Quarterly Updates

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

view the MLC blog for Environmental Law Clinic

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 / www.Michael-Gordon.com)

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.