Earthjustice, Vermont Law School Expand Focus on Community Environmental Justice Cases

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt.—, April 17, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- —In a move to advance environmental justice advocacy, the pro bono Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School and Earthjustice, the largest nonprofit environmental law organization in the nation, recently hired a full-time staff attorney and initiated strategic planning to expand their reach in disenfranchised communities.

Attorney Rachel Stevens JD/MELP’13/LLM’16 will lead the environmental justice partnership and a team of ENRLC student clinicians to advocate for people and communities who have been disproportionately affected by environmental harms, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and drinking water contamination.

“All of our cases will have an environmental justice focus,” Stevens said. “And rather than waiting for potential clients to contact us, we will contact communities directly. We will engage in outreach to better understand community needs, to develop a deeper sensitivity to those needs, and to empower communities that need legal resources the most.”

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice vice president of litigation for healthy communities, looks forward to working with the ENRLC to expand the national organization’s work at the community level. Like the ENRLC, Earthjustice represents clients free of charge.

“The Earthjustice partnership with the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at VLS will help advance the environmental justice movement with communities throughout Vermont, the Northeast, and potentially other regions of the United States,” said Garcia. “At the national level, Earthjustice has accomplished meaningful change as we challenge rulemakings and work on cases with national impact. Our work with the ENRLC will enable us to do more to support individuals and communities at the local level.”

“Despite the many gains in the area of environmental protection over the past several decades, too many communities have been left behind,” said ENRLC Director Jill Witkowski Heaps, who serves as vice chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a federal committee that advises the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on environmental justice. “Communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities have not received the benefits and in fact have experienced greater public health and environmental impacts despite the many other gains by the environmental movement. This deep injustice is being exacerbated by the current president and EPA administrator’s attempts to unravel the limited programs we have in place, and by the impacts of global climate disruption.”

The ENRLC/Earthjustice team is supported by the nation’s top-ranked environmental law program, housed at VLS.

“The partnership between the ENRLC and Earthjustice reflects the importance of and each organization’s commitment to the dual mission of providing communities with the tools and power to have a voice within our legal system, and to training the next generation of advocates to build upon the environmental justice movement,” said Professor David Mears JD/MSEL’91, director of the Environmental Law Center at VLS.

For more information about the ENRLC/Earthjustice partnership to advance environmental justice, email or call 802-831-1073. 

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic operates as a public interest law office, providing VLS students with clinical experience to become skilled professionals who can develop arguments and claims from the ground up; explore strategies and options; and communicate effectively with clients, courts, agency officials, scientific experts, and opposing parties. The clinic’s work includes a mix of litigation, administrative agency proceedings, client counseling, and other forms of environmental advocacy. ENRLC clients include community groups and conservation organizations, and the clinic partners with a variety of organizations at the local, regional, and national level. ENRLC attorneys and student clinicians recently worked with communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands to stop a disastrous plan to burn hurricane wood debris; filed an amicus brief on Recovery Plans under the Endangered Species Act to add an important voice to bull trout Recovery Plan litigation, and another brief addressing mining pollution in West Virginia; represented the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) in its pursuit of a state labeling law for genetically engineered (GE) foods; stopped a new railroad proposed for Montana’s Powder River Basin; and established important precedent for Vermont’s Act 250 in a case opposing smokestack industry next to a residential community. For more information about the ENRLC, including cases, visit


Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, is home to the nation’s largest and deepest environmental law program. VLS offers a juris doctor curriculum that emphasizes public service; four master’s degrees—Master of Environmental Law and Policy, Master of Energy Regulation and Law, Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy, and Master of Arts in Restorative Justice; and four post-JD degrees —LLM in American Legal Studies (for foreign-trained lawyers), LLM in Energy Law, LLM in Environmental Law, and LLM in Food and Agriculture Law. The school features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center, South Royalton Legal Clinic, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, Energy Clinic, Food and Agriculture Clinic, Center for Applied Human Rights, and Center for Justice Reform. For more information, visit, find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.


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