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Vermont Law School launches environmental justice clinic

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2019 5:15:17 PM
Modified: 12/15/2019 9:45:41 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — Vermont Law School has launched a new Environmental Justice Clinic that focuses on — and sometimes will help to litigate — pollution effects on disenfranchised communities.

It’s one of only four programs in the country that looks specifically at the “intersection of civil rights and environmental” issues, according to its director, Marianne Engelman Lado.

VLS publicly announced the opening of the clinic in a news release Thursday, saying it will give students experience working on environmental cases.

“(The clinic) offers students the opportunity to represent disenfranchised communities fighting racial and economic disparities in the distribution of pollution, while also fighting for a say in decisions affecting their future,” Engelman Lado, a Yale Law School professor and civil rights and environmental lawyer who is a visiting professor at VLS, said in the release.

Since its official start this fall, the clinic already has taken on 13 students, and they’ve “hit the ground running,” Engelman Lado said in an interview Thursday. Under her guidance, the students have started working on several cases, including a civil rights lawsuit Engelman Lado helped bring in North Carolina that asserts hog farms have an inadequate waste management system, which caused a disproportionate impact on African American, Latino and Native American communities. This September, a group of VLS students from the clinic who were working on that case helped draft a response to the state, Engelman Lado said.

Another group of students in the program is working with residents in a community in Alabama who are “struggling to protect their historic black neighborhood from the negative effects of a large landfill,” the news release said.

At the moment, students are handling cases that come from all over the country. However, Engelman Lado hopes to localize the program’s focus by encouraging students to meet with Vermont residents and get feedback on the environmental and civil rights issues that they face.

“At a time when issues of the environment may not get as much attention at the federal level, it’s really helpful to have clinical resources,” she added.

Engelman Lado said she’s also heartened by how supportive VLS is of the clinic. Officials at the school first started discussing the program back in the spring, and it’s been on a fast track since then, with over twice as many students as the clinic could support signing up to participate.

That support has extended to other programs as well. Law schools at the University of New Mexico and the University of Miami as well as Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco all have similar environmental justice clinics, and they’ve been working together on developing those programs, Engelman Lado said.

“We’re sort of a network and rely on each other to learn and grow,” she added.

The clinic is one of several that VLS offers. Others, including the Environmental Advocacy Clinic, the Energy Clinic, and the Food and Agriculture Clinic, also focus on issues concerning the environment.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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