  Madeleine McKenna, JD ’16, presented the argument, arguing that protecting the vernal pools at issue in this case required extensive knowledge of the National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedure Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act.  ELC litigated to ensure that developers and the government followed those important environmental protection laws, and to ensure that environmental attorneys can continue to receive adequate compensation for protecting our natural resources. Check out our blog for more.

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Madeleine McKenna JD ’16 after presenting oral argument at the Ninth Circuit.


Fall 2015 Academic Quarter

The Clinic hit the ground running this quarter, with a crash course in environmental lawyering and an exciting set of trips from Salinas to Mount Shasta to meet clients, public agencies, and stakeholders in several of our key cases.

To kick things off, we headed south to the Salinas Valley to witness the impacts of industrial agriculture on the area’s waterways. For several years, the clinic has represented Monterey Coastkeeper in challenging the Monterey County Water Resources Agency’s failure to regulate agricultural wastewater discharged into ditches in the area. The clinic scored a recent win in the case when the Monterey County Superior Court ruled that the agency—which operates and maintains an extensive drainage system for contaminated, agricultural runoff—must obtain a discharge permit for these ditches.

We then traveled north to Mount Shasta to meet the clients in one of the clinic’s oldest cases. The clinic represents the Pit River Tribe and local environmental organizations in their decades-long struggle to protect Medicine Lake and its surrounding highlands from industrial geothermal development. Clinic students then attended a Pit River Tribal Council meeting to meet the new councilmembers, and Clinic students Madeleine McKenna (J.D. ’16) and Mari Takemoto-Chock (J.D. ’17) updated the Tribe on the case. After a significant procedural victory in the Ninth Circuit over the summer, the case is back in the district court where we will argue that the Bureau of Land Management illegally extended twenty-six geothermal leases in the highlands.

Then, in October, advanced clinic student Abigail Barnes (JD,’16) prepared for and argued Presidio Historical Association v. Presidio Trust before a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit.

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Abigail Barnes, JD ’16, preparing for oral argument at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ms. Barnes and our clients, the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club, were trying to halt the proposed construction of a new, 70,000-square foot hotel in the heart of the historic Presidio. For more on this case, check out our blog.

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A ship discharging ballast water. Photo credit: CSIRO

Meanwhile, the Environmental Law Clinic scored a major victory against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In Nat. Res. Def. Council v. U.S. E.P.A., 804 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2015), the Court held that the EPA’s nationwide permit governing ship ballast water discharges did not meet the technology and water quality requirements of the Clean Water Act. The nationwide permit has been inadequate to curb the spread of aquatic invasive species like the zebra and quagga mussels that have devastated the Great Lakes and have now spread to the West Coast through ship discharges.

This victory comes after the Clinic’s long battle and multiple lawsuits with the EPA over how invasive species should be dealt with under the Clean Water Act. The ruling will help curb the spread of invasive species, which can wreak havoc on native species and ecosystems and can clog water and power plant intake pipes.

Finally, Environmental Law Clinic students hit the road again in November in the clinic’s continued fight against a so-called “emergency” desalination plant in Cambria, California. Hoping to spur the Coastal Commission to use its enforcement authority to bring the facility into compliance with the mandates of the Coastal Act, Julian Aris (JD ’17) presented at the Coastal Commission meeting in Half Moon Bay on November 5. A few days later, the clinic’s full-time students visited the desalination plant site in Cambria in preparation for a hearing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on November 10. At the hearing, Cathrina Altimari-Brown (JD ’17) argued a procedural motion to compel completion of the record for our environmental review claim, while Julian impressed upon the court the importance of moving forward with discovery on our Coastal Act claims.

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Cathrina Altimari-Brown (JD ’17) and Julian Aris (JD ’17) after their San Luis Obispo Superior Court hearing.

We look forward to announcing another busy and productive winter quarter working on these issues with new full-time and returning advanced clinic students!

Spring 2015 Academic Quarter

Advanced clinic students and clinicians continued to work hard on behalf of the environment, with much of the hard work of the prior quarters culminating in a few big victories.

Following arguments by Evan Stein (JD ’15) and Jason George (JD ’15) of the Environmental Law Clinic, three judges in the 9th Circuit handed down an important ruling in a case brought to us by members of the Pit River Tribe. This new ruling overturns the district court’s decision denying that the Pit River Tribe had standing to challenge a geothermal energy company’s action on its sacred lands.

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Jason George (JD’ 15) and Evan Stein (JD ’15)

Read more about our ongoing efforts to protect, lands sacred to the Pit River Tribe, read our blog about the recent ruling, and read the ruling itself.

Meanwhile, Clinic students have been working tirelessly with client Monterey Coastkeeper to abate agricultural pollution from runoff in Salinas Valley. In an important victory, the Monterey County Superior Court required the county water management agency—which operates and maintains an extensive drainage and pumping system for contaminated, agricultural runoff—to comply with state statutory water quality protections by filing a Waste Discharge Report with the Central Coast Regional Quality Control Board.

Read more about our work in this case and the ruling.

Relatedly, the Clinic also won a case directing the State Water Resources Control Board to strengthen ineffective agricultural pollution regulations.

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board issued new regulations to address water quality connected to farm pollution in 2012. However, like prior attempts to regulate agricultural waste discharges, the new rules required only that growers attempt to improve management practices rather than achieve any measurable reductions in agricultural pollution. The State Water Resources Control Board then further weakened these regulations in response to pressure from agricultural groups.

The Sacramento Superior Court directed the State Board to rewrite the rules to require that growers prove their practices “show measurable progress toward improving water quality over the short-term and achieving water quality standards in a meaningful time frame.” This case sets an important precedent for many other agricultural regions in California that are grappling with how to effectively regulate agricultural pollution.

Read the ruling and background on the case.

The clinic will continue to fight for improving the state of California’s waterways in these cases on appeal.

Winter 2015 Academic Quarter

An unprecedented number of students—eight full-time students and ten advanced students—made this past quarter one of the Environmental Law Clinic’s most dynamic. Clinic students:

  • wrote briefs in cases in state trial court, the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court;
  • presented oral argument in two state trial courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit;
  • researched and drafted memoranda to clients on cutting-edge legal issues; and
  • filed comments on draft resource management plans before state and federal administrative agencies.

All told, Clinic students wrote nine briefs in six cases, presented oral argument at four court hearings in two cases, prepared memoranda for Clinic clients on emerging legal issues in two matters, and submitted administrative comments in one matter. A few highlights are described below.

Winter 2015 ELC full-time students visit Monterey Bay (Jan. 2015)
Winter 2015 ELC full-time students visit Monterey Bay (Jan. 2015)

The Clinic kicked off the quarter with a two-day visit to Monterey Bay, which would form the basis for much of the work performed by students over the course of the winter quarter. Students first met with client The Otter Project/Monterey Coastkeeper to learn about two Clinic cases aimed at cleaning up fertilizer and pesticide pollution from farms in the Salinas Valley and other areas. In the first case, filed against the agency that regulates agricultural discharges (the State Water Resources Control Board), full-time students Ted Karch (JD ’16), Carolina de Armas (JD ’16), and Aaron Stanton (JD ’16), over the course of the quarter, authored an opposition to a demurrer and a merits reply brief in Monterey Superior Court.

In the second agricultural pollution case, filed against the agency that collects and pumps farmers’ discharges to other water bodies and ultimately the Monterey Bay (the Monterey County Water Resources Agency), full-time students Malia McPherson (JD ’16) and Adam Bowling (JD ’16) authored several briefs and presented argument at two hearings, while advanced student Philip Womble (JD ‘16/PhD ’18) presented argument at a third hearing, all in Monterey Superior Court. The court issued an intended decision in Monterey Coastkeeper’s favor on April 24, 2015, ruling that the Water Resources Agency must obtain a discharge permit under state law.

Adam Bowling (JD '16) and Malia McPherson (JD '16), with Monterey Coastkeeper client Steve Shimek, following their successful argument in Monterey Superior Court (Mar. 2015)
Adam Bowling (JD ’16) and Malia McPherson (JD ’16), with Monterey Coastkeeper client Steve Shimek, following their successful argument in Monterey Superior Court (Mar. 2015)

On their initial trip to Monterey, Clinic students also spent a day with staff from the Center for Ocean Solutions and Clinic client Resources Legacy Fund to learn about how seawalls, which are intended to protect shoreline properties and structures, actually make coastal erosion worse. Thus, when full-time students Malia McPherson and Adam Bowling were not trying to remedy agricultural pollution, they worked on matters aimed at supporting innovative legal approaches to mitigating coastal erosion.

Full-time students John Drdek (JD ’16) and Michael Todisco (JD ’16) also wrote cutting-edge legal memoranda on coastal erosion for Clinic clients. In addition, John and Mike, joined by advanced student Liz Jones (JD ’16), helped draft portions of a merits brief filed in the California Supreme Court, in Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority. The brief for the plaintiffs argues that federal law does not pre-empt the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires environmental review of state projects, including rail lines.

Much of the Clinic’s work in Winter 2015 concerned other issues in places far from Monterey. Advanced students Evan Stein (JD ’15) and Jason George (JD ’15) presented oral argument before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case will help decide the future of the Medicine Lake Highlands, an area of northeastern California that is sacred to, and has been used for spiritual and cultural purposes by, members of the Pit River Tribe and other Tribes for over 10,000 years. The Highlands also serve as a major water supply source for California and hold exceptional recreational, habitat, and other environmental resources. At the argument, Evan and Jason represented the Tribe and a number of environmental organizations in their challenge to plans to further expose the Highlands to industrial geothermal development. Advanced students Rose Stanley (JD ’16), Amanda Prasuhn (JD ’15), and Philip Womble worked on a variety of related policy matters.

Jason George (JD '15) and Evan Stein (JD '15), with clients, at the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (Mar. 2015)

Jason George (JD ’15) and Evan Stein (JD ’15), with clients, at the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (Mar. 2015)

Equally concerned with how to appropriately manage public lands, longstanding Clinic client the National Parks Conservation Association enlisted advanced student Elizabeth Hook (JD ’15) to author comments on the draft California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which will, when finalized, guide renewable energy development on public lands in the desert Southwest for the foreseeable future. The comments concern the Conservation Plan’s effects on National Park System resources, especially those in and near Joshua Tree National Park.

Meanwhile, full-time student Elizabeth Berardi (JD ’15) joined advanced students Heather Kryczka (JD ’16) and Liz Jones in authoring an opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The case, litigated with the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California–Irvine on behalf of the Sierra Club and Galveston Baykeeper, is one of several cases challenging decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow liquefied natural gas stations along the Gulf Coast to switch from importing to exporting natural gas. At issue is whether FERC complied with the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in approving the switch.

In another case concerning FERC, advanced student Raza Rasheed (JD ’15) prepared for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court would take an important case out of the DC Circuit concerning whether FERC may regulate “demand response,” an alternative to building more power plants when there is high demand by allowing power users to agree to reduce their demand during peak load. Sure enough, on May 4, 2015, the Supreme Court accepted the case for review, and Raza is now drafting an important amicus brief on behalf of energy economists and academics arguing in favor of FERC’s regulatory jurisdiction.

Finally, back on California’s Central Coast, full-time students Ted Karch and Aaron Stanton prepared legal memoranda for Clinic clients on the legal challenges to local bans on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in San Benito County and other jurisdictions.

And full-time students Elizabeth Berardi and Carolina de Armas, along with advanced student Abigail Barnes (JD ’16), continued the Clinic’s work on a challenge to a desalination project in the city of Cambria on behalf of Landwatch San Luis Obispo County. Despite the need for long-term and deliberative planning about how to best manage Cambria’s spare water resources, the project was hastily built without the environmental review required by state law. Abby, Elizabeth, and Carolina authored a preliminary injunction motionreply in support of that motion, and other pleadings, and Abby argued the motion in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Abigail Barnes (JD '16) argues in San Luis Obispo Superior Court (Mar. 2015)
Abigail Barnes (JD ’16) argues in San Luis Obispo Superior Court (Mar. 2015)

In the spring, the Clinic will continue its work on many of these matters with advanced students.

Medicine Lake Highlands, California
 Medicine Lake Highlands, California

Fall 2014 Academic Quarter

The Environmental Law Clinic had a fantastic fall quarter with seven full-time students and four advanced students. The Clinic kicked things off with a three-day field trip to Medicine Lake in northeastern California, the site of one of the Clinic’s longest-running cases. The Clinic represents the Pit River Tribe, Tribal coalitions, and environmental organizations in their efforts to protect the Medicine Lake Highlands from geothermal fracking. During the trip students met with the clients, presented at a Pit River Tribal Council meeting, and visited some of the sites that make the Highlands so special. The trip served as the foundation for work by full-time students Philip Womble (JD’16/PhD ‘18) and Rose Stanley (JD ’16) on a variety of policy matters, which will contribute to the Clinic’s continuing litigation against the decision by the Bureau of Land Management to continue to expose the Highlands to the specter of industrial development.

Fall 2014 ELC students visit the Medicine Lake Highlands (Sept. 2014)
Fall 2014 ELC students visit the Medicine Lake Highlands (Sept. 2014)

Shortly after visiting Medicine Lake, the Clinic spent a day in the historic Presidio in San Francisco, a National Landmark whose long-term future is the subject of a Clinic case currently being litigated in the Ninth Circuit. The Presidio Trust, the organization charged with overseeing the public Presidio, has proposed building a large commercial hotel in the Main Post, at the very center of the Presidio. The Clinic represents the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club, who believe the Trust’s plans are inconsistent with the Trust’s legal obligations and with the Presidio’s exceptional historic character and value. Full-time students Abigail Barnes (JD ’16) and Raza Rasheed (JD ’15) wrote the Ninth Circuit reply brief during the fall quarter.

The Clinic also visited the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, whose surface and groundwaters are increasingly polluted by fertilizers and pesticides from the Valley’s intensive agricultural operations. The question of how to effectively deal with pollution from irrigated agriculture is at the heart of two of the Clinic’s cases, one against the agency that regulates agricultural discharges (the State Water Resources Control Board) and the other against the agency that collects and pumps those discharges to other water bodies and ultimately the Monterey Bay (the Monterey County Water Resources Agency).

Jason George (JD '15) argues in Monterey Superior Court (Nov. 2014)
Jason George (JD ’15) argues in Monterey Superior Court (Nov. 2014)

On behalf of Monterey Coastkeeper, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, and four other plaintiffs, full-time students Caroline Parke (JD ’16), Heather Kryczka (JD ’16), and Liz Jones (JD ’16) wrote the opening brief in the Clinic’s case against the State Water Board, while advanced student Jason George (JD ’15) presented oral argument at an all-day hearing in Monterey Superior Court in the case against the Water Resources Agency. Jason’s excellent representation spurred actions by the court and state regulators to bring the water management agency one step closer to addressing the problems caused by agricultural pollution.

The impacts of agriculture also formed the basis for work by advanced student Amanda Prasuhn (JD ’15), who led research into how to limit antibiotics in factory animal farms in California. Amanda also spearheaded research into the corporate governance and tax obligations of non-profit entities involved in the Clinic’s ongoing projects.

A mix of full-time and advanced students worked on one of the Clinic’s new matters, a challenge to a desalination project in Cambria, on the central California coast. Despite the need for long-term and deliberative planning about how to best manage Cambria’s spare water resources, the project was hastily built without the environmental review required by state law. Full-time clinic students Abigail Barnes, Raza Rasheed, and Liz Jones, along with advanced student Elizabeth Hook (JD ’15), worked with clients Landwatch San Luis Obispo County, the Sierra Club, and Greenspace to write and file a petition for a writ of mandate and public record requests, as well as learn the matter’s unusually complicated factual and procedural history. Abigail and Liz also visited the project site and represented the clients at a case management conference in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Clinic students appeared at, and worked on, a number of other hearings and matters. Advanced student Evan Stein (JD ’15) presented argument in the California Court of Appeal in Sacramento. The case concerns a challenge to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s fish-stocking program; every year, the Department stocks lakes throughout the State with non-native fish, with devastating impacts on native fish, amphibians, and other species.

Evan Stein (JD '15) argues in the California Court of Appeal (Nov. 2014)
Evan Stein (JD ’15) argues in the California Court of Appeal (Nov. 2014)

On behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Evan argued before an engaged panel of judges that the Department of Fish & Wildlife needed to conduct more thorough environmental review for the stocking program.

Fish were also at the center of a court appearance by full-time students Rose Stanley and Philip Womble, who appeared in Marin Superior Court to argue on behalf of the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. In spring 2014, the Clinic won a huge victory in the California Court of Appeal (briefed by former Clinic students Will Cooper (JD’ 14) and Chris Jones (JD’ 14), and argued by Chris), which held that Marin County’s environmental review for its general plan failed to adequately account for impacts of streamside development on the imperiled coho salmon. During the fall quarter, Rose and Philip authored opening and reply briefs on the appropriate remedy and argued their cause in the trial court.

Rose Stanley (JD '16) and Philip Womble (JD '16/PhD '18) argue in Marin Superior Court (Dec. 2014)
Rose Stanley (JD ’16) and Philip Womble (JD ’16/PhD ’18) argue in Marin Superior Court (Dec. 2014)

Last but not least, the Clinic celebrated two fantastic victories in cases aimed at protecting California’s Mojave Desert. The first case, which has been part of the Clinic’s docket since the Clinic opened its doors in 1997, involved a challenge to a landfill on the flanks of Joshua Tree National Park. The Clinic successfully challenged a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to convert public land into private land so the landfill could be built. In December 2014, the parties agreed to a settlement under which the land will once again be public, and perhaps eventually become part of Joshua Tree National Park.

In the second case, the Bureau of Land Management denied an application to build a large-scale solar facility in the Silurian Valley, an unusually intact and beautiful expanse in the heart of the Mojave Desert. Advanced student Elizabeth Hook prepared extensive comments during the decisionmaking process.

For more recent Clinic events, please visit the Stanford Mills Legal Clinic Blog - Environmental Law.
Silurian Valley, California (©2013 Michael E. Gordon /

In the winter, the Clinic will continue its work on many of these matters, as well as some new ones, with an unprecedented eight full-time students and ten advanced students. We look forward to another great quarter.